The slow return of daylight in early January usually sparks hope. This year, not so much. At least politically.

For whatever reasons, pundits see a tough year ahead. The left is heartened by new majorities in Augusta and Washington, but Donald Trump is still president. The right is heartened by a stronger majority in the U.S. Senate, but Donald Trump is still president. The majority that is the middle frets because Donald Trump is still president.

He lurks behind everything as we head into the first year of the 2020 campaign.

Trump is good at three things, best as I can figure. Two of these are bankruptcy and making it all about himself. In 716 days as president, he has done both well. The national debt has risen by $2.1 trillion. And the constant turmoil in the White House keeps the spotlight always on him. No wonder Democrats are eager to get at him.

Let me make two points, not necessarily contradictory. First, I consider Donald Trump the most despicable person in American political life since, at least, Andrew Jackson (Indian killer, slave owner, generally uncouth character). That includes Bill Clinton and Woodrow Wilson. Second, the Democrats should tiptoe softly as they go after Trump. If they read more history than Trump reads — who doesn’t? — they know what happened when Republicans impeached Clinton in 1998. Clinton’s approval soared to 73 percent.

Here Trump’s third talent enters. He has strong insurance policies. Also called CYA. If you are on the left or if you are in the middle, where I place myself, getting rid of Trump before Nov. 3, 2020, is tempting. We should remember the old proverb. “Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.”

Pence has cast himself, as Michael D’Antonio and Peter Eisner wrote for CNN, as an “unctuous toady so fully that the conservative writer George Will called him ‘America’s most repulsive public figure.’” But he is also preparing to become president.

Here is a Pence nutshell. Grew up in Columbus, a beautiful and civic-minded city in Southeast Indiana. Columbus has civic involvement, architecture, commercial amenities and arts that elude cities many times its size (44,000). Much of that seems not to have rubbed off on Pence.

The vice-president was reared Catholic, but is now a right-wing Protestant. He attended Hanover College, a Presbyterian school that isn’t listed among the 725 most conservative U.S. colleges. On campus, he was active and also turned to right-wing Christianity.

His schoolmate Linda Koon said Pence turned cruel when she failed to meet his idea of true faith. “He was rigid, condescending and exclusionary,” Koon told D’Antonio and Eisner. “You had to fit into his little pocket of Christianity, and I didn’t fit.”

Scott Roos, a gay schoolmate whom Pence snubbed when Roos confided in him, said Pence was also judgmental about his wife-to-be, Karen. “He told me that he needed to forgive her because she had been married before and wasn’t a virgin. He couldn’t forgive me in the same way.” Roos said of Pence: “He said God told him he would be president.”

Pence began his political career in 2000, after being a right-wing radio host who called himself “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.” His political career has been undistinguished in nearly every particular. In 12 years in the House, he neither wrote nor sponsored a significant piece of legislation.

In four years as governor, his singular achievement was pushing through a law to let businesses refuse to serve gay people. The furor of reaction forced him to retrench a bit.

His opposition to gays twins with his opposition to science. “Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media,” he wrote in 2000, “smoking doesn’t kill. In fact, two out of every three smokers do not die from smoking-related illness and nine out of 10 smokers do not contract lung cancer.” Pence’s parents owned Tobacco Road, a chain of convenience stores. His numbers were, in Trumpian style, wrong. Two-thirds of smokers do die of smoking-related diseases.

Pence has political skills, notably raising money, picking out his voters and getting jobs for his cronies. He has raised cash from such conservative donors as Betsy DeVos and the Koch brothers. He found voters at churches and gun clubs. He has spiced his recipe with attacks on science that placed him to the right of many of his fellow Republicans.

Trump’s lack of political experience opened the door for Pence to suggest many of his friends and allies for top federal jobs. Hence DeVos as secretary of education and Sonny Perdue as secretary of agriculture.

Pence’s favorite Bible verse reads: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” He cites it when talking about his life in politics. Pence’s theology says that God selects in advance the people who will become believers and rewards their faith regardless of what they do.

With that as his underpinning philosophy, D’Antonio and Esiner wrote, “Don’t be fooled. The vice president is doggedly pursuing his own ambitions on the side.”

Democrats need to bear that in mind as the forces of fact and history continue delving into Trump’s business and political behavior. Let’s hope cooler heads prevail and the Democrats are prepared to wait out the next 22 months knowing they now have the power to stop the most pea-brained schemes coming out of the White House.

Bob Neal is encouraged that, so far, Democratic leaders are showing little sign of forming their usual circular firing squad. 2020 is theirs to win or lose.

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