As Democrats and Republicans barrel toward 2020, they must beware of this big political peril

The voting machines from 2018 aren’t even cold yet and the 2020 campaign is already in full swing. If you’re a weary voter hoping for a little peace and sanity after a raucous midterm, you may want to start looking for a coping strategy.

It’s that public weariness, combined with hyperventilating politicians and amped up activists, that put Republicans and Democrats alike at risk of political overreach – the act of doing or saying whatever it takes to get in a good jab in hopes of scoring the next big win.

For Democrats the risk lies in pushing the limits in the name of oversight. Make no mistake, most Americans want oversight of the Trump administration. Anyone not blindly loyal to a political party can objectively see that Congress has failed to serve its role as a check on President Trump under Republican control. But anyone not blindly loyal to a political party also knows there’s a difference between doing your job and going too far.

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People have a lot of questions about the actions of our president, his campaign, and elements of his administration. They want answers that they can trust, regardless of whether the results advance any one political agenda, and it’s Congress’ responsibility to give the American people those honest answers.

What Americans don’t want, however, is an environment where the serious work of oversight takes a backseat to partisan gamesmanship and manufactured “gotcha” moments. Democrats have a responsibility to conduct oversight of this administration and force this president and his White House to answer tough questions. But they need to make clear to the public what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and why it matters to voters.

Simply put, when you’re doing something in the name of transparency, it’s best to be transparent.

Now to the Republicans. Led by President Trump, the GOP has already announced a 2020 campaign strategy centered on name-calling. Specifically, they’re foaming at the mouth to brand Democrats as “socialists” – a bad word in American politics to be sure – and it’s not the first time Republicans have used this line of attack.

But in reality, it’s just a childish diversion from talking about the actual issues. They don’t want to talk about their tax bill, which is continuing to lavish benefits on the wealthy and corporations while middle-class families realize how bad it is for them. They don’t want to talk about their health care plan that would increase costs and gut protections for people with preexisting conditions. And they don’t want to talk about real national emergencies like gun violence, which kills nearly 40,000 Americans annually.

Luckily, American voters aren’t so easily duped. People see the name-calling for what it is: Childish behavior that says more about the person lobbing the attack than the target of it.

The risks of such overreach to both Democrats and Republicans are many, starting with fatigue. We just finished one exhausting election that left little appetite for more political shenanigans.

Second is sympathy. Those who go too far run the risk of the public feeling sorry for the person under attack, and can give that person the opportunity to show grace under fire.

Third is credibility. If people don’t find the message or the messenger credible, its counterproductive. For example, “Democrats want open borders” isn't a convincing message to independents any more than “Republicans don’t care about the environment” is. Aside from hardcore partisans, people reject arguments wherein one side ascribes motivations to the other and accuses them of actively wanting to do harm. It’s more credible to say, “Republicans embrace policies that hurt our environment.”

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Why? Because at the end of the day, despite the divisiveness and cynicism we feel right now, Americans are hopeful and ultimately believe (or want to believe) that most of the people we elect to serve us genuinely want America to succeed.

Do we have different ideas about how to get there? Of course – our country was founded on the value of debating those differences. As we march toward 2020, leaders of both parties should keep that in mind. Pandering to the base without furthering the conversation in a meaningful and substantive way does nothing to make our country better – and can often turn around and bite.

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