Monday, November 13, 2017

Should The 2018 Midterms Just Be A Referendum On Trump? Or Do Democrats Have To Be Offering A Viable Alternative?


You thought the SNL sketch was funny? David Wade a former John Kerry chief of staff, now makes his living as a lobbyist (GreenLight Strategies) and Democratic strategist; über--establishment. He says Democrats can win back Congress next year "by making Donald Trump the issue in [suburban] districts. You can't allow any Republican incumbent to separate themselves from Trump's brand, period. Whether it's his failed promises, or his inability to do anything for the suburbs on basic quality of life issues from middle class taxes to health care costs to wages, you need to draw a straight line from the Republican incumbent to Trump."

Although Wade acknowledges that "Having acceptable candidates who fit their districts is important," he insists that Democrats "not pretend this is going to be anything but a referendum on Donald Trump. Ralph Northam didn’t just win out of abundance of charisma or because he had a vision. He won because Donald Trump was a millstone around Gillespie’s neck and Northam himself was acceptable to voters. We can’t be afraid to do that everywhere because with a president whose approval ratings are at a historic low, that’s how you win."

I asked Nancy Pelosi's daughter Christine, a savvy political operative in her own right, if she sees 2018 shaping up the same way. "I don't believe that," she told me. "I do believe this: Democrats win by showing voters how Trump's tax cuts for millionaires, billionaires, and big corporations slash Medicare, Medicaid, and education and cause harm in the daily lives of the American people." I asked a couple dozen Democrats the same question-- incumbents, candidates, campaign staffers, former members of Congress, etc. Each one said they disagree with Wade. One top Senate staffer, who asked for anonymity, told me that Schumer's pick of Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona shows that top Dems "still don't get it" and they think the wave will sweep even the worst Republican-lite candidates into office. "That worked out badly for us last year... [but] these know-it-alls never can't seem to admit their mistakes and therefore can't learn from them."

David Keith, currently residing in Racine and running Randy Bryce's camapign, is one of the most in-demand managers in the country. "What's fundamentally wrong about this line of thinking," he offered, "is that it takes voters for granted. It assumes voters don't have a soul, conscience, or values. This line of Beltway thinking goes part and parcel with the strategic flaws of 2016. We owe it to our better history to make something of this moment rather than use it as a moment to default. Voters are now-- more than ever-- very adept at calling bullshit. They may be calling Trump an irresponsible maniac now, but real soon they'll be looking for a remedy. Doing nothing is no remedy. It's a cause for an eye roll."

Goal ThermometerTim Canova is working hard to unseat one of the evil forces propelling the Democratic Party in all the wrong directions, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. He has seen very clearly what happens when the party gives up its role as the vehicle for the legitimate aspirations of working men and women. "The surge of Democratic victories in last week’s elections shows what’s possible when candidates and voters organize around the issues and rally around a progressive agenda. We should be skeptical of claims by the Democratic establishment that the party can win back Congress by simply making 2018 a referendum on Donald Trump. They've been wrong so often in the past that we should question their assumptions, as well as their motives. The 'Trump referendum' strategy would serve the interests of the party’s corporate backers since, win or lose, it will have ensured a negative campaign that ignores progressive policy alternatives. The way back for Democrats is to embrace the party’s progressive roots to offer a compelling vision for our country. That’s what Philip Murphy did in winning the governor’s race in New Jersey, he campaigned for a state-run bank as part of his call to reject outdated economic ways and embrace innovative approaches. Yes, it’s important to oppose Trump and his regressive agenda. But at the same time, Democrats must offer voters real progressive alternatives."

Yesterday, Derrick Crowe, the top candidate for the open TX-21 seat, made a similar point. The primary pits him against a conservative "ex"-Republican multimillionaire, Joseph Kopser. On Saturday Bexar County (San Antonio) Democrats held their primary straw poll and Crowe beat Kopser better than 2 to 1. Saturday he told us that he had spent all day Friday in the heart of Texas Hill Country, "talking to voters about progressive policies like a $15/hour minimum wage and Medicare for All. Democrats and progressives respond to that message everywhere we go. Stating the obvious: this is a midterm, and midterms are about exciting, organizing, and turning out the base. Centrism crashes and burns this year. Progressive messages will be the winners."

Kara Eastman is running against the ultimate DCCC candidate-- a failed Republican politician, EXTREMELY conservative, who switched party registration and pretends to be a Blue Dog Democrat now, Brad Ashford, the perennial flip-flopper. He managed to fake his way into the Omaha congressional seat but was the worst Democrat in Congress, always voting with his Republicans brothers on every important issue. He lost his seat last year because Democrats refused to vote for him again. He just got fired from the job he took after that and decided he might as well run again. Kara is running on a progressive-populist platform. "People in districts like the Nebraska's 2nd," she told us, "are not interested in hearing what candidates are running against. They want and deserve to hear who candidates are, what they have accomplished and what they will do for their constituents."

Sam Jammal is taking on Ed Royce-- if he can get by the 4 self-funding multimillionaires running as Democrats in his Orange County district. "Trump," he told us, "is on the top of everyone's mind-- he is dangerous and impossible to ignore. But what he does is create an opening for voters to look at their options. We still need to give voters a reason to hire us. The voter's decision won't solely be about firing the incumbent-- most of them are too entrenched to just be fired because of Trump. We need to be careful to look at the election as a hiring-- not firing decision. Trump creates the environment for change, but won't drive it without quality candidates and a message that resonates." The DCCC prefers someone else-- Gil Cisneros, an ex-potato chip taster for Frito-Lay's who won $266 million in the lottery and is spreading it around among Democrats who agree to endorse him. Cisneros lives in a $10 million beachfront mansion in another district-- CA-39 has no beachfronts-- and has shown himself to know absolutely nothing about any of the issues people care about. And, of course, he's another "ex"-Republican the DCCC always gravitates to.

Patrick Hope is a Virginia state legislator and he is more in agreement with Wade than anyone else I spoke with. He reminded us that "Democrats across the country should take notice of what happened last week in Virginia. Voters are angry about the hateful and divisive policies coming out of the Trump White House and they are directing that anger squarely at Republicans. Many Virginia Republicans tried unsuccessfully to separate themselves from the failed promises of Trump or the divisiveness of Washington but they couldn’t escape the comparison. They could run but they couldn’t hide from the fact that Trump is the Republican Party. This will be even more pronounced in the 2018 mid-terms and is the secret formula to a Democratic victory and their retaking of the House of Representatives."

I also spoke with Andy Millard, a North Carolina Democrat who ran for Congress in a red district and didn't win. He watched that same Saturday Night Live skit last night and mentioned that all the Democrats in it "looked tired and old. The Nancy Pelosi character slowly intones, 'We won because you love our fresh, new ideas delivered by fresh, new faces.' The irony was what made it funny. I agree that candidates should pin Trump to incumbent Republicans, but I think we’ll need a lot more to win back the House. We have to demonstrate that we can lead in a new direction. Trump’s win should have shown us that Americans want something different, so much so that some are willing to roll the dice to get it. We’re not going to win by getting the band back together. I’ve met some great candidates as I plan the conference, and each one has to create their own positive brand and message independent of the national figureheads. I think that’s what it’s going to take."

Brad Miller was the last great Member of Congress from North Carolina. The Republican legislature used partisan gerrymandering to erase his district. This morning he told us that "Most of establishment-wing Democrats argue that all we have to do in 2018 is ride the wave of revulsion for Trump because that’s all they want to do. They think the pre-Trump status quo was perfectly satisfactory, and Trump voters already regret their vote. The permanent Democratic establishment thinks they'll just restore that status quo if a suitable Democratic is elected president in 2020 and everything will be fine. They graciously will not demand a formal apology from the American people for how ungrateful and disrespectful we have been to them." And Brad was just getting started:
Democrats may in fact not have to do much more than not have "R” by their name to do well in 2018. But if Democrats are just the party of the old status quo, then things might not go well for Democrats after that. And the battle lines of American politics will remain the same: two tribal parties that are both okay with corrupt oligarchy but fight the latest culture war in every election.

I don’t want to minimize the real harm that Trump and his appointees are doing, but it would be much worse if he were even minimally competent. We might face a version of Trump who is not a petulant, clownish dumbass, and that is truly scary. Pence could be a plausible celebrity spokesman for a Trumpist Republican Party and government as early as 2020, and maybe even before. A Democratic Party that promises just to restore the status quo of the last generation might struggle against that.

This whole debate reminds me of the discussions I read on North Carolina basketball fan websites. Should we go with our traditional lineup of big men in the paint, or with a smaller but quicker lineup? In basketball, I want to go with what wins, and I’ll leave that decision to our coach. I see no intrinsic virtue of a lineup with two bigs, two wings and a point if something else works better. Just win. Don’t cheat, play within the rules, but win.

I think Democrats can win in 2018 and beyond as the party of economic reform, but that’s not why I’m for those policies. I support structural economic reform because that’s what I think the country needs. Badly. Our economy needs to be dewormed. I want someone to attack the injustice and dysfunction in our economy, and the corrupting concentration of economic and political power, and Democrats still seem like the best bet. Yes, I think Democrats will be rewarded by voters if they do, but I want that for it’s own sake.

Our candidates might not have to wring their hands over how to seem “authentic” if they actually believed what they said and acted on their beliefs in office. Why do voters think so many candidates are empty careerists? Because so many are.
I want to close this out with comments from two of the savviest political leaders I know, California activist Norman Solomon and former-- and future-- Florida Congressman Alan Grayson. Alan was as succinct as Norman was thorough. He told us that "Donald Trump’s old reality show was called The Apprentice.  His 2018 reality show will be called The Biggest Loser." Norman went on for some length-- but important stuff:
Overall, this kind of approach-- prioritizing a quest for supposedly “persuadable” suburban GOP voters-- has proven to be a failure. That’s a big reason why Trump got elected. We should not forget that Chuck Schumer was expressing the conventional Democratic Party wisdom when he said in July 2016: “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia. And you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.”

As the Autopsy points out, “Schumer’s boast demands scrutiny not just because of the disastrous results in three of those four states, but because of the people it overlooked. It illustrated a fundamental assumption underpinning Democratic voter outreach: that to defeat Trump, the party could depend on white suburban voters and give short shrift to working-class voters-- including the voters of color who form 46 percent of the party’s base. This badly flawed assumption went much deeper than an offhand remark by a leading Democrat. The Democratic spending in the 2016 election focused enormous resources on white voters to the relative neglect of people of color.”

That neglect had devastating effects. The drop-off in votes for the Democratic ticket among people of color included a 5 percent plunge among Latino voters for Clinton compared to Obama’s total four years earlier-- despite the fact that Clinton was running against a virulently anti-Latino candidate who labeled Mexican immigrants “rapists” and all the rest of it.

Yet the repetition compulsion of largely targeting white “moderate” suburban voters still festers at the top of the Democratic Party. It fits in neatly with the persistent illusion-- fondly and disastrously embraced in 2016-- that Trump will defeat himself and Democrats need to mainly help him do that by continually hammering on how horrendous he is.

But that’s not how you get a very big turnout from the Democratic Party base-- and a very big turnout from that base is absolutely crucial if we’re going to take back Congress and then the White House. As Jim Hightower put it a few days ago, "Voter turnout is based on voter turn-on-- so, rather than stale robo-calls, let's give to working class people of different backgrounds a slate of progressive candidates and proposals that make them want to elect Democrats."

A lot more than just tactical differences is going on here. There’s a vision for the future behind many of the claims that the next election must be almost all about Trump and that white suburban voters hold the key. That vision, consciously or not, sees a de facto division of roles: wherein the Democratic Party’s base delivers a requisite number of votes while the party largely focuses its actual policies and outreach spending priorities on “moderate” white voters. And that vision looks forward to the corporate donor class retaining its hold on the party, while the base gets minimal attention with election outreach and minimal help from Democrats in power.

As the Autopsy concludes: “Operating from a place of defensiveness and denial will not turn the party around. Neither will status quo methodology... What must now take place includes honest self-reflection and confronting a hard truth: that many view the party as often in service to a rapacious oligarchy and increasingly out of touch with people in its own base… The party must learn how to speak a populist tongue that is in sync with real advocacy for a clear agenda, putting public needs above corporate profits. An imperative is to find common political denominators that are inspirational and practical, cutting across demographic lines while building foundations for social advancement and a humane future.”

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At 6:30 AM, Anonymous ap215 said...

Well this part of the sentence is true "by making Donald Trump the issue that's the establishment's talking point to win elections & Murphy, Northam & other establishment candidates did just that but thankfully there are other options to win future races besides them Democratic Socialists Of America Our Revolution & other progressive groups just to name a few their goals populist message & policy i hope these groups continue to rise up & takeover the party down the road as for next year i think we'll fall short of winning back congress 2020 will be the year we take over.

At 6:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A: yes. and yes.

It's possible that just trump being trump is enough to suppress the barely sentient white men who voted for him but may stay home. In a few instances, there MAY be a decent D candidate running who might entice a few of the dormant third to cast a ballot.

But in most cases, the natural tendency for americans, dumbest and laziest electorate in the history of earth, to stay home for midterms will be a wash. Typically those who are obsessed with evil will show up in greater numbers because they actually have evil to vote for. The other side has a lot less there to support.

But imagining that the democraps' potential trump windfalls are enough to forge a majority... what then? I keep remembering 2006 and 2008, mirrors to today. And I remember that the democraps refused to enact any of their electoral mandates, even though they had enough for cloture and an adult in the WH. Numerically and effectively, the Rs were dead.

I also remember all those signing ceremonies in the oval where the prez, reid and Pelosi celebrated the signing of seminal lege on MFA, gun control, TBTF divestitures, tax increases on the rich, taxing wall street transactions, free college, student loan relief, voting fairness, marriage equality, infrastructure investments, strengthening SSI... and also the doj announcing all those arrests from their task forces on bank fraud, torture, foreclosure fraud, investment fraud, Clinton foundation fraud, voter fraud...

Oh wait... none of these happened did they?

So... in November 2008 the Rs were dead. By February they were resurrected. By obamanation and the democraps. Filibusters were enabled by a dozen or more Ds who participated at one time or another. The prez never demanded any of the mandate be addressed. And even before some of the fake lege was done, he had already promised the corporations that nothing would ever hurt them.

So we now have trump and his Nazi cabal of corruption and stupidity.

2018 looks a lot like 2006; 2020 will look a lot like 2008; Since the democraps have only gotten MORE corrupt and feckless, 2021 will look like 2009 and 2022 will look like 2010 when 15 million D voters were so pleased with obamanation and the democraps that they stayed home. So if a democrap were to win the WH in 2020, look for Donnie trump junior, roy moore or someone else far worse, stupider and probably more evil than today to win in 2024 because the democraps won't do shit except collect checks.

Americans never heard of Santayana, ensuring his prophecy.
America should be renamed the united states of lather, rinse, repeat.

At 10:43 AM, Blogger Elizabeth Burton said...

The repeated hammering by the media that the Virginia election shows "anti-Trump feeling" should be sufficient proof the establishment Dems have no intention of doing anything useful about winning next year. Worse, they're incapable of understanding that intelligent people don't need to be told over and over how bad Trump is, and that having that as their main message is offensively condescending.

So, we'll just have to take back Congress without them. Even a hammer with a broken handle can pound a nail.

At 12:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But, Elizabeth, what if that hammer head REFUSES to pound that nail?

Do we wait around hoping for the miraculous handle to appear... or for the nail to pound itself?

that's what we've been doing for 35 years now.

At 12:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Do we wait around hoping for the miraculous handle to appear . . ."

Samuel Beckett wrote a play around this thought.

I'm also reminded of My Dinner With Andre, which valiantly attempted to awaken the slumbering dullards America allows to vote while there was still time to do something about it. But then, no good deed goes unpunished with being treated like Cassandra even when the gift horse is outside the gate.

At 6:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A well-written piece by DWT. This is the kind of pieces that readers come to this website for. Those readers might want DWT to stop the un-ending trail of "Trump is bad" articles, and instead write more thought-provoking articles such as this one.

At 9:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would point out to Elizabeth that even if "we" take back congress w/o the DxCCs and DNC, we'll still have the democrap party ruling their caucus with the same tyranny of the same (albeit somewhat less in value) federal reserve notes.

sending the same losing army into "battle" again and again only to have them refuse to fight every time... hoping this time they'll actually start swinging?

A smart man once said that was the definition of insanity. And he was correct.


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