Yesterday, Democrats delivered Joe Biden a victory that makes his first two years in office the most successful of any president since Lyndon Johnson. It’s certainly not been two straight years of wins, but the impact on the country will be felt for decades. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will update our transportation and communications systems to bring them fully into the 21st century. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first federal gun control bill in decades, restricts access to guns to people deemed a threat and raises the age to buy certain weapons. The CHIPS Act encourages the manufacture of computer components in the United States. And the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 significantly addresses climate change, reduces both the cost of prescription drugs and the deficit, and makes big corporations pay their fair share. It’s a truly remarkable legislative record. 

In addition to the legislative victories, Biden scored other big wins. He got us out of Afghanistan. Doing so was never going to be smooth and peaceful. Just ask the Russians. Last week, he killed the head of Al Qaeda—in the middle of Taliban-held Kabul—letting terrorists know they really aren’t safe anywhere. 

Biden could not have gotten this done without competent leadership in Congress. Both Schumer and Pelosi have shepherded bills through their respective houses with the narrowest of majorities. In particular, Schumer kept alive the budget bill that passed yesterday despite numerous proclamations of its death. It may be a fraction of the size of the bill’s first iterations, but it is more than sufficient given that the Senate is split evenly. Pelosi and Schumer showed what happens when leaders hold their caucuses together. Every state legislature should take notice. 

Yesterday also rebutted all those Democrats who claimed Joe Manchin is a Democrat in name only. He may not meet the litmus tests of the left flank, but he gets credit for shaping a bill that focuses on the priorities of many Americans without exploding the deficit. He will continue to frustrate activists in the future, but he’s probably about where a lot of the country is politically. 

The bill yesterday also exposed Republicans for all of their fake crying about the deficit. This law will reduce the deficit in coming years by hundreds of billions of dollars. The last budget passed by the GOP exploded the deficit while providing tax cuts that only benefited the wealthiest Americans. Republicans haven’t passed a budget that reduced the deficit since before Ronald Reagan was in office. Democrats have done so repeatedly.

Now, it’s time for the Democrats’ communication team to sell these victories to the American public. I’m dubious that they will be able to do so. While the party’s legislative and executive teams may be the best in modern history, their communication arm has shown little political savvy when it comes to talking to Americans.  Their perspective is too Washington-centric and their messages sound like they were developed in focus groups held on Twitter. 

So, on that front, I’ll offer some advice. I know, I know. I don’t have an office in Washington and I’m not friends with people who fund SuperPACs, but I did work on a bunch of campaigns over the last quarter century. More importantly, for the ten years before I got into politics, I was a carpenter and social worker where I spent most of my time with people who don’t think about politics every day. Those days may be long gone, but I’ve maintained a lot of those relationships. 

The first thing Democrats need to do is take a victory lap. Also, take a page out of Donald Trump’s playbook. Hit the road. Make Manchin the primary messenger. Send him out to a bunch of suburban and rural Congressional districts, even if they’re ones Democrats will lose.  

Hold rallies in mid-sized towns across the country. They don’t need to be in big arenas. Go to high school gymnasiums. They will get just as much press in Rocky Mount as they will in Raleigh and they’ll send a message that those people in small towns matter, too. 

Learn to talk like regular people. Intersectionality may be a thing to activists but it means nothing to the people Democrats need to reach. Message is a noun. Quitting talking about messaging to people and just start talking to them. That involves listening to what they say and not just reading their opinions on polls or making observations in focus groups. Modern communication is a two-way street, not just force-feeding information to skeptical audiences.

Democrats need to stop talking primarily to themselves. They have a serious branding problem with a whole lot of middle-of-the road voters, especially in suburbia. Spend money everywhere. There’s no shortage of money in politics. We spent $14 billion on campaigns in 2020. 

I don’t have cable television in my house and don’t watch anything if it’s not streaming. However, I just spent a week at the beach where my parents regularly watch cable news. On Morning Joe on MSNBC, every other commercial was political. Some were Beasley spots. Some were pro-Biden, touting his accomplishments. Others bashed Republicans for being unpatriotic and anti-worker. “Good,” I thought. Then, I switched to CNN. I didn’t see one single political commercial. Not one. We watched Lester Holt every night at 6:30, just like we watched Huntley and Brinkley (because David Brinkley was from North Carolina) when I was a kid. Again, not one single ad. Quit thinking like a targeted campaign and talk to America, not just the base.  

Go canvas. Everywhere. And don’t stop. Canvas in areas where you need to get out the vote. Canvas in areas where Democrats are going to lose by double digits. Try to get into their bubble. Have conversations. Leave information for people who might otherwise only hear Fox News or talk radio. Democrats don’t need to win a lot of these areas but they do need to reduce the margin that they lose them. 

Bash Republicans. Relentlessly. Bash them for voting against a cap on insulin. Beat them up for failing to do one single thing to combat climate change. Let American know that Republicans stand with drug companies instead of seniors on fixed incomes. Beat them up for voting against supporting veterans who are suffering from ailments due to exposure to burn pits, even if they voted for it later. And finally, bash them for failing to hold their own accountable by covering up January 6. 

Democrats have an opportunity to brand themselves as the party of responsibility and moderation after years of being portrayed as out of touch. Take advantage of it. Spend whatever it takes. Be ruthless. Brand Republicans as the extremists. Run ads of Republicans praising Nancy Pelosi for going to Taiwan and contrast it with ads of Ron Johnson suggesting we scrap Social Security and Medicare. Take advantage of the momentum and run hard all the way until November. And then, regardless of the outcome, don’t stop running. 


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