For the first time in more than four years, I didn’t post a blog for more than two weeks. I started a few but never finished them. I was traveling around Minnesota and enjoying checking out the people and scenery more than the politics in North Carolina. I do have some observations, though.
I spent relatively little time on social media, usually checking in on twitter and Facebook once or twice a day but rarely spending more than a few minutes on either platform. I don’t feel any less informed because I got my information a few hours later than I would have with a “BREAKING:” twitter post. Instead, I felt more relaxed and balanced.
I thought a lot about why Democrats have lost so much in recent years. Right now, the party has a real problem determining what it represents and too many people confuse issues with ideology and message with principles. The party needs a set of broad, inclusive tenets under which it can build a big tent that reaches beyond its base.
The party has become defined by the interest groups that offer litmus tests for determining support for candidates. That’s what interest groups are supposed to do. It’s not what parties should do. Parties should provide a set of core values that can be broadly defined yet give commonality to all people who consider themselves members. Democrats should get back to their roots of standing up for people against powerful interests that include both corporations and government. The core values include fairness, justice and equality.
If you’re running for Congress as a member of the resistance in a Republican held Congressional or legislative district, you’re probably going to lose. People who consider themselves members of the resistance already support Democrats and already are engaged in politics. Because of gerrymandering and self-segregation, most of the resistance already lives in Democratic districts.
The people you need to reach don’t care much about either the resistance or the Tea Party. They aren’t into slogans and don’t go to protests. They’ve also been resisting a lot longer than you. They’ve been throwing out establishment candidates and rejecting the status quo with startling regularity since 2006. And they’re not all working-class whites, either. Some are working-class African-Americans and Latinos who took a pass on 2016 because they didn’t like either choice. Others are middle-class suburbanites who see their children leave college laden with debt and working multiple jobs to service it. They want a fair shake again and hope for the future, but they don’t necessarily want it to come as another government program.
Your job as a candidate is not to convert these people to your point of view, but to assure them that you understand theirs. You’ll have to work hard to gain their trust because they believe they’ve been lied to and left behind for more than a decade. If you go to them with slogans and political dogma, you’ve probably already lost them. They don’t define themselves in political terms and are suspect of people who do.
For Democrats to win again, they need to figure out that the biggest threat facing America is not interference from Russia but a populace that is losing faith in its government and leaders. They need to spend less time demonizing Republicans and more time understanding why people support them. It’s not all just racism and xenophobia. It’s also fear that the safety net won’t be there to support them when they need it because of fiscal irresponsibility. It’s the belief that low-income workers are keeping their wages down. It’s an inherent distrust of rules and regulations that’s as American as Mom and apple pie.
Until Democrats spend more time trying to understand the voters of middle America instead of trying to get those voters to understand them, they will struggle electorally. Republicans certainly have their problems, but that’s a result of an internal ideological battle over whether they are the conservative party of William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan or the populist party of Steve Bannon and Donald Trump. Given that dynamic, Democrats may well win next year, but if they do, I’m afraid they’ll learn all the wrong lessons.
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 >