A few thoughts, loosely tied together, on last night’s disaster.
Obviously Democrats need to spend some time figuring out what the heck happened. In many ways, few fundamentals had changed since 2012. Gridlock dominates Washington. The economy is not really any worse for the 99%, but nor is it appreciably better. Yet people seem to genuinely dislike Barack Obama at all points when he is not actively campaigning. Mitch McConnell deserves a lot of credit for understanding that the politics of fireeating would work wonders because everyone would blame the president no matter whose fault the problems in Washington actually lie with. He knows that most Americans simply don’t understand how politics work and want the president to solve problems, period. Manipulating that was horrible for the country but great for the Republican Party.
So it’s tough out there.
I don’t want to hear that the problem last night was the map. Yes, the Senate map was tough for Democrats. Winning at this point in Arkansas, Louisiana, West Virginia, and South Dakota is very difficult. However, that’s a limited explanation because it says nothing as to how the widely despised Paul LePage was reelected in Maine even after Eliot Cutler dropped out. It says nothing as to how Scott Walker was reelected in Wisconsin and Rick Snyder in Michigan. It certainly says nothing as to how a Republican became governor of Maryland. Maryland! This is a lot more than a tough map. Also, you can mostly forget about easily winning the Senate back in 2016. That map isn’t so great either and Democrats are in a deep hole.
I also don’t want to hear too much about money. It’s not that it isn’t important. It’s that a) the plutocrats always have tons of money and have always used it aggressively except for a relatively brief period in the decades after World War II and b) it can be overcome and has been overcome. Elections can be bought but grassroots campaigns can make that not happen. Obviously, Democrats failed miserably on this point.
So what’s up? I think there are a few really important points. Democrats need to just stop trying to appeal to old white people. White men voted for the GOP 64-34. It is a loser strategy. This demographic overwhelmingly votes GOP. Alison Grimes, who ran an utterly pathetic and embarrassing campaign, refusing to say whether she voted for President Obama is the prototype of how not to do it. No one is going to believe you. Heard a bunch about the North Carolina race last night and all the discussion about how Ebola, ISIS, and immigration dominated voters’ agenda. When I hear those three things in this context, I hear three words: racism, racism, and racism. And the Supreme Court supporting racist policies to restrict blacks from voting by eviscerating the Voting Rights Act allowed racists to indeed restrict black voting in meaningful ways that may well have swung North Carolina to the execrable Thom Tillis. Developing entire political campaigns to swing a few of these voters to the Democrats isn’t going to work–as we saw quite clearly last night.
Instead, Democrats need to give Latinos, African-Americans, and the young a reason to vote. Check this out:
37%!! That means that Democrats simply could not get young people to vote while Republicans did an outstanding job motivating their base.
That means that Democrats have to rethink their midterm election strategy is a very real way. It’s one thing when there’s a presidential campaign. But the politics of midterm elections means that the same types of political calculations don’t work. How do you do that? You make your party about actual issues that young people and people of color care about. You support legalizing marijuana and prison reform. You support a vigorous government jobs program. You embrace immigration all the way, demonizing those who oppose a path to citizenship and the decriminalization of undocumented immigrants as racists. You make a $15 national minimum wage central to your campaign strategy. You have to call for student debt forgiveness. You have to make your party the party of the poor and the non-white, and not just in the passive way. If the racists and the plutocrats don’t like that, well, they weren’t going to vote for you anyway. Alexis Goldstein offers more radical ideas that may well be effective too. See also Harold Meyerson on this.
It’s increasingly clear, with the minimum wage hikes in deep red states and marijuana legalization continuing its march, that the nation wants these progressive policies, but they don’t see the Democratic Party as any vehicle to get them done. And maybe it isn’t. Certainly the party of Andrew Cuomo isn’t going to do much for the poor. And many may say that the Democratic coalition is too diverse for such a program. And the control of Wall Street over Democratic Party is toxic. But in the Senate at least, the remaining Democratic caucus is as progressive or more so than anytime in history. There simply aren’t conservatives left in that caucus outside of Manchin and King, both of whom could flip to the Republicans (although I am a bit skeptical McConnell wants them to since he can use them for his bipartisan cred). Mark Warner will be on the far right of the caucus. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, Sherrod Brown–these are people who represent what actual Democrats want to see. They are the future of the party. And the Democratic Senate can push forward really progressive legislation, even if it isn’t going to pass. They can lead the way in developing a left-leaning platform that, hopefully, motivates the young to vote.
Because whatever Democrats are doing is not working and will probably not work in 2018 either. Money will remain vital to that election and Democrats are scared of offending their big money donors (see Mark Pryor saying he doesn’t support raising the minimum wage even though it passes in his state). But that challenge must be overcome to motivate enough voters to compete in the midterms. More commercials about how Republicans are evil isn’t going to do that. Convincing base Democratic groups that the party wants to make their lives better and is the agent for doing that will.
So there’s a lot of work to be done. In case this post was too long, here is a short open letter to the Democratic Party with some visuals.