What the Hell are the Democrats Doing?
I want to talk about an article in today’s New York Times by Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns entitled Democrats at Crossroads: Win Back Working-Class Whites, or Let Them Go? Martin and Burns have provided excellent, extensive reporting on The Democratic Party throughout this election cycle, so I have to imagine the narrative they’re pushing is coming from the party’s leadership.
It is a sensitive topic, touching on race and class, but the choices that Democrats make in the coming months will…www.nytimes.com
For the life of me, I cannot wrap my head around the thinking taking place among Democratic leaders. The thesis is nothing new. The Democratic party has lost touch with the rural, white, working-class voter, and it cost them the election. Their postmortem has seemed to yield 2 conclusions:
- They should continue forward with business as usual. Clinton won the popular vote by 3MM, and lost MI, WI and PA by a combined 77,000 votes. The country’s demographics continue to trend well for the Democrats, and Trump’s victory was a fluke on top of a fluke on top of one final fluke that will be next to impossible to replicate.
- They need to make a more concerted effort to court the types of voters they lost touch with.
This is totally reasonable diagnoses. My issue comes with the tactics the Democrats discuss using in order to court these rural voters. The piece is filled with double-speak and euphemisms, but from what I could gather party leaders only floated two ideas, and both completely miss the mark. From the article:
“Even those who believe the party has become too fixated on identity politics do not think it should reverse course on such issues as immigration, criminal justice and legal protections for gay and transgender Americans.”
No shit, guys. You shouldn’t pander to the truly “deplorable” Trump voters. However, it’s time to admit Trump won by getting plenty of good, kind people to vote for him. That should be pretty clear by this point. This country isn’t 50% deplorable. Even though the Democrats are saying reversing course on positions like “cops shouldn’t kill unarmed people” and “gay people deserve equal rights” is a bad idea, it’s telling that it’s the first idea discussed on how to reach the voters that swung this election for Trump. It shows they’re totally clueless as to where they came up short in November.
The article also quotes Representative Gwen Graham (D-FL) on how she would have campaigned in more traditionally red areas. Again, from the article:
“I would run a 67-county strategy,” Ms. Graham said. “And I would reach out to all different kinds of Democrats and Republicans, along the ideological spectrum.”
Finally, the article discusses the views of a Democratic pollster, Cornell Belcher:
“…he said Democrats also should not react to this election by refashioning their appeal as though the country were just as white as it was when Bill Clinton and other centrists began the Democratic Leadership Council 30 years ago.”
I have to ask, what in the the hell are they talking about? The Democratic party is now over a month out from the worst political loss in the history of human civilization, and these are their best ideas on how to fix things? This shows a total lack of introspection at DNC Headquarters.
The Democrats need to take a hard look at the 1st point I listed above. The fact is the demographic trends in this country ARE favorable for The Democratic Party. In 6 of the last 7 National Elections more votes have been cast for Democratic candidates than their Republican counterparts, yet the Democrats have been consistently bleeding positions of leadership throughout the country. The Republicans now control The Executive and Legislative branches of The Federal Government, 33 of the 50 State Governor Mansions, and 68 of the 100 State Legislative Chambers. The reasons for this, in my onion, are two-fold, and the leaders of the Democratic party either need to wake up to this reality, or get the hell out of the way. (Did you know the average age of The Democratic Leadership in congress is 76?! For The Republicans, it’s 51.)
- The Democrats have an authenticity problem.
The problem isn’t the message. Most public policy polls show that Americans overwhelmingly support the values of the Democratic party. Issues like a woman’s right to choose, universal background checks on all fire-arm sales, expansion of social security and medicaid, and gay rights carry over 70% support in most polls.
The problem is that the voters don’t trust the messenger. This was evidenced perfectly by the Democratic candidate for President in 2016, Hillary Clinton. Her opponent, Donald Trump, had higher unfavorable numbers than her. In fact, he had the highest unfavorables ever for a Presidential candidate, but he consistently outperformed her in the final months of the campaign in one incredibly important area, trustworthiness. A Sep. CNN poll had Trump ahead of Clinton by 15 points when asked who was more “honest and trustworthy.” A November ABC Poll had Trump up 8 points when it came to honesty and trustworthiness. Now, we need to have a separate conversation about how the educational system and media in this country produced an electorate that could view a blatant con-man like Trump as honest and trustworthy, but facts remain and this is the reality we live in.
If Trump showed us one thing it’s the American electorate is sick and tired of standard politicians. We elected a gaudy, narcissistic, unintelligent, incurious, 70 year old reality TV star to The Presidency for one simple fact. He wasn’t a politician, and he didn’t talk like a politician.
The Democrats have a new ally and perfect model for the way they should be talking to voters, Bernie Sanders. I don’t mean to say they should adopt every single one of Bernie’s policy positions, or even that they should make income inequality their #1 cause. I’m saying they must develop rational, coherent policy proposals based on a realistic world view, and stop playing the standard Washington games. Speak honestly and passionately to the electorate. We can’t afford to have people like Elizabeth Warren refuse to endorse Bernie or Hillary for political reasons when her ideals so obviously lined up better with Bernie’s than Hillary’s. Her endorsement of Bernie could have propelled him to the nomination, and then…who knows. Instead, The Democrats continued their charade of authenticity that is so easy to see through in 2016.
2. The Democrats need to learn how to fight
Imagine if Republican policy positions had the type of support Democratic policy positions have. They’d hold every office in the country. Imagine if Donald Trump had won the popular vote by 3MM votes, and Hillary had eeked out an Electoral College victory with 77k votes in swing states with a large Latino populations. Imagine if the CIA had then said Russia hacked the RNC with the intention of getting Hillary elected. Do you think Trump would have conceded, or do you think every GOP lawyer in the country would be filing law-suits with their State Attorney Generals?
I don’t think it’s a controversial statement to say that Americans are ignorant when it comes to national politics. 40% of us never vote, and half of the remaining 60% vote only once every 4 years for President. Only 36% of Americans can even name all 3 branches of government yet we expect them to be aware of the intricacies of the two major parties? Democrats need to wake up to the fact that being right isn’t nearly enough. They need to start thinking bigger, and if the other side is going to fight dirty (which they clearly are) Democrats need to get down in the mud with them.
If public sentiment is on your side then truth and authenticity are your most powerful weapons. In order to start winning The Democrats must remove all barriers to their authenticity, and right now their biggest set of chains is the rich, corporate pool they collect all their money from. It’s impossible to be authentic when you’re trying to subtly do the bidding of wealthy corporate donors behind the scenes. It also warps lawmakers’ world-views when the only people they talk to on a daily basis are billionaires and titans of industry.
Most political strategists would say declining corporate money is a guaranteed track to failure, but at this point I think the most appropriate response to that would be a borrowed line from the President Elect. “What the hell have you got to lose?”