Democrats and liberal pundits can’t seem to make up their minds whether their string of recent special election losses in conservative districts is a sign that they are doomed — or constitutes a bunch of moral victories. Here is a hint: Moral victors don’t get a vote in Congress.
It is true that the Democratic candidates, who were not exactly the crème of the crop, outperformed expectations in deep-red Kansas, Montana, Georgia and South Carolina. On the other hand, Jon Ossoff and allied groups spent more than $30 million on the most winnable of the four races and still lost.
The lesson that Democrats should learn from these painful defeats is that they can’t rely solely on President Donald Trump’s unpopularity if they want to win back the House in 2018. The special elections have shown that people aren’t just going to show up in droves to send yet another message to Washington.
For starters, that’s because people right now aren’t all that crazy about Democrats either – and they really don’t have much reason to be right now. In addition, being a historically unpopular candidate didn’t stop Trump from winning last November. Taking over the mantle as “The Party of No” from the GOP doesn’t suit the Democratic brand and it won’t get voters excited about them. And turnout will make all the difference in next year’s midterm elections.
By definition, conservatives like the status quo. In fact, Trump’s promise to turn back the clock to a time “when America was great” got them really excited and they showed up in large enough numbers to get a man elected whose unfavorable score was 61%.
But many of the people who didn’t like Trump didn’t vote because they weren’t thrilled with the alternative either. That’s why simply obstructing works much better for Republicans.
Progressives, on the other hand, by definition want to move forward. To get them engaged, Democrats have to tell them what they want to fight for. They need bold ideas, new faces and a vision of an America that addresses injustice and transforms the country into something the world can once again look up to.
These ideas and candidates can’t just appeal to one wing of the party. Bernie Sanders progressives won’t win elections on their own and neither will the moderate pragmatists in Washington.
If Democrats want to sweep back into power, they need a message that speaks to the entire country. But they also need a messenger.
Trump knows exactly how to speak to “his” people. Barack Obama did, too, when he first burst onto the political scene and won the White House in 2008.
If they want to succeed, Democrats have to find candidates who can connect with Americans in the same way, rallying their own supporters to show up while getting those of the other side to think, “Well, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to give him/her a shot.”
If they manage to do that, they will win the House next year and the White House in 2020. But if they continue their infighting and simply count on people to get tired of Trump, they might learn that they have once again misjudged American voters.
The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Tom Perez caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), cowbell (US Air Force), drum stick (Andrewa / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 3.0) and US Capitol (Martin Falbisoner / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 3.0).