Tom Perez was elected Chair of the Democratic National Committee. It’s now time for Democrats to put that election behind them and move on. The DNC Chair is not nearly as important as activists seem to believe. The real action needs to happen in the states and state chairs and committees need to put pressure on the DNC to help them rebuild.
If the Democratic Party wants to become a competitive party again, they need to build armies where the battles are fought. For the last two decades, they’ve been parachuting operatives into states during election years without building sustainable infrastructure. In the process, they’ve lost control of most state governments, Congress and the White House.
Too many Democrats are obsessed with the White House. A recent op-ed in the New York Times posits that Democrats can win without expanding their vote among white working class voters. Instead, article believes that Democrats can just move to the left to pick up third party voters who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton. That might work if the party is only concerned with winning the White House but it will fail miserably if Democrats hope to win control of Congress or state legislatures.
As a report by Third Way notes, the Democratic coalition of college-educated white voters, non-white voters, and younger voters is increasingly concentrated in urban areas while the districts that Democrats need to win in states across the country includes suburban and rural areas. Also, members of that coalition, especially the young people, are less loyal to the Democratic Party, . They consider themselves independents, not partisans. Finally, they also don’t identify liberal as much some Democrats would like to believe they do. The coalition is volatile and less reliable than the one Republicans have built.
Democrats are hemorrhaging votes among working class people of all stripes. In North Carolina in 2016, working class African-American men voted at a lower rate than their white counter parts by about 14%. At the same time, Democrats are winning an increasingly smaller percentage of those white men. The party needs to give working class voters of all colors a reason to vote Democratic again.
All of this argues that Democrats need to start organizing and reaching out to voters at the local level and address the concerns most pertinent to their day-to-day lives. Instead of offering litmus tests, the party needs to be more accepting. They need an overarching message that includes their existing coalition but invites more people to the party. In fact, they need more than a message. They need a mission statement that tells people in a sentence or two what the party stands for, not just what it stands against.
When I was a kid, I was taught that the Democrats stood up for the people without a voice. That’s how they became the party of civil rights, voting rights, workers’ right, gay rights and women’s rights. But they also stood for the small business people, fighting overregulation and unfair competition from big corporations.
Today, the Democrats have become beholden to some of the groups they’ve empowered while ignoring some of the people they once defended. The people who need a voice include those in large swaths of the South and Midwest who were left behind by unfair trade agreements and obsolete infrastructure. Democrats should offer them hope for the future and concrete assistance like infrastructure and job training instead of abandoning them to the politics of resentment pushed by Donald Trump and the new GOP.
That rebuilding happens when Democrats are involved in those communities and understand their needs. They should be running for school board and city council. And the party should be training organizers who live there, helping them create solutions and give voice to the people in those communities. State parties need to put pressure on the DNC for that local support, instead of the allowing the DNC to listen to the powerful interest groups who have too much power and influence over the national party.
Democrats need to stop fighting among themselves and get back into the game. Quit demanding litmus tests from candidates and start addressing the needs of communities. Support candidates, not orthodoxy. When they start doing that, they’ll start winning again.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >