The Path to Victory for the Democratic Party
It has become beyond clear to me over the course of the past few months that a fundamental shift in the approach of the Democratic Party is needed in order to win elections again. For too long, the Party (and by that, I mean the established leadership in the DNC, DCCC, and other party bodies) has been under the illusion that so long as it panders to disenchanted Republican voters, slams elected Republicans as too extreme, and blames anyone but themselves for their failures, then the American people will so obviously vote for them. It is this brand of posh, white liberal elitism that has poisoned the former Party of the working man, and without a change the reelection of Donald Trump and his Republican Congress may be more likely than people think.
For too long, Democrats have assumed they will win elections because they are simply “better”. This attitude began to arise around the time of the 2000 election, in which our nominee Al Gore visibly scoffed in a debate at the answers of his opponent, George W. Bush. This was not the sole or even biggest reason Gore lost, but it certainly did not help. Gore was chastised for his visible lack of respect for his opponent, but his later more decent composure was not the end of Democratic self-righteousness. It continued through the Bush years, of Democrats believing his reelection was doomed simply because Bush himself had bungled the war on terror (spoiler: he won). It later transformed into the state of politics we know today, in which Democrats continue to dismiss Republicans as too extreme to govern. The biggest reason why they continue with this obviously failing strategy: They are right. Bush is a bafoon, Trump is somehow worse, and the Tea Party-ruled Republicans have no idea how to govern effectively (as has been on display these past few months).
With this in hand, Democrats have tried desperately, especially this past election, to try and bring disenchanted Republican voters into the fold. Clinton’s infamous “basket of deplorables” comment was an egregiously naive attempt at trying to demonstrate to non-Trump Republicans that she considered them not as “deplorable” as those who supported their party’s nominee. Oh how tremendously that backfired. Now-Senate Democratic floor leader Chuck Schumer was quoted with saying last summer: “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.”
Lastly, when faced with the reality of defeat, the Democratic establishment seems content with blaming anyone for the defeat but themselves. We have seen quite the number of hit pieces against the “Bernie Sanders wing” of the party; how it was his drive for accountability of Clinton and progressive values that divided the party and doomed the general election — as if Republicans didn’t already despise her and some 90%+ of Sanders primary voters voted for Clinton in the general election. The email and Benghazi scandals were a favorite too, as well as the Russian meddling in the election. While those three examples did have some significant impact on how Clinton was accepted by the electorate (how they could not is beyond me), the issue here is the disgraceful lack of self-awareness on the part of the party establishment. What of the clear support the establishment gave to Clinton in the primary, that tainted her image as a legitimate nominee? What about the aforementioned missteps of simply trying to market yourselves as not-as-bad-as your opponents? What about the non-existent ground games in key states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin? No, instead let us blame the most popular politician in the country, ridiculous “scandals”, and a boogeyman from before Clinton’s husband was president.
The numbers show how poorly the modern Democratic strategy has worked. From 2009 to 2017, Democrats have lost around 900 seats in state legislatures. In the same period, Democrats have lost 13 governorships, 11 senators, 63 members of the house, and of course the presidency — the one office we were “destined” to hold. Here on my native Cape Cod in the same time period, Democrats went from holding both state senate seats and five of six state house seats, to having one state senate and only two state house seats. The recent blunders of the Clinton campaign in regards to ground games in “safe” states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have been well-documented. Good Democrats like Russ Feingold and Jason Kander failed because of the short-sightedness of the national campaign. Progressives like Rob Quist and James Thompson in the recent congressional special elections had a fighting chance in deep red districts but were abandoned by the party, with resources instead being diverted to milquetoast boy wonder Jon Ossoff, who failed to campaign on progressive values in an effort to court disenchanted Republican voters. Turnout in many recent elections continues to flounder (2014 being the lowest overall since World War II) despite the usually more unpopular Republicans tending to win, because voters don’t see an honest-to-god alternative in the Democrats.
What Democrats fail to understand is that their righteousness indignation toward their opponents is not enough. As those like Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown have expressed, the path to victory is to show a positive, constructive future under Democratic leadership. While valid criticism of the other side is important, so is presenting an alternative to the American people: one where public universities are tuition-free, healthcare is guaranteed to all through a single-payer system, and the minimum amount of money one can earn is enough to support themselves and their families. Democrats need to get back to the grassroots, where elections and issues are won by the people on the ground, working hard for candidates who clearly represent the needs of their constituents — not their big money donors. Democrats need to look within, be aware of how we may improve ourselves where we went wrong. That is when Democrats win.