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Est. April 5, 2002
February 08, 2018 - Issue 728

Democrats’ Midterm Minuses
and the
Need for a New Mindset

"It is time for a new Democratic mindset.  The situation
does not demand that they come up with something new but
that they follow the strategies employed by Democrats who
won uphill electoral battles over Republicans in Alabama,
Missouri, New York, and Wisconsin in a state (Alabama) and
districts that Trump won by seventeen points or more in 2016."

Democrats are underestimating Republicans’ midterm messaging strength and overestimating their own potential for a political wave in the forthcoming midterm elections. They appear to be falling into the same trap that caught them in 2016 as they were eagerly planning for the inauguration of Hillary Rodham Clinton as the first female U.S. President. Democrats were waylaid by their hubris about their upcoming victory and overlooked some of the political details that were essential to winning at the national and state levels. Their most egregious mistake was to view the eventual presidential victor, Donald John Trump, as a fool and as unelectable due to his past and current behavior. A sober reflection on these events suggests that the 2018 midterms are up in the air as to which party will prevail in the U.S. House, Senate, and state-level elections.

Messaging continues to be the Achilles heel of the Democratic Party. Democrats now, as in 2016, have multiple perspectives that are being presented to the general public and the Democratic base: immigration, budget caps; #MeToo; Trump’s insult of Africa, Haiti, and El Salvador as sh*thole countries; education; black unemployment; etc. Moreover, several of the prospective 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are also articulating a variety of views. Collectively, they are saying we don’t like Trump, he is unfit for office, and choose us (me) because of our better values. Neither of these opinions has gained traction among likely voters that will give Democrats an electoral edge. After Trump’s State of the Union (SOTU) address, five Democrats issued formal responses, all offering different messages.

Among many Democratic leaders, the Trump voters who chose Obama over Sen. John McCain and Gov. Mitt Romney in 2008 and 2012, respectively, and ensured his victory in several states, are seen as the linchpin for the Democrats’ political recovery. They have been heavily targeted by Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH), a probable 2020 presidential aspirant. Naively, he and others believe their recapture into the Democratic fold will solve most of their political problems. Despite recent Democratic state-level wins in Alabama, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Wisconsin, there seem to be few lessons learned.

In addition, they refuse to accept the fact that Trump has upended the political process and that he has inserted deceit, lying, authoritarianism, nationalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious bias into the traditional ways of campaigning. But even more disconcerting is the fact that he is getting away with these tactics because he has been able to explain them away as locker room talk, hyperbole, and defense of national security. Democrats persevere in bringing a knife to a political gunfight and, as a result, Trump currently succeeds overall in maintaining a support level of slightly more than fifty-one percent in states that make up the 270 Electoral College votes necessary to win a presidential election and to carry the states that maintain his Congressional majorities.

He is crafty in appealing to the narrow interests of his thirty-five percent base which has remained rock solid throughout his foibles, leaving him only having to cobble together a smattering of independents and moderates to give him the sixteen percent that he needs to win! Likewise, Trump has been masterful in throwing up numerous distractions whenever the Mueller investigation is getting close to the Oval Office: the Nunes memo, which Trump’s staff apparently coauthored and well-timed attacks on immigrants, minorities, Democrats, and fellow Republicans for not giving him blind support which appeals to his Republican majority. Trump has basically presided over an ongoing reality show, a TV genre that has widespread appeal to a cross-section of the American public. He has bamboozled Democrats and the print and broadcast media, who regularly point out his gaffes, lies, and deceptions, while most of the larger public simply does not seem to care.

It is time for a new Democratic mindset. The situation does not demand that they come up with something new but that they follow the strategies employed by Democrats who won uphill electoral battles over Republicans in Alabama, Missouri, New York, and Wisconsin in a state (Alabama) and districts that Trump won by seventeen points or more in 2016. In those states, Democratic candidates focused on millennials, teachers and other education personnel, unions, people of color, and females with concepts that spoke to their needs and anxieties, a strategy that Trump employed in 2016. Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other Democratic leaders have developed a series policy positions that overlook the major concerns of their constituency and lead to lower turnout in areas that Democrats need to win. However, Trump has kept a keen political eye on his core backers, addressing their most pressing issues. For example, he retains his evangelical groups with his stance against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights; a large share of white women, while grabbing them by the pu**y; and a sizeable number of independents and moderates with his tax cuts. He is always aware of the route to fifty-one percent no matter how omnidirectional he may appear.

Unless Democrats give Trump credit for his political genius in creating and keeping his coalition together, they will lose again in 2018. They must stop perceiving him as a bumbling idiot and deal with him as a formidable political adversary. In recent weeks, Republicans have substantially increased their fundraising, Trump’s approval rating has improved, and the tax cuts have gained approval from a growing number of blue collar and middle-class Democrats. Thus, it is imperative that Democrats embrace a new political paradigm if they are to win the 2018 midterms. They need to reconnect with their traditional followers, target their interests like a laser beam, and spend less time being preoccupied with Trump’s antics.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 




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David A. Love, JD
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