This is the first segment of a series that addresses problems facing the Democratic Party.
Earlier this week, a plane pulling a banner that read “Senator Heller: Keep your word. Vote no on Trumpcare” flew over West Virginia. Unfortunately, Heller represents Nevada, not West Virginia. Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake retweeted the photo, writing, “If you want a metaphor for why Democrats lose…”
A new professional wrestler in Kentucky calls himself “The Progressive Liberal.” In eastern Kentucky, he’s a villain. He spouts condescending rhetoric that insults the locals but sounds eerily like a progressive twitter feed. “You people need to be reprogrammed. You continually vote against your own interests. You put people in Congress and the White House that aren’t going to help you. They’re not going to bring your jobs back.” One conservative writer tweeted, “You honestly can’t tell the difference between middle America’s parody of Democrats and the candidates Dems actually run for office.”
Finally, former Reagan Administration official Bruce Bartlett, one of the original architects of supply-side economics, long ago rejected conservative economic dogma and has written extensively about the failure of trickle-down economics. However, Bartlett refuses to join the Democratic Party even though he tends to vote for Democrats these days. Why? Because, he says, the party lacks guiding principles. As he says, “[T]he party doesn’t really seem to stand for anything other than opposition to the GOP.”
Democrats face a huge public perception problem. After losing more than 1,000 legislative and Congressional seats in the last eight years, many Republicans and much of the press think the party is incompetent in their campaign operations. Much of middle America perceives Democrats as elitist and condescending. Even many people who don’t like Trump or what the modern GOP has become believe the party has no soul.
Despite these problems, the country has a governing coalition that’s waiting for the Democrats to become an effective opposition party. However, Democrats need to recognize their failures and work to define themselves in broad terms of what they are, not narrow ones of what they’re not. They need a more robust communication infrastructure to match what Republicans have built over the past 50 years. They need a narrative that transcends the election cycle to give campaigns the context to make them successful. And they need to update their campaign machinery to compete in the 21st century.
Democrats might win in 2018 without addressing these problems. If they do, they’ll learn the wrong lessons and find themselves losing again in the not-too-distant future. They need a fundamental reboot that addresses weaknesses in campaign organizations, core values, guiding principles and inclusion. More to come.