The Democratic Party is struggling to find its footing in the Trump era. Rather than reassessing the direction and message of the party following the 2016 election, the party tried to essentially duct tape the deep divides between the two wings of the party.
The result is an even more fragmented party, as has been clearly on display in the recent special elections. Rob Quist lost in Montana to a Republican that assaulted a reporter the night before the election, which the progressive wing of the party argued was a result of the Democrats not putting enough resources in the campaign.
Democrat Jon Ossoff lost a race that polling showed he could have won in Georgia, and South Carolina Democrat Archie Parnell nearly upset his Republican opponent in a race he was supposed to lose comfortably. Progressives say the Democrats didn’t put enough money into the Parnell campaign and put far too much money, $23 million to be exact, into Ossoff’s campaign. Ossoff is an inexperienced centrist when progressive say the party needs proven progressives to win back the House.
Attention turned to Nancy Pelosi following Karen Handel’s defeat of Ossoff. Handel used House Minority Leader Pelosi in multiple TV and radio attack ads against Ossoff, which many political analysts said were extremely effective. Democrats expressed disbelief and anger that in a moment where they should be doing well by tying Republicans to Trump, their own candidates are being tied to Pelosi and her “San Francisco values.”
“They’re still running against her and still winning races, and it’s still a problem,” said Representative Tim Ryan (D – OH) who has been extremely critical of his party following their crushing 2016 defeat.
“Democrats have got to get back in the habit of winning again, and I think one way we can do that is by getting new candidates and a new generation of leadership,” Representative Seth Moulton (D – MA) told reporters.
This crisis of leadership comes just months after progressives slammed the party for nominating establishment figure Tom Perez to head the DNC over Bernie Sanders surrogate Keith Ellison.
The split between Democrats may not be as much about policy as it is about message and strategy. Both sides of the divide understand that it doesn’t make a difference which policies they support if they can’t gain seats in 2018. That said, they’re struggling to connect with the American people, and the leadership of Nancy Pelosi in the House hasn’t exactly helped matters.
When the Tea Party formed in 2010 in all out opposition to all things Barack Obama, they had very consistent messaging. Socialism was in the White House, and it was going to tax you to death to fund the welfare state. Some rhetoric was more extreme than others, but for the most part all Republicans used this message in unison, helping to build a popular movement among disgruntled Americans that in part led to the rise of Donald Trump.
Democrats, on the other hand, haven’t been able to craft a consistent successful message. As Republicans struggle to learn how to govern, Democrats are trying to learn how to be an opposition party.
On Monday they focus all their attention on Russia, on Tuesday they’re protesting the AHCA on the Senate floor, and by Thursday they’re back with a frontal assault on Russia again.
Democrats need a unified, coherent message based on policy. Most of the social programs they advocate are broadly popular with the public, from universal health coverage to making the wealthy pay their fair share. Constant drum beating over Russia is a bad political strategy, considering even if Robert Mueller’s investigation ends by finding Trump guilty of an impeachable offense, it’s going to take years to complete. Furthermore, impeachment isn’t a legal proceeding, it’s a political one. The Democrats wouldn’t even be capable of their pipe dream of impeaching Trump if they can’t even win a majority in the House, which will only be achieved through popular policy proposals.
Beyond the need for a consistent message and Nancy Pelosi’s ostensible inability to craft it, it’s time for fresh faces at the top of the Democratic Party. Pelosi has led Democrats in the
House for 10 years now and has never been particularly popular. The Huffington Post tracking poll shows Pelosi’s favorability rating at just 28.6% compared to a 48.7% unfavorable rating. Pelosi represents an elite, old school establishment political philosophy that simply isn’t working for Americans anymore.
If Democrats are going to have any hope of winning back the House in 2018 or the Presidency in 2020, they’re going to need to find new leadership that understands the public and can organize an effective agenda.
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