The (Unofficial) 2016 Democratic Autopsy Report
Back in 2012, after the Republicans failed to take the White House and the Senate, the Republican National Committee (RNC) decided to focus on what went wrong. The result of this effort was a study titled the “Growth & Opportunity Project”, also known as the GOP Autopsy Report. Within this 98-page PR stunt is a series of recommendations and discussions regarding some of the greatest weaknesses of the party. Some major changes would have included embracing comprehensive immigration reform, altering messaging to appeal to younger voters and women, and revising the primary process to attract better candidates.
So did the GOP follow it’s own prescription? In short, no. Rather than softening its position on immigration and altering it’s approach to key voter groups, it continued to fall for the siren’s song of blaming President Obama for the nation’s woes. Rather than appeal more towards the average American, which leans toward the center, it continued to appeal to the Tea Party fringe and led the October 2013 government shutdown. And rather than electing a more attractive, likeable candidate for president, they nominated Donald J. Trump. Yes, Republicans have won the last two cycles, but this is only a band-aid on a gaping wound.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) also published their own autopsy report soon after their devastating loss in 2014, with the sexy title of “Democratic Victory Task Force: Final Report and Action Plan”. Though not as comprehensive as the Republican’s self-examination, there were a few valuable nuggets worth mentioning. The most compelling note involves the Democrat’s failure to build an effective support network at the state and local level. The Democrats not only ignored this advice, they assumed that the bombastic comments Trump made would carry them to victory. Sadly, they were wrong.
As of today, November 19, 2016, the Democrats have yet to publish any examination of what went wrong for them this election. To be fair, the DNC is still trying to select its own leader. But most progressives I know have yet to provide any effective remedy to reclaiming power and momentum beyond opposing Trump at any measure. As a result, I’ve decided to write some recommendations for the party, as I did nearly 3 years ago, to prevent this calamity from happening again.
-A house needs a foundation, and without developing a strong infrastructure at the state and local level, Democrats will remain a minority at the national level. Right now, the GOP maintains a majority of the state legislatures and governors. A major source of fuel for the far-right is its grip on the agenda of several state legislature. A strong Democratic turnout at the state level will not only counter the most outrageous Republican proposals, but will also compel the GOP itself to lean more towards a more centrist vision of conservatism.
-Of course, to win state and local races, you need strong Democratic candidates. Clinton could have potentially won if her campaign had emphasized why voters should vote for HER, rather than vote against Trump. The same applies to Democratic candidates as a whole. Democrats need to encourage, foster, and train the next generation of candidates to lead the party in 2020 and beyond.
-Right now, most of the recognizable leaders of this party are at least 60 years old. While they have served the party well, it’s time for younger, more active leaders to take charge of the Democratic Party, and follow President Obama’s vision for this country.
-American’s disdain for “elites” comes partially from the fact that they have not been included in the growth the economy has seen in the past decade. It’s true that Democrats, in focusing on urban areas, has largely ignored the concerns of people in rural communities. Granted, some of those concerns are motivated by illegitimate views, but to dismiss their views entirely would be foolish.
-The good news for the Democrats is that progressive leaders control most of the major cities. The bad news is that many of these cities are already in deep blue or deep red states. The DNC should waste no time in organizing voter registration efforts in more swing state cities. This will at the very least provide a stronger “firewall” for Democrats than what we’ve seen in 2016.
-Republicans have always run circles around the Democrats when it comes to messaging. I can’t name a single progressive equivalent to Frank Luntz and his focus group. The DNC should find the best Democratic messengers and promote them to top communications positions by the end 2017.
-On a similar note, nuance is the enemy of a successful progressive movement. Democrats have a habit of firing at each other for failing to adhere to the “pure” views of a particular progressive movement. I understand that many progressive movements are interconnected, and that by supporting one you in turn help them all. However, in order for these movements to advance, they actually need to occasionally elect effective leaders. Focus on supporting progressive candidates first, then pressure them to take action in office.
-Democrats have complained about redistricting since 2012, when many electoral maps were drawn in the Republican’s favor. The partial overturning of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court has only widened the gap. However, the impact of this unfair advantage can still be mitigated, if progressive movements and causes counter these efforts in court and on the ground. This is supposedly what Obama plans to focus on after his presidency.
These are only a handful of suggestions from someone who is frustrated with the Democrat’s conduct in the last few years. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing the group you devoted a substantial amount of time and money towards fail to deliver. By 2018, Democrats have the potential to demonstrate a stronger turnout and support more competent candidates. Let’s hope that they listen.