A party is not a “brand.”
This Tuesday the special election in Georgia’s 6th congressional district was over-promoted, over-hyped, and most importantly over funded. Democrats poured millions upon millions of dollars into an election they simultaneously declared unwinnable and a referendum on Trump and his policies. It was a dangerous, stupid narrative, and a strategy that backed them into a corner. Yes, you could say that in each case the establishment democrats had an excuse to declare themselves the winners of this special election no matter the actual outcome… I suppose that was the strategy. However, by crafting this narrative they also put themselves in a position to lose in both scenarios, and lose they did.
Harry Enten, fivethirtyeight’s favorite Clintonite who once opened an article before a single primary had been held with the line: “Let’s be real right out of the gate: Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is almost certainly not going to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2016” explained the election thusly: “If Democrats cannot win here, it suggests that they may need a different roadmap for taking back the House than going after reluctant Trump voters.” I would argue we learned that lesson a long time ago. We’ve already sent thousands of canaries into that coal mine, and you know what? They’re not coming back. Democrats, please understand… the canaries are dead.
The media’s response the following day was a mix of bewilderment, outrage and general ass-covering. A combination of doom and gloom with a spattering of calls for Nancy Pelosi’s head and a whole lot of hand wringing. Despite the tacit acknowledgement that all is not well, they have yet to latch onto a concrete agenda to fix the problems they purport to understand.
In the aftermath of the special election The New York Times published an article titled “Democrats Seethe After Georgia Loss: ‘Our Brand is worse than Trump’” that expounded on the flaws of Nancy Pelosi in particular and the Democratic “brand” more broadly. The title alone, referring to the ideas and ideals of the Democratic party as a “brand” should be enough to give one pause. The article is also rife with introspective but unhelpful lines like the following
“ In the absence of a smashing win that might have settled the left-versus-center debate, Democrats may face a longer process of internal deliberation before they settle on an approach that is broadly acceptable in the party.”
If we haven’t “settled” on an “approach that is broadly acceptable” perhaps we are not all marching as one. Perhaps the “brand” is not appealing because it is exactly that: a label. The product once you get past that big expensive packaging is utterly and hopelessly broken.
In the case of the election in Georgia’s 6th congressional district the product they were selling under the expensive Democratic brand was John Ossoff, and he offered little by way of substance. He never declared his support for universal healthcare and showed little interest in raising taxes on the wealthy (no surprise since the median income in his district is 72,832 dollars annually.) He was criticized from the left as “Republican lite” and with good reason. In a time when Democrats are rushing to declare themselves the party of “resistance” their most heavily funded candidate in a special Election did little to genuinely differentiate himself from the party they proclaim to oppose.
All this suggests that the Democrats are not really interested in defining themselves or their brand in opposition to Republicans. They resist Trump on principle, but they resist principle when it comes to the most important issues facing Americans today. They are happy to scrounge for Republican votes in Republican districts while ignoring the progressives who ask for more, and it is not working. As I said earlier, the canaries are dead.
Democrats would do well to listen to the voters on the left who are offering them an opportunity to clearly define themselves and what they stand for. If they are interested in their “resistance” they should articulate what it is that they are resisting. A healthcare bill that strips millions of their access to healthcare? Yes! Resist it! But don’t think for a second that means you can get away with offering no solutions to the fact that even with the ACA access to quality care is not guaranteed and costs are prohibitive to many voters. Voters know what they want, and if you listen they will tell you… but that means real listening- not brand testing and spin.