According to Politico yesterday, “Former Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday officially launched the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, billing it in a speech to the Center for American Progress Action Fund as the center of Democratic rebuilding in the era of President-elect Donald Trump and as Democrats’ main hope to roll back Republican gains in state legislatures and prepare for redistricting in 2020.”
I should feel excited, but I feel dismayed. Instead of launching the initiative in a state like North Carolina, where we’ve been in the redistricting fight for years, Holder launched it in Washington, where redistricting is theoretical, not reality. Instead of hiring someone from the states who have been engaged in this battle for years, they hired the former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the organization that’s overseen the loss of the Democratic majority in Congress over the past eight years. The president and vice president are from the Democratic Governor’s Association and Majority PAC, the SuperPAC affiliated with the DCCC.
I felt the same sense of dread when the Washington Post ran an article a few weeks ago titled, “Priorities USA positions itself as center of gravity for the left in the Trump era.” The same people and organizations who have controlled the Democratic political machinery for the past eight years are continuing to control it today. Under their leadership, we’ve seen the largest collapse of a major party since 1932.
Despite the obvious failures, Democrats keep turning to the same people for answers. The party has a Washington-centric mentality that’s left it out of touch with the rest of the country. At a time when they should be decentralizing operations and reaching out to states where Democrats have had some success, the DC Democrats continue to talk among themselves and reward failure.
They would do well to get out a bit. Specifically, they should look at North Carolina. Down here, Democrats are a few years ahead of the nation as a whole. We had devastating losses in 2010 and 2012 that gave the GOP control of both houses of the legislature and the Governor’s Mansion. Since then, Democrats have battled back with at least some success.
In 2014, the GOP rode a wave that gave them control of the US Senate and helped them increase their majority in Congress. While national Democrats were running against the Koch brothers, in North Carolina, US Senator Kay Hagan almost survived that wave by making her race about public schools. At the legislative level, Democrats picked up three house seats, making North Carolina one of the only states in the nation where Democrats made gains.
In 2016, while the national Democrats were running against Donald Trump, the governor’s race in North Carolina came down to toll roads in Charlotte and the infamous House Bill 2. Despite Trump’s victory in the state Roy Cooper defeated incumbent Republican Pat McCrory by a handful of votes. Democrats also picked up another legislative seat and kept the attorney general’s office in Democratic hands.
Democrats in North Carolina have seen their limited but significant success because they’ve localized their races. The issues that defined the campaigns have direct impact on voters’ lives. They’ve built an infrastructure that effectively challenges Republicans even in the toughest years. While they’ve certainly fallen short in places and still have plenty of work to do, their record over the past two cycles is far better than the Democrats’ record nationally.
I don’t have any confidence that the Democrats running the political machinery in Washington can lead the party out of its hole. They don’t seem to learn from their mistakes and apparently lack the inclination to broaden their perspectives. They’ve created a revolving door of politics where the same people cycle through the consulting firms, party organizations, progressive advocacy groups, and think tanks and then recycle the same failed political strategies.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Holder, Center for American Progress Action Fund, Priorities USA and other groups will use their access to money to fund groups in the states. Maybe they’ll drop their top-down approach and realize that they are the ones who need more accountability, not the people in the trenches fighting Republicans. I hope so, but I doubt it.