What can I say about the current state of the Democratic Party? Oh, boy …
In late July 2017, the Democratic National Committee’s Deputy Vice Chair of Civic Engagement Frank Spencer spoke during a #DNCTakeBack news conference at Politicon. Mr. Spencer took around ten minutes clarifying some parts of the Democrats’ “bold” new platform. Spencer said that the party had listened to the people and would thus promote a populist platform. During the question and answer section, Spencer admitted that the Democrats tried to run as centrists largely because the party’s donors wouldn’t let the party’s candidates run on populist issues.
As it turns out, that news conference in Pasadena, CA was a fake one. It was staged by The Yes Men, with the help of grassroots activists, for a bipartisan audience of 100 people. Andy Bichlaum of the parody duo played the part of a DNC representative who came to talk about the Democrats’ “A Better Deal,” the platform the party had released a week prior.
Bichlaum had a few people going for a while. Yet sadly, in telling people things they wanted to hear, he made a commentary on the sad state of affairs in “the party of the people.”
With that in mind, Let’s review some things I have already talked about in this series, while discussing what has transpired over the past year-and a half.
The Loss of Over 1,000 Seats Across the Country Since 2009
Earlier in this series, I discussed hoe the Democrats had lost 1,042 seats across the country over the course of nine years.
One of the most jarring statistics was the loss of the governor number advantage. After the 2016 election, the Democrats were down to 16 governors. As of this publishing date, that number was down to 15.*
On Thursday, August 3, 2017, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice made a huge announcement during a surprise visit by Donald Trump in Huntington, West bVirginia. Justice, who was elected as a Democrat in 2016, said that he was going to register as a Republican. That would bring down the total number of Democratic governors across the states to 15 (and raise the number of Republican governor to 34).
Justice’s change might not be all that surprising given his politics, past contributions, and political relationships. He had gone hunting with Donald Trump, Jr. shortly before the elder Trump’s visit to WV. Justice is close friends with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and in 2014, the former donated to the latter’s super PAC. In 2015, Justice donated to the Republican Governor’s Association.
The change in West Virginia served as “further confirmation” of the state’s rightward shift. The state had had a Democratic governor since 2001 but Trump won 68% of the vote, carrying all of the state’s 55 counties. In counties were coal is still being produced, Trump won 70%-80% of the vote. Trump appealed to voters with his promises to restore the coal industry, and save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
* Update: On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, the Democrats improved on the governor front. In New Jersey, Phil Murphy defeated Republican Kim Guadagno. In Virginia, Democrat Ralph Northam defeated Republican Ed Gillespie.
To put it bluntly, the Democrats have a lot of ground to cover across the country. They will have to defend nearly 2 dozen congressional seats in 2018. At the state level, they trail in governorships and legislative seats. And the Democrats have deficits at the local level, too.
How will the Democrats get these seats, though?
In 2017, the Democrats were looking to get a head start in gearing up for the 2018 mid-term elections. Of course, all of the seats in the House of Representatives are in play (since those seats last every two years), but the Democrats have a lot of ground to cover.
Also in play, are Senate seats. Democrats will have to defend a total of 25 seats while Republicans have to only defeat 8. Many of the seats currently held by Democrats are in states Trump won in 2016. That means this year provided an opportunity for Democrats to test election strategies ahead of time.
During the spring of 2017, the Democrats attempted to take 4 congressional seats in the following states:
- South Carolina
These seats were vacated by Republicans tapped to serve in Trump’s cabinet. Unfortunately, the Democrats went 0-4 in these elections.
In addition, there were other special elections held for state legislatures. The Democrats fared better in those races.
In April, Democrat James Thompson lost to Republican Ron Estes in a special election in Kansas’ 4th District. Estes garnered 52.2% of the vote while Thompson garnered 46% of the vote. The election was held to replace Mike Pompeo, who left his congressional seat to be Trump’s CIA director.
The six-point loss was a surprise. The seat has been in Republican hands for the past 20 years, Pompeo had last won that seat by 31 points (with 60.7% of the vote), and Trump carried that district by 27 points in 2016.
Still, many progressives have decried the Democratic Party’s approach to Thompson’s candidacy. It has been viewed as criminal neglect although Democrats have made the case that they felt the district was unwinnable. Even worse, people thought that the Democratic establishment was punishing progressives in its ranks (and specifically Berniecrats) by failing to properly support those candidates.
Democratic leaders tried to say that their presence in the state would have turned off voters and turned out more Republican voters. However, Tom Perez said that he wanted to have a 50-state strategy for Democrats and he specifically mentioned Kansas. Also, the Democratic establishment has openly thrown its support behind Ossoff, a candidate who fits the establishment mold.
The Montana special election provided another test for Democrats in the age of Donald Trump. In the state, Democratic candidate Rob Quist, a musician, was facing off against a wealthy gubernatorial candidate in Greg Gianforte. Quist had long odds, but he managed to pull within single digits of Gianforte while running on a populist message.
Quist’s candidacy tested two things: Whether the Democrats should run as populists or against Trump and the level of the Democratic Party’s commitment in particular races. It should also be noted that Quist had a tenuous connection to the DNC at best. He supported Sanders and reportedly turned down a meeting with DNC Chair Tom Perez.
As the Montana Congressional special election neared, people were looking at the types of assistance that were being given to Quist. Reportedly, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee poured in $600,000 to help elect Quist (mostly in ads and get out the vote efforts), but the Democrats were playing from behind.
Both parties ended up spending a combined $10 million on TV and radio ads, the Republicans had a 2-to-1 advantage. The Republicans had already poured in $2.5 million to help Greg Gianforte and they started early. Also, since the Democrats started late, they gave allies of Gianforte a head start to pelt Rob Quist with negative ads.
The state was in play despite Donald Trump’s perceived popularity there. For one thing, Jon Tester, a Democrat, is a two-term senator from Montana. Also, the state has had a Democratic governor since 2005.
However, many of the voters for state took advantage of early voting opportunities. Even though Gianforte’s attack on a reporter days before the election may have lost him some points, he was already ahead of Quist, ultimately winning 50%-44.4%.
In South Carolina, Republican Ralph Norman defeated Democrat Archie Parnell by 4 percentage points (52%-48%) in the special election in the state’s 5th District, with 89% of the precints reporting. The seat in play was vacated by Mick Mulvaney.
Parnell, who once was a Goldman Sachs advisor, was not a natural politician. He was supposed to learn from Terrence Culbreath, a 34-year-old African-American who was the youngest mayor in South Carolina. Parnell was also being aided by Tim Ryan, the eight-term Ohio congressman who was selected to serve as Parnell’s surrogate.
While on the campaign trail, Parnell tried especially to appeal to black voters in the state. He and Ryan visited a few meet-and-greet events, like the York Masonic Fish Fry, the Juneteenth Celebration in Rock Hill and a “Souls to the Polls” march on a Saturday.
This election had “a different feel” for Democrats than the Georgia race and the previous ones. One key difference in this race (at least from the Georgia race) was that Parnell was openly running as a Democrat. Also, both candidates in SC mentioned Trump.
For all intents and purposes, this was “the forgotten special election.” Most people were unaware of it and most of the attention was on the special election in Georgia.
Parnell only received $300,000 from the DCCC, although that was more than Norman received. However, much of that money was spent trying to appeal to minorities in the state. Also, it is important to note that Parnell worked for Goldman Sachs and ExxonMobil in the past.
After Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), who last won election with over 60% of the vote in 2016, was pegged to be Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary, there needed to be a special election to determine who would replace him. Price once served Georgia’s 6th District, which had been held by a Republican for the past 40 years (Newt Gingrich had held the seat for 20 of them).
Democrats saw this race as their best chance to flip a district while testing the party’s anti-Trump strategy. Trump only carried the district by 1 point, 48% to 47% in 2016. This race garnered the most attention of all the special elections this year. As a result, over $50 million was spent on both candidates, with Democrat Jon Ossoff raking in $23 million, mostly in small-donations.
Ossoff, a 30-year-old who once served as a House staffer for Democrats John Lewis and Hank Johnson only garnered 48.1% of votes in the April 18 primary. Since he didn’t have at least 50% of the vote, he and Republican Karen Handel advanced to the June 20 runoff.
In early June, Handel “slipped up” during a debate with Ossoff. When the question about minimum wage came up, she said the following:
This is an example of the fundamental difference between a liberal and a conservative: I do not support a livable wage. What I support is making sure that we have an economy that is robust with low taxes and less regulation.
The Democrats pounced, with Ossoff making a tweet of his own:
Despite Handel’s gaffe, which should have been a fatal one, Ossoff lost the runoff by 4 points (52-48%).
The Good News
Yes, there was some good news for the Democrats this year. While they might not have been able to capitalize on the national stage, some Democratic candidates were able to put a dent in the Republicans’ set advantage in state races.
A couple of Democrats won in Republican areas on Tuesday, May 23. In New Hampshire, Edith DesMarais became the first Democrat to hold a seat in Wolfeboro, a traditionally Republican town that Trump carried by 7 points, as she won a special state legislative race there. In New York, Christine Pellegrino, a Sanders delegate in 2016, won an elections for the 9th state assembly district, a Republican area Trump carried by 23 points.
On August 8, 2017, Democrat Phil Miller won Iowa’s State House District 82 with 54% of the vote. His Republican opponent took 44% of the vote. The seat was previously held by Democratic Rep. Curt Hanson, who had won the seat in 2009. The special election for his seat was called in June following his death.
From the looks of things, this seat was fair game for the Republicans, who still hold a 59-41-seat edge in the state House. Trump carried this district in 2016 by 21.3 percent points on his way to winning the state with 51.1% of the vote. Obama had won the 82nd State House District in 2008 and 2012.
However, the election took an ugly turn after an ad sponsored by the Republican Party of Iowa aired an ad attacking Phil Miller for his position on transgendered students’ use of bathrooms. The ad was first aired in July, weeks after Finn Bousquet, a 14-year-old transgendered Fairfield resident, killed himself on June 19. Miller was being hit because in 2016, he voted to keep a rule in place to allow transgendered students use the bathrooms according to their gender identity. Miller was the school board president of Iowa’s Fairfield Community School District.
The victory in Iowa marked the Democrats’ 14th victory in state legislative races.
What We Can Learn From These Races
What can we learn from this year’s races? A lot, actually.
In the first two Democratic losses of the year (in KS an MT), it might seem that money was the issue, but there was more spending in the Montana race than two of the other ones. However, the race in Georgia broke all kinds of records with nothing to show for it.
The question is then this: How was the money spent? If (most of) the money was just spent on ads, what kind of ads were they and what did they talk about? Where they as bad as Jon Ossoff’s ads?
Did a majority of the money go to consultants? If the latter is true in these states, that money was essentially set on fire.
Studies have shown that direct campaigning is the best way to reach voters and compel them to show up at the polls. From the looks of it, at least three of the campaigners, including Ossoff, were making a serious effort to talk to voters.
It seems that Quist and Parnell made the best effort, but both races, especially the one in SC, were largely ignored by the Democratic establishment. The SC race suffered more because it was happening at the same time the Georgia primary was happening.
The two races in Kansas and Georgia also highlighted the different approaches by the DCCC and Democratic Party at large. The Kansas district is in a more rural area and the Georgia district is in a suburban district where more professionals live.
On another note, if some of these races were abandoned to punish “Berniecrats” in the party, that’s even more damaging. It should be noted that Jon Ossoff had endorsed Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries. He also fit a certain mold that the Democratic establishment preferred.
After the 2016 General Election concluded, the Democrats were left searching for answers. Of course, they had to figure out why Hillary Clinton lost the Donald Trump, but in answering that, they would have to address the realities facing the party itself. And many of the lingering questions concerned the party’s leadership.
Let’s go back to the Georgia special election for a minute. During that race, Pelosi was used as a symbol of negativity and Jon Ossoff was likened to her.
While these ads were (intellectually) dishonest, they were effective. They signaled how Pelosi could be used against Democrats on a national level. She was a party leader, after all.
After Jon Ossoff lost to Karen Handel in the special election for the 6th Congressional District seat in Georgia, some notable progressives weighed in and said that the race served an example of how the Democratic establishment had failed. Among was Massachusetts congressman Seth Moulton. For his part, Moulton said that there needed to be a new generation of Democrats to the help party and more importantly, serve working families across the country.
Some other Democrats were specific and questioned whether longtime Democratic leaders, such as Nancy Pelosi, were becoming liabilities.
Nancy Pelosi’s Leadership
Nancy Pelosi, the current House Minority Leader, has been in Congress since she won a special election in California in 1987. During her 30 years as a congresswoman, Pelosi has marked a few important milestones, including her role as the first female Speaker of the House (2006).
Some will argue that Pelosi was, in some ways, a victim of her own success. As speaker, she did help to push through landmark legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Act and the Affordable Care Act, A.K.A. Obamacare. As a result, she became a prime Republican target.
Part of the fallout from the Georgia Race involved the question of whether or not the Democratic Party should look toward new and younger leadership. As a result, a few Democrats, including Moulton, Reps. Kathleen Rice (NY), Filemon Vila (TX), Tim Ryan (OH), and a fellow California Rep. in Loretta Sanchez, started to speak up and all out Pelosi and other leaders in the party.
In fighting back, Pelosi said that she was “a master legislator” who was fighting against Republican efforts to undermine or destroy Obamacare. She also dismissed the criticism from her detractors, saying that they were already against her.
But do Pelosi’s critics have a point? What is it about her leadership that hurts Democrats? Is there something wrong with Pelosi?
In May, I published a pair of posts detailing how select members of Congress were being confronted by their constituents (and failing the test each time). While there were more Republicans feeling the heat, at least a few Democrats were, too. Pelosi, as the second-ranked Democrat in Congress was among them.
In that post, I outlined a few of the complaints against Pelosi, but the past special election in Georgia highlighted a few more:
1. Nancy Pelosi Does Not Know Who the Democratic Party’s Leaders Are.
Although Pelosi is a Democratic leader due to her position, she did not say she was a leader when asked point-blank. Here’s what I said in that May post about the Democrats:
In late March, Nancy Pelosi was interviewed by Anderson Cooper on CNN. One of the questions Cooper asked Pelosi was who the current leader of the Democratic Party was. Pelosi struggled a bit before saying she thought Obama (who was no longer in office) and Hillary Clinton (who had just lost in November) were the two current leaders.
2. Pelosi Does Not Support Single Payer.
Here’s another quote from that May post:
Days after that interview, Nancy Pelosi attended a town hall meeting in San Francisco, her home town. At one point, she was asked about single payer. She said she was in favor of single payer before she was first elected by Congress yet claimed that the Affordable Care Act was in some ways more liberal. That elicited boos.
Some then yelled to asked her if she supported single payer, to which Pelosi said, “I have always supported that. I have been supporting it before you were born.”
3. Pelosi Will Not Support a Leftward Economic Shift.
In a town hall-style event earlier this year, the House Minority Leader was asked by a young man if the Democrats would like to move toward economic populism. While Pelosi acknowledged that our capitalism has contributed to income inequality, she asserted that “we are capitalists,” and did not offer other solution.
4. Nancy Pelosi Is Too Nice to Bad Republican Operatives.
During an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she wished George W. Bush or other Republicans like John McCain or Mitt Romney were president instead (of Trump).
While it was understandable that Pelosi didn’t mention Hillary Clinton, why didn’t she mention Bill Clinton or Barack Obama in this case (as well)? On top of those omissions, her statement was exceedingly bad because she was rehabilitating George W. Bush.
On July 30, 2017, Pelosi appeared on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. Wallace asked the House Minority Leader what she thought about calls from Democrats that the party’s “too old” leadership (which she was a part of) be replaced by a new generation of leaders.
After a few special election losses this year, Wallace brought up the concerns of some Democrats that Pelosi and other Democratic leaders “are, frankly, too old.”
Wallace then asked, “Do Democrats need new leaders with new ideas?”
Pelosi did a bit of self-promotion, saying, “I am a master legislator, I know the budget to the nth degree… I feel very confident about the support I have in my caucus.”
When asked about whether she planned to run for House Speaker again (should the Democrats be victorious and recapture the majority in the House in 2018), Pelosi said, “That’s so unimportant now.” Instead, she said that she was focusing of the Democrats’ “A Better Deal.”
At the end of the interview, Pelosi thanked Wallace for the job he did as a “journalist.”
PELOSI: And thank you for being a guardian of our democracy — the press.
WALLACE: Oh, Thank you for that.
This was bad because although Wallace sometimes does good work, the man still works for Fox News, the far-right, plenty-plaint, Trump-approved propagandist network.
5. Pelosi Has Repeatedly Stepped over the Party’s Message.
In her June interview on CBS This Morning, Pelosi said that the party’s message should come from the members of the party, as opposed to its leadership. While she had a point, the Democratic leadership has shown an unwillingness to listen to the messages from ordinary members. And when the leadership does come up with a message, she has stumbled over it.
When a small group of congressional Democrats delivered speeches to roll out their new platform, “A Better Deal,” they were criticized not only on the platform’s items, but on their delivery. Shortly after the Democrats spoke about “A Better Deal” in Virginia, Nathan Ballard, a consultant, called out how the Democrats read their remarks and failed to deliver their talking points in a tech-savvy way.
Pelosi did even worse during subsequent events and other interviews. While speaking, she appears to forget what the platform is all about, she goes off-message, and she often starts ad-libbing.
- Asked About Impeaching Trump, Pelosi Rambles on About Infrastrucutre and ‘A Better Deal’ (NTK Network – YouTube)
- Nancy Pelosi Forgets What’s In Democrats’ “Better Deal” (The Jimmy Dore Show – YouTube)
- Pelosi demands reporter ‘name names’ of Democrats who didn’t like ‘Better Deal’ (David Rutz – YouTube)
Chuck Schumer’s Leadership
As the top-ranking Democrat in Congress, Schumer’s leadership should be fairly questioned, too. Yet for some reason, he has not been as scrutinized as Pelosi has. I argue that he should be criticized, and more harshly than Schumer has.
To her credit, Nancy Pelosi has been an ambassador for noble social causes and in the process she has worked closely with the White House, no matter who was in there. And when Obama wanted his health care bill passed, she led the charge in the House.
But what has been understated is how much of a corporate Democrat Schumer is. I would argue that his record is far than Pelosi’s.
What are some of the things he has done?
As Jon Schwarz pointed out in an article for The Intercept, Schumer is a pro-corporate Democrat who has often voted for trade deals and “bipartisan” efforts to slash taxes for large, international companies. Some exceptions were NAFTA, which he voted against in 1993, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he wasn’t too keen on.
Schumer’s coziness with Wall Street:
Schumer’s done more than anyone except Bill and Hillary Clinton to intertwine Wall Street and the Democratic Party. He raises millions and millions of dollars from the finance industry, both for himself and for other Democrats. In return, he voted to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 and voted to bail out Wall Street in 2008. In between, he slashed fees paid by banks to the Securities and Exchange Commission to pay for regulatory enforcement, and eviscerated congressional efforts to crack down on rating agencies.
Schumer’s votes for warmongering and warrantless spying:
Schumer voted for the Patriot Act in 2001, and sponsored its predecessor, the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995. During a Senate hearing, Schumer explained that “it’s easy to sit back in the armchair and say that torture can never be used. But when you’re in the foxhole, it’s a very different deal.” In certain cases, he said, “most senators” would say “do what you have to do.” Schumer also defended the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslims across the region, which Trump has cited as a national model.
In October 2002, Schumer voted for the Iraq War by giving George W. Bush authority to invade. In a speech explaining his vote, Schumer warned of Iraq’s imaginary yet “vigorous pursuit of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.”
Schumer voted against Barack Obama’s deal to limit Iran’s ability to enrich uranium and potentially develop a nuclear weapons program.
Something That Stands Out
In July 2016, Sen. Schumer was unreasonably optimistic about his party’s chances during the general election, even goings so far as to say that the Democrats were willing to give up votes by their constituents if that meant they could pick up Republican voters.
Here is the key part:
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.
Not too many people bring this up.
The Democrats’ Money Problems
The Democratic leadership is often tied to who is the best fundraiser. When asked why Pelosi and Schumer hold their positions, some Democrats will point to their education or say that they two are excellent fundraisers. It boils down to money and the Democrats need it.
In order for Democrats to defend their seats and steal a few, they will need money to compete with Republicans.
In order for the Democrats to build state parties, they will need more money.
But is the spigot running dry?
Under normal circumstances, the Democrats would be expected to capitalize on the historic unpopularity of a Republican occupying the White House, opportunities to flip districts, and an angry, activated base. However, these circumstances under Trump have not translated to any real kind of success for the opposition.
As Clio Chang demonstrated for New Republic, the Democrats have a fundraising problem. While the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee outraised its Republican counterpart by rougly $2.5 million ($6.3 million to $3.8 million) and the parties’ congressional campaign committees are neck and neck on the fundraising department, the Democratic National Committee is far behind the Republican National Committee. In the July, the differences between the DNC and RNC were the most pronounced.
The Democratic Party’s Debt
Let’s review some information about the party’s debt:
The party had to take on debt from Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns. That debt was reported cleaned up in 2013, but new information from Donna Brazile suggests that was not the case.
In July 2016, Brazile talked to Gary Gensler, the chief financial officer of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. After Brazile got off the phone, she said she realized that the DNC’s debt was more serious than what was reported earlier. The party was still $2 million in debt at the time.
Gensler told Brazile that Obama had left the organization with about $24 million in debt ($15 million owed to banks and over $8 million owed to venders after Obama’s 2012 campaign). Hillary Clinton’s campaign, headquartered in Brooklyn, had taken care of 80% of the party’s remaining debt in 2016 (about $10 million) and in exchange, took over the DNC’s operations.
What was known before was how Obama tied the party’s hands. He limited the party’s streams of revenue and only gave the DNC his mailing list after his second presidential campaign. In addition, his fundraising arm, Obama for America, competed with the DNC and may have even siphoned off funds from it.
Consultants play a role in the DNC’s debt, because money is owed to them. In fact, about $1 billion of the DNC’s money went to consultants from 2015 to 2016. Some of those consultants, like Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, came from OFA.
Now, let’s look at the total money. As of September 30, 2017, the Democratic National Committee had only $7,057,739.47 cash on hand and $3,769,125.33 in debt. As of September 30, 2017, the Republican National Committee had $44,089,801.25 cash on hand and no debt. The RNC started 2017 with $25,328,011.79 cash on at the beginning of 2017.
The Fundraising Gap with Republicans
In July 2017, it attention was brought to the fact that the Democrats had a huge fundraising gap with the Republicans since the beginning of the year. By August, the Democrats had raised $38.2 million to the Republicans’ $75.4 million.
This year has been bad for the DNC, which has had 3 of its 14 worst fundraising months since Barack Obama became President.
- March was strong with $12.2 million raised, but April only saw $4.7 million in donations, making it the worse April since 2009.
- May saw only $4.3 million in donations, making it the worst May since 2003.
- In July, the DNC had only raised $3.8 million compared to the RNC’s $10.2 million.
- The DNC received $4.4 million in August, but the Republicans bested that total with $7.3 million.
At the same time, the DNC trailed the RNC in small-donor donations, $33 million to $21 million.
On the flip side, the Democrats’ House and Senate campaign committees have narrowly outraised similar Republican committees. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee outraised its Republican counterpart by roughly $2.5 million ($6.3 million to $3.8 million).
Why These Gaps Exist
One reason could be that super PAC’s and other groups are competing with the DNC for funds.
- In May, Hillary Clinton announced that she was launching a super PAC, Onward Together, to allow her to raise funds for candidates and causes who suited her fancy. So far, it has given to organizations such as New Democracy and Win the Future, two groups devoted to steering the party toward the center.
- Barack Obama is supporting another super PAC, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, whose mission is to take back some of the districts lost to Republicans via gerrymandering. The group is chaired by Eric Holder, Obama’s first Attorney General.
Another reason Democrats are losing money is the lack of enthusiasm towards the party. Some voters are taking their money and giving it to specific candidates or have left the party entirely. (If this is in large part due to any voters who feel slighted or abandoned by the party, I cannot blame them. Also, that’s why it’s not a good idea to bite the hand that feeds you.)
The Number of Registered Democrats
The Democratic Party will continue to struggle monetarily if its pool of donors continues to shrink. And the party will have fewer small-dollar donations if their based isn’t sufficiently energized and there are fewer registered Democrats overall.
Before the start of 2016, only 29% of voters identified as Democrats. The party still held a slight advantage over the GOP, but party registration was near historic lows.
In 2016, only 35% of registered voters identified as Democrats, according to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center.
This year, the Democrats, while often maintaining an edge over the Republicans, hover around the mid-20’s to low 30’s.
Can some of this be attributed to #DemExit? It isn’t entirely clear how much this can be attributed to protest, but it is a factor.
As the 2016 Democratic National Convention neared, a number of Bernie Sanders supporters threatened to leave the party.
Sophia McClennen, Professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at Pennsylvania State University, listed 10 reasons many Bernie Sanders supporters in the Democratic Party wanted to make a break from it and there were solid reasons connected to the Democratic Primaries:
- The Debate Schedule
- Campaign Finance
- Refusal to Address Claims of Election Fraud
- The Democratic Party Platform
- Documented Attempts to Discredit / Dismiss Sanders
- DNC Collusion with Media
- False Claims of Neutrality
- Failure to Protect Donor Information
- The DNC Has Not Taken the Leaks Seriously
With each development, each primary, each debate, and each leak, the Democratic National Committee not only made it obvious that it was not listening to the progressives in the party nor was it committed to conducting a fair primary process. To add insult to injury, the people who complained about the process were smeared as “whining brats” as the Democrats were expecting their votes anyway.
In short, it wasn’t just the party’s glibness and dismissiveness that irked people, but those things were added to the institutional violations the DNC committed. People had valid concerns about the Democratic primaries, but those concerns were often ignored if not openly mocked.
Two Maine Representatives’ #DemExit
In the state of Maine, two four-term Democratic state representatives, Denise Harlow, and Ralph Chapman, decided to unregister as members of the Democratic Party. Although the two did not go into too much detail about why they made their decision, they indicated they were leaving the party because party leaders refused to adequately address environmental issues. At the time of Harlow and Chapman’s departure from the Democratic Party, there was a bipartisan bill circulating in the Maine legislature that was meant to “overhaul Maine’s metallic mining regulations” and potentially allow for groundwater contamination.
Besides the bill, one reason for the representatives’ change was likely internal politics. In 2016, both Harlow and Chapman supported Bernie Sanders during the presidential primaries. They were among a group of about 30 state representatives who supported Sanders at the time.
Harlow and Chapman are considered progressives. Harlow did divulge that she was troubled about how the Democratic establishment treated independent thinkers in the party and how lobbyists had undue influence.
As Harlow and Chapman became independents, the number of independents in Maine’s House of Representatives grew to 5. That left the state House with 75 Democrats and 71 Republicans.
Black Women Leaving the Party?
In 2016, 94% of Black women supported Hillary Clinton for president. However, the Democrats would be wise to pay attention to the Demographic as it constituted the party’s most loyal base.
According to a Black Women’s Rountable/ESSENSE poll released on Wednesday, September 20, 2017, the confidence Black women had in the Democratic Party had fallen from a year prior. About 85% of Black women felt the party represented their interests in 2016 but that figure it at 74% in 2017.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) addressed the findings at the Washington Convention Center. While she said that she wasn’t too worried about the findings, she said the numbers were affected by the younger voters and she did have a message that the Democrats needed to do more to communicate its values and boost its base of voters.
An Opening for Democrats?
In May 2017, the Pew Research Center published a study that looked at the movement of people from America’s two major parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, between December 2015 and March 2017. Overall, the vast majority of people who consistently identified as a Republican or a Democrat (nearly 80% for both parties) stayed with the party. The most movement came from leaners and the young. And among the young, there was more movement among those who initially identified as Republicans.
Of the 18- to 29-year-olds who left the Republican Party at one point or another, 23% defected to another party and 21% returned. That meant over those who left the party didn’t return.
compared to 9% of Democratic voters in the same age range who did the same during the same time period. Overall, about half of young voters left the Republican Party for one reason or another.
This is important because people’s politics are often largely decided before they turn 30. While they might be politically immature, their view of the world is being shaped during this period and especially based on the popularity of those occupying the White House.
More About Demographics
Musa Al-Gharbi, a Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow in Sociology at Columbia University, explained in an essay for The Conversation (reposted on Alternet) why Democrats should not rely on diverse demographics alone to win elections. While Democrats still pull in most of the votes from minority voters (including African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, Muslims, Jewish, and LGBTQ voters), they will need at least a third of white voters to buy into the party. However, the Democrats’ share of white voters has decreased every year since Barack Obama swept into the White House in 2008.
What’s more is that Obama’s share of the electorate and his electoral votes decreased sharply from 2008 to 2012. In 2008, Obama beat John McCain by 8.54 million votes and received 192 more Electors. In 2012, Obama beat Mitt Romney by 3.48 million votes and received 126 more Electors.
This downward trend continued with Hillary Clinton. While she received fewer popular votes than Obama did during either of his presidential elections, she only had 2.9 million more votes than Trump and lost the Electoral College.
The reasons for these shifts rest mainly with the ideological shifts in communities and with the white vote. For one thing, more of the voters who would choose Democratic candidates are in more densely populated areas. Also, white, rural voteers tend to vote more often than say, black and young voters do.
Democrats cannot keep ceding this ground to Republicans while hoping for a Democratic resurgence. Democrats need their diverse coalition of voters, but they will not get 100% of minority votes and they should stop neglecting white voters in certain areas.
Why the Democratic Party Is at Such a Low Point
Above, I said that the past election left people questioning the Democratic Party’s leadership. It also brought back other lingering questions the party refused to answer.
Each election since has exposed the problems of the party (an American politics in general). Yet all the “experts” refuse to listen. As it stands now, the Democratic Party is suffering from seven basic problems (aside from its obsession with money).
1. The Insistence on Centrism
Every year (and every month, depending on how closely one follows politics), people are being told that the Democratic Party needs to move toward the center. I often hear something like, “This guy is too liberal,” or “Those ideas are too far left. The people will never go for that.” I say those assertions are unmitigated BS.
This topic deserves its own post, but let me summarize:
Logically speaking, when people keep “moving to the center,” they will eventually end up on the right. And they will also leave a large swath of constituents in the dust.
Since the 1970’s, the Democratic Party has consistently lurched to the right. While Democrats will proudly call themselves progressives during presidential elections, they won’t when trying to run for Congress.
While trying to campaign in red states, Democrats usually do the following:
- They grapple with the gun issue.
- They dance around populist issues, like Medicare-for-All. Right now, incumbent Democrats fear that this issue will become a litmus test.
- They’ll even promote candidates who are against abortion.
- Oddly enough, they’ll pay closer attention to suburban areas, while ignoring rural areas.
At times, Democratic politicians will bend over backward to try to placate Republicans while failing to realize what made some people Republicans in the first place. For the better part of 40 years, Democrats lost more voters when they willfully abandoned populist issues and thus the party’s own base. In doing so, Democratic leaders have promoted destructive neoliberal policies like deregulation, busting unions, corporate welfare, and embracing Wall Street.
Sure, some Republicans are one-issue (anti-abortion) people, but some will overlook that in favor of populist issues.
2. The Outward Disrespect Toward Progressives
Above, I pointed out how Democrats try to placate Republicans. This is bad because while doing this, we get Republican-lite candidates who fail to excite voters from either party, let alone independents.
At the same time, Democrats tend to step on real progressives in the party and in the electorate. This was symbolically illustrated last year, as progressives were treated like pond scum by various people within the Democratic establishment and within the press.
On July 25, 2017, Nina Turner and other protestors from Our Revolution came to the DNC headquarters in Washington, D.C. to deliver a petition that had the People’s Platform. The petition, which had over 115,000 signatures, was the progressive answer to the Democrats’ “A Better Deal” platform. The People’s Platform includes the following:
- Medicare for All
- Free College Tuition
- The Raise the Wage Act for Worker’s Rights
- The Automatic Voter Registration Act
- The Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act of 2017
- A Climate Change Bill for Renewable Energy
- The Justice Is Not for Sale Act of 2017 (for Criminal Justice and Immigration Rights)
- The Inclusive Prosperity Act (to Hold Wall Street Accountable)
However, they were met by a security guard and barricades.
Since the group was blocked from entering, Turner turned to the crowd and gave an inspired speech, pointing out how the Democratic Party has effectively turned its back on the people.
This incident came on the one-year anniversary of the 2016 Democratic National Convention. That year, Turner was blocked from speaking after she threw her support behind Bernie Sanders.
3. The Overreliance on Smear Campaigns
This year, I mentioned David Brock in a couple of posts, including one in this series. I said that the Democrats would be well served to rid themselves of him because he is a disgusting muckraker who once worked for Republicans. He was also behind Correct the Record, a group that paid online trolls to harass anyone who dared criticize Hillary Clinton for any reason.
Part of their tactics involved them essentially being social justice warriors if not outright bullies. They categorized people as racist or misogynist for criticizing Clinton, regardless of the type of criticism. We still see this today whenever the Democratic leadership is criticized.
Besides Brock, there are numerous people in the press who go to bat for the Democrats to smear others who are against the establishment or who are sufficiently in lockstep with them. The Washington Post, The New York Times, and other outlets have outright insulted readers and specific politicians who do not go along with a neoliberal or neoconservative agenda. There are also people like Joy Ann Reid and David Weigel who take every opportunity to thumb their noses at people to the left of them.
I showed you what Reid posted about, but she is also used to say things about Republicans the Democrats would not say in public. She categorizes all Trump voters as ignorant and racist.
Weigel takes aim at the left. I came across one piece of Weigel’s work shortly after the DNC fraud case was dismissed. Weigel said nothing about the case until it was dismissed. Most of the major outlets ignored the case, too. Instead, they called people conspiracy theorists the likes of Alex Jones, and whiners.
4. Russia, Russia, Russia
Don’t get me wrong. Just this week, a few people connected to Trump were charged in connection to the investigation led by Robert Mueller. This is serious and I agree that Trump himself needs to be investigated. However, the direction of Democratic criticism toward the president does not line up with the direction Mueller has taken his independent investigation.
While there is justified suspicion concerning Trump’s finances and what he would be willing to do to give Russian President Vladimir Putin an advantage in certain areas, this investigation was started on a suspect premise. And it was that premise that Democrats usually focus on. The connected rhetoric has also been terrible.
Let’s use Rep. Maxine Waters for example.
In Early June
TYT Politics’ Michael Tracey asked Waters a few questions after she spoke at the March for Truth event in Washington, D.C. Waters said she was focused on getting Trump impeached, but lately her tweets were more focused on the Russia allegations instead of important matters, like single payer. Also, when pressed, Waters basically confirmed that most of the Democrats only want to keep the ACA intact.
Waters walked away in a huff after Tracey asked her a couple of reasonable questions pertaining to the Democrats’ focus moving forward and Obama’s attempt to strike a deal with Russia in Syria.
For the record, Tracey asked …
During a one-week span in March, I looked at your tweets and around 60% had to do with this Russia issue. Do you think that’s a proportionate focus for the Democrats. Should it be overwhelmingly on this Russia matter?
When you say Russia’s not our friend, was Obama mistaken to forge military cooperation with Russia in Syria and to try to get a START Treaty?
Waters accused Tracey of having a different agenda. She also accused him of being an Obama hater.
When Waters walked off, a few of her supporters were audible in the background. At least one person said, “Go Maxine!” in support of the congresswoman. Another told Tracey he was “threatening democracy.”
In September …
While at Dick Gregory’s funeral, the speech Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) gave devolved into an anti-Trump rant, complete with Russia red-baiting.
You See the Problem Here?
There are many problems, but I’ll be brief here.
As Democrats use Russia to say that the past election was totally illegitimate, some of them and those aligned with them are drawing lines in the sand. They accuse people who criticize them, read the leaked emails, or doubt that Russia interfered with our elections as Russian trolls, Putin sympathizers, and Trump fans.
At the same time, Democrats refuse to answer some of the tough questions, like how some “centrist” policies have hurt millions of Americans.
When added to the smear tactics, all of this only serves to alienate some long-time Democrats and those who would consider voting for Democrats in 2018.
5. Ignoring Real Issues
The same news outlets that have pumped this Russia story have smeared particular candidates and causes, while outright ignoring others. What are they saying about DAPL? What are they saying about Puerto Rico and polluters like Monsanto and DuPont? They say Next to nothing, let alone say anything positive about the protesters.
Now, some of these people are saying that Russia tried to use Black Lives Matter and green technology to set Americans against each other … while they themselves are comfortable with jackasses like Richard Effing Spencer. They’ll give him a platform while shutting down people to the left of them.
6. Neglecting Its Leadership
On Thursday, October 5, 2017, Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) said that it was time for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team to step down. Sanchez, the vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus and the fifth-ranking Democrat in Congress, argued that the caucus needed to raise up a new generation of leadership, especially since all the current leaders in the House were all from the same generation and they were up in age. Sanchez’s comments were to be aired on C-SPAN’s Newsmakers program for Sunday, October 8.
“Our leadership does a tremendous job. But I do think we have this real breadth and depth of talent within our caucus and I do think it’s time to pass a torch to a new generation of leaders and I want to be a part of that transition,” Sanchez told reporters for the Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times during the show’s taping. “I want to see that happen. I think we have too many great members here that don’t always get the opportunities that they should. I would like to see that change.”
Sanchez, pressed to clarify her comments, didn’t back down. She told the reporters Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, and House Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn should also be read to step aside.
“They are all of the same generation and again, their contributions to the Congress and the caucus are substantial. But I think there comes a time when you need to pass that torch. And I think it’s time,” Sanchez said.
7. The Stubbornness to Repeat the Same Mistakes over and over Again
It pretty much says it all, but this is what the Democrats refuse to change:
- They will continue to prefer running centrist candidates at all costs.
- They will continue to blame progressives and third-party voters for the Democratic Party’s failures.
- They will continue to push the issues most important to a majority of Americans to the side.
- They will continue to smear anyone who criticizes them. This includes accusing people of sympathizing with Putin. Thus …
- They will continue using the Russia probe to corner Trump and silence others.
- The party will continue to keep out younger people from leadership roles, so long as they refuse to conform to a certain mode of politician.
As it stands, the Democratic Party is unlikely to cut ties with Brock. During the week of January 22-28, 2017, Senate Democrats gathered in Sheperdstown, West Virginia in order to figure out how to talk to Trump voters. The series of sessions — which was not open to reporters — is critical for 10 Democrats in the Senate, since they will be up for reelection in 2018 and they’re in states Trump won during the 2016 presidential election. Brock was a part of this conference.
A Few Notes About Messaging
Millions of Americans (from all races, not just working class whites) feel alienated by the Democratic Party. Many of people who still support Trump may be racist and misogynistic, but there are others who still fall for his faux populist message. At the same time there are activists on the left who are practically begging the Democrats to adopt a real populist message.
Among the greater concerns is what the party’s message is. However, some big names in the party, like Jamie Harrison, the chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, resisted the notion that the party needed to move more to the left and thought the party just needed to find the right messenger.
Harrison was wrong because even Barack Obama had a message. It was that message and his delivery that helped put him over the top. By contrast, the Democrats have been criticized this year because it was impossible for some within their ranks to articulate anything that resembled a message – instead of just platitudes.
Can Democrats honestly say they believe this now?
Then, what is the party’s message?
A Better Deal
In July, Sen. Chuck Schumer did the media rounds in preparation for the reveal of the party’s new platform. He seemed to acknowledge that many voters felt that the part stood for nothing except opposing Trump. From The Hill:
“When you lose to somebody who has 40 percent popularity, you don’t blame other things — Comey, Russia — you blame yourself,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview with the Post, referring to President Trump.
“So what did we do wrong? People didn’t know what we stood for, just that we were against Trump. And still believe that.”
In a Washington Post-ABC News poll earlier this month, 52 percent of Americans said the Democratic Party “just stands against Trump.” Only 37 percent said the party “currently stands for something.”
Yet the platform has been criticized ever since.
Now, A Better Deal is fairly simple, calling for the following:
- Creating jobs for 10 million Americans, mainly through improvements to infrastructure.
- Raising wages across the country and making sure more people have a living wage.
- Creating job training programs through tax breaks and preparing people for the 21st-century job market.
Why these ideas are inadequate:
- These are not new ideas
- There is no explanation of how the Democrats plan to make some of these changes happen.
- Also, there should be no need to give businesses more tax breaks. Instead, people should be able to take part in guaranteed employment programs while being trained.
Before we could even get to the items of A Better Deal, the mantra was being mocked for sounding a lot like Papa John’s slogan.
And it won’t be done under a banner that evokes thoughts of Papa John’s pizza.
The party’s slogan, according to numerous sources, is set to be “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future” and not, as previously reported, “A Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages.” (Capitol Hill sources noted that this could, however, change before next week.)
- “Resist & Persist”
- “She Persisted, We Resisted”
- “Make Congress Blue Again”
- And the best one was, “Democrats 2018: I Mean, Have You Seen the Other Guys?”
All of these were awful.
With the second slogan, they were talking about Hillary, but that could be misconstrued as people resisting her.
The last one was an example of improper etiquette. “Well, the Republicans are worse,” is something voters say, but the Democratic Party should not say it because it’s an admission: In order for one thing to be worse, the thing it’s being compared to has to be bad, as well.
Lead up to Next Post
I think the election results speak volumes about the DNC and the DCCC, as well as state parties. It looks like there is no real game plan in place to help Democrats take seats and expand the party’s base. The DNC was flat-footed in most of these races and so the candidates had to play catch-up. By contrast, the Democrats were paying attention to the race in Georgia, where 30-year-old Jon Ossoff resembled the type of Democrats the party’s leadership and donors want to run.
In the end, the special elections this year were a microcosm of what ails the Democratic Party: It seeks to promote centrist candidates while ignoring and deriding populists, it’s obsessed with money, and if resists calls to question its leadership.
Yet the party’s leadership must be questioned because it needs to pave the way for new leaders who will fight for the party’s long-term survival.
- The Rift on the Left: The Internal Politics of the Democratic Party
- The Rift on the Left: The Future of the Democratic Party
- Back to Introduction