Should Dems vote no as a block on Trump appointments? And should activists express their displeasure with them voting yes on some and no on others when they want to see a united front?
These are complicated questions. I will not answer yes or no, but will suggest the factors to consider.
The Dem Caucus appears to have targeted a few specific candidates to try to block and for block voting. Sessions is one. DeVos may or may not be another. For the rest, it is a "vote your conscience" thing.
I suspect a major reason for the strategy is recognizing that some Dems will simply not hold together on a number of the appointments. This is especially true for folks like Manchin, who are Dems in Red States. So rather than show weakness by an inability to hold together on every vote, Schumer and the rest of the leadership appear to have settled for unity where possible and acquiescence where it is not.
This is an application of Feld's Law of Hand Grenades: "When you threaten to throw a hand grenade, you better be ready to pull the pin. When you pull the pin, the hand grenade damn well better go off, even if it goes off in your own hand. It is much better to be known in Washington as someone willing to blow off their own hand than as someone whose hand grenades are duds."
The question is, which part of the law applies here. Is this a case where Dems promised total resistance, and therefore they need to pull the pin? Or is this a case where the hand grenade won't go off? Getting a large block of Senators to vote no on every vote to confirm may persuade the weaker Dems that they need to stay with the party, or may create a clear wedge group for Rs to target. Yes, they will target them to some degree anyway -- they can read the map. But do you keep the weak ones in the fold by only holding them to key votes, or do you expose them to progressive anger by isolating them and let activists pressure them to stay in line -- as happened with Republican Tea Partiers?
Which brings me to the next question: how should the base react?
My feeling on this is that angry phone calls and personal contacts about not resisting Trump have the benefit of driving the Dems into harder resistance and keeping up the energy from the base. A constant worry for Dems is the perception that Liberals and Progressives are fickle voters -- especially in off year elections. Why satisfy a base that doesn't show up to vote? But additionally, why satisfy a base that will let you get away with anything?
What troubles me is all this "Traitor" talk. Folks can disagree on strategy without being "Traitors." Nor do you have to call them "traitors" to take action to let them know you are angry, disappointed, demand more of them, or even primary them if they don't shape up. But we have at least a year before we need to worry about finding primary opponents if we decide a certain Dem is just utterly not what we need. We can afford to spend some time preaching fire and brimstone to the errant and faint of heart Dem before we start calling people traitors.
While I think it is important to see how the Tea Party was successful, I don't want to emulate their faults. A Senator or Rep. can be a disappointment, frustrating and in urgent need of replacing without being a "traitor" or "DINO." Because if Elizabeth Warren is a traitor for voting to confirm some appointments, then we really are "a land that devours its inhabitants."
So yes, if you want to see Dems show more vigorous opposition, even if it is symbolic, do call your Senators offices or make a personal visit. Do schedule protests and other actions. But please no "traitor" talk. Instead, passionately explain *why* Dems must stand on principle and oppose candidates who are so obviously unfit, that they must rally the troops for the fights to come, and that they will show Republicans that they are serious about rejecting extremists and extremist policies. Make sure they know you know that they can't stop confirmation, but that you want them to vote know anyway because we have to take a firm stand from the begging and the Republicans have proved over the last 8 years that stubborn resistance is rewarded whereas even symbolic compromise is perceived as a sucker bet.
Or, alternatively, if you think Dems are following the right strategy, tell them so.
Just remember. Passion is supposed to be our rocket fuel, the thing that propels us and gives us energy. We must embrace our passion, not fear it. At the same time, this is not some kind of political Pon Far that strips us of our reason and gets us into combat to the death with our friends. Anger does not need to lead to hate (which, as we all know, leads to fear, etc.) Anger should lead to calculated and sustained action. Fear should lead to energy, not panic. Anger and fear are rational responses to what we see unfolding before us. Make them serve reason, and make reason serve your passions. We should neither repress our passion as the enemy of reason, nor reject reason as the enemy of passion. We should delight in their synergy, which will make us unstoppable.