A few lessons that a student of politics has drawn from the ongoing Democratic struggle.

First, it’s time to stop nationalizing local races. It’s clear that the “Referendum on Trump” strategy doesn’t work Admittedly, doing so helped Ossof raise an unprecedented amount of money — but money didn’t end up deciding that race. I consistently emphasize the point that nearly three in four Republicans still think Trump is a good idea. We aren’t at a point yet where we can convince Republican voters that Trump is bad for the country, so why add that to the mess of a messaging strategy Democrats already face? We need to trust and support local parties and campaigns to tailor messaging to the voters of the district and focus on the issues that matter to them.

Second, let’s run good candidates. Ossof attracted national attention by getting attacked by a Republican PAC for some rowdy behavior as an undergrad, being quite literally the only Democrat in the field, and for organizing at the grassroots level fairly well. At the end of the day, the strength of his candidacy — his qualifications, his oration, his charisma, his brand — just didn’t live up to what was needed to flip that difficult district. We need candidates who know the district, have an existing reputation and relationships with voters, and are strong in traditional politicking.

Third, people need to know what we stand for. Everyone’s talking about the Democratic message — or lack thereof. The two questions being floated most are 1) what do Democrats stand for? and 2) what will we do to improve the country? Don’t get me wrong; these are two very important questions. But there’s a third level of messaging that is far less discussed: why do we care about the things we do?

For example, Republicans can unite around a simple message: we will roll back regulation and reduce taxes because we believe in small government and a free market because we value freedom and refuse to let government run our lives. Notice the three distinct levels: what, how, and why.

Democrats are missing a number of the pieces necessary for a singular and universal liberal message, but I challenge my fellow Democrats to think long and hard about why we care about the things we do. Why is it important that we fight for a living wage? Why must we preserve the environment? Why is regulation of a free market necessary to correct perverse incentives and protect consumers? They key, as my mentor told me, is to connect the “we” — the collectivistic goal that we’re trying to achieve (such as affordable health care for all) — and the “me” — why it’s in an individual’s best interest to vote for that goal.

Some of this is starting to float to the top in health care messaging: many Democrats are saying they oppose Republican attempts to repeal and replace because they believe health care is a right that each individual is entitled to and benefits from. And, believe it or not, that’s a message that’s working — as Americans nearly unanimously hate the legislation the GOP is pushing right now. We need to ladder that up to our overarching argument for why people need to vote blue.

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