What could threaten a blue wave in 2018? Quite frankly, the Democratic establishment could. Other top Democratic leaders can, as well.
These midterms should be a referendum on Donald Trump and the Republican agenda, but for both to be successfully rebuked, the opposition needs to be united and to have a cohesive message. Unfortunately, far too many Democratic leaders have gotten in the way of the messages presented by progressives while presenting none of their own. On top of that, these so-called leaders have failed to capitalize on the Republicans’ forced errors and have committed a series of their own missteps.
All these things have threatened to depress the vote and to undermine the energy on the left and make the notion of a blue wave seem like a distant dream. In this post (another LAP — sorry), I will explain why I’ve come to that conclusion.
What Did the Democrats Need to Do?
Earlier this year, I posited about what the Democrats should do moving forward. In one post, I said the following:
I don’t care what donors like [Stephen] Cloobeck say, because the party needs to “run to the left” in order to be successful. The party wants to present itself as a home for self-described liberals and progressives, so it would only make sense for the people to actually appeal to them.
The problem isn’t that the Democratic Party is “too liberal,” but that it isn’t populist enough. Yes, the party also needs to appeal to independents and gain some support from Republicans now and then. However, the party should not take great pains to appeal to Republicans. Good policies will attract some by happenstance.
I also said that Democrats should focus on the following issues:
- The environment
- Health Care
- Economics & Relieving Personal Debt
- Money in Politics
- Good Foreign Policy
All of these things have one thing in common: class. In order to win future elections, Democrats and progressives need to make class politics a central focus and keep it at the forefront.
In addition, I said that Democrats should stop focusing so much on Russia.
In short, this is what Democrats should be doing every election cycle and every year in between:
- Embrace progressives and do their best to unite their base.
- Embrace progressive issues.
- Put less focus on fundraising and more on voter outreach.
What have the Democrats done? The exact opposite.
What Are the Basic Mistakes Democratic Leaders Made During This Election Cycle?
If the Democrats lose this election cycle or their House victories are too close for comfort, the party leaders will have no one by themselves to blame.
What do I say this?
Since 2016, a rift on the left has gained more attention. There is a civil war that has been brewing for decades, especially between the Democratic establishment and progressives in the Democratic Party, but it has never been more apparent than now. This rift was caused and fomented by party leaders and it is getting in the way of anyone punishing the Republican Party.
Among the things being fought over are/were:
- The role of superdelegates during presidential elections
- The level of autonomy candidates should have
- The expectation of neutrality
All these things threaten viable candidates and make turn should be landslides for good Democratic candidates into close races and losses.
While this might not directly affect the 2018 elections, the negotiations continued into 2018 and each development can affect voter enthusiasm, even for this election cycle. In July, the Democratic National Committee’s rules committee voted to lessen the role of superdelegates; the changes were approved in August. Moving forward, superdelegates will no longer vote on the first ballot during the presidential nominating process, but they will be allowed to weigh in in the case of a tie. Although superdelegates will still exist, this was a huge concession.
However, there were Democrats who were not okay with this and their bitching reminded everyone of how they saw themselves — especially in comparison to regular voters, non-DNC members, and lefty activists. One Black Caucus member compared the change to the Fugitive Slave Act and said that reformers were skipping their place in line. Donna Brazile, a two-time interim DNC chair, said of the change: “It’s an insult to democracy.” (As if the superdelegates weren’t.)
Regarding Candidate Mentality
In December 2017, The Young Turks shared a memo sent to Democratic candidates in which the DCCC said that candidates were required to hire consultants. The memo also told recipients that they would receive a list of talking points to go after Republican opponents and that candidates would have to support Democrats who won their primaries.
Now, there are three things wrong with this:
- As I have discussed before, the consultant class is one of if not the biggest cancers ailing the Democratic Party right now. Not only are consultants a huge drain on party and candidate resources, but consultants often give bad advice. The best way for candidates to reach voters is to hit the pavement and do some old-fashioned canvassing.
- The talking points thing is wrong because those talking points were likely put together by the same consultants whom candidates shouldn’t trust to begin with. Also, there will be instances where candidates will need to go off-script, so relying too much on talking points will result in moments when those candidates are caught off-guard. Observers can pick up on this and they will trust those candidates even less.
- The stipulation that losing candidates support the nominees stinks of hypocrisy. The assumption is that the party’s preferred candidates will win so they will want the others to fall in line, but the reverse isn’t necessarily true.
Based on the DNC charter, the national apparatus should do nothing to interfere in Democratic primaries. The same thing should be expected of state Democratic Parties and other party apparatuses, like the Democratic Congressional Committee or Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
On this last point, what we have seen is the opposite. As I have shared in previous posts in this series, the Democratic Party’s national apparatus has repeatedly intervened in certain races. The party places “centrists” over progressives and that is hurting the party because the latter is more in touch with voters. Even when certain progressives won their primaries, the party did one of three things:
- Party leaders swooped in to “get their minds right,” which means that progressives were pressured to follow the corporate party line. This might be what happened with Andrew Gillum in Florida.
- Party officials openly berated the progressives who won their primaries. This is the case with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York.
- Party officials left progressives twisting in the wind. This is what’s happening to Benjamin Jealous in Maryland.
Of course, the Democratic leadership has more indefensible things to blunt the type of movement that is needed right now.
What Other Mistakes Have Democrats Made During the Midterms?
Plenty. If there is no blue wave, the Democratic leadership MUST be held responsible for its failure, especially in the following areas:
1. Misplaying the Budget Fights
Months have passed since the government shutdown, but the damage is still being felt today. In the end, the Democratic leadership in Congress flinched and got nothing out of the deal. The Democrats allowed the Republicans to get what they wanted in the budget while offering the possibility of giving Trump money for his stupid border wall. At the same time, the Democrats only settled for the promise of a debate about the fate of the “Dreamers.”
This was a loss, and not just for the reasons I listed above. For one thing, Democrats never took control of the narrative, even though many Americans agreed with their demands.
Losing Control of the Narrative
One area where they should have worked on was the fight over CHIP. The Children’s Health Insurance Program, when it was first established in 1997, received bipartisan support and for over 20 years, it worked well for the children who were able to take part in it. This is about health care, an issue that is receiving increased attention because support for a single-payer system is increasing.
Democrats could have done even more on the shutdown front and remind people that Ted Cruz shut down the government in 2013 because he wanted to take health care away from millions of people. Democrats also should have reminded people about disaster funding, particularly in the context of the struggles Puerto Ricans still faced.
Democrats could have made DACA an election issue, especially given how the public reacted to ICE abuses. Yet they never did.
Instead, The Democrats in Congress were talking about the Dreamers in the context of budget fights during an election year. This was never going to go over well, and Republicans could always use that to say that Democrats were putting illegal immigrants above American citizens.
They made things worse by not actually doing anything for Dreamers. While Nancy Pelosi’s filibuster may have been temporarily impressive, it amounted to nothing.
All Things Considered …
The Democrats had time to turn things around because the shutdown occurred way back in January. However, the way Dem leaders played it out foreshadowed the horrible messaging the party was going to have for the rest of the midterms.
2. Misplaying the Kavanaugh Hearings
The Democrats made a series of mistakes with Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, but the decision to keep Christine Blasey Ford’s name confidential for as long as they did wasn’t one of them. Instead, the mistakes lie in how the Senate Democrats handled the proceedings and their caucus.
The Focus of the Democratic Narrative
The party focused too much on the attempted rape allegations and views on abortion. I’m not saying that those things weren’t important, but in the age of Trump, misogyny is now one of the Republican Party’s strengths. When focusing on it, the GOP and its ideologues will only double down and galvanize its base.
Now, I think that the Democrats should have investigated the claims against Kavanaugh. Certainly, Democrats should have questioned all witnesses and published their findings. This would not have stopped all the Republicans who voted for Kavanaugh, but the Democrats would have appeared more professional and it would have put the judge even more on the defensive.
At the same time, the Democrats did not put enough focus on Kavanaugh’s perjury, or his positions on things like net neutrality, torture, workers’ rights, and executive power. Democrats also needed to highlight the judge’s demeanor and make the case that his behavior was unbefitting a Supreme Court Justice.
If Democrats did these things, they would force people to focus more on Kavanaugh’s qualifications and there would be little room for right-wingers to make the proceedings out to be a personal attack on the judge.
To make matters worse, the Democrats floundered during their questioning of Kavanaugh. When the Democrats questioned the judge, they needed to act more like Maxine Waters, who reclaimed her time while she questioned the Foreclosure King. They needed to stop Kavanaugh from wasting their 5-minute allotments and they should have had a strategy where each Democratic senator on the Judicial Committee would pick up where the other left off. The Democrats needed to hammer Kavanaugh about his calendar, catch him in lies, and remind him that perjury was a prosecutable offense.
Not Putting DINOs in Check
Additionally, Chuck Schumer needed to pull rank and threaten all Democrats who were thinking about voting for Kavanagh. At the onset, idiots like Joe Manchin and Claire McCaskill rejected any notion that Schumer could whip them in line, but they forgot that they were Democrats and most of the people who voted for their butts were also Democrats. Most didn’t want Kavanaugh to be confirmed. Schumer needed to remind his caucus of this and threaten to withhold party funds from those who strayed.
However, it didn’t help that Schumer would have no institutional support if he chose to put his foot down. Shortly before the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, DNC Chair Tom Perez said that he would not punish any Democrat who voted to confirm the judge to the Supreme Court.
To add more injury to insult, Schumer brokered a deal with the Senate Republicans to allow for 15 judges to be approved so Democrats could go home and campaign – twice. That means that 30 Trump-aligned judges were put on federal district courts.
3. Lacking a Powerful Message
The two above issues also highlighted how the Democrats lack a powerful message to enthuse more voters. While the Republican Party is dangerous, and this is the worst incarnation of it we have seen, that is not enough to get voters to the polls. In fact, some Democrats, namely Nancy Pelosi, have already thrown cold water on things that voters would like to see the Democrats do — provided the party is able to take over Congress.
Pelosi recently said that if Democrats won back the House (and she would once again become the Speaker), that she would reinstitute Pay-Go (Pay As You Go). The problem with Pay As You Go is that it handicaps the Democrats into staying in a tight budget, which will preclude them from pursuing an aggressing domestic program. As a result, the party will focus more on reducing a perceived budget shortfall and they will make cuts to important programs most Americans like.
When you look at it that way, things like Pay-Go are uninspiring and patronizing. Not only does it tell voters that we will have virtually no progressive reform, but it plays into Republicans’ hands. I’ll explain below.
4. Not Embracing the Most Popular Issues
Above, I talked about the issues Democrats needed to focus on. At the very least, the party could have taken 3-4 of those issues and ran on them. Right now, these are some of the most popular issues:
- Medicare for All
- A $15/hour minimum wage
- Federal job programs
- Free or more affordable postsecondary education
If more Democrats ran on these issues, more of them would win their races. Yet many Democratic leaders and candidates are not promoting these issues. Instead, the party’s leadership focused on the Russia probe, despite the public’s lack of interest in it.
To make matters worse on the health care front, some Democrats are just faking it. Other candidates, like Andrew Gillum in Florida, have walked back on their positions after receiving the Democratic nomination.
This is a huge mistake. If you see how advocates and activists have been able to move the needle on these issues I listed, imagine how much progress we could make if the Democrats used their bullhorn to help things along.
5. Not Presenting a Real Alternative to the Republicans
I know that many people who describe themselves as liberals hate it when others say that the Democratic and Republican Parties are indistinguishable, but there is a lot of truth to it. While Democrats have a stated support for gays, people of color, and a woman’s reproductive rights, there isn’t a lot that centrist Democrats and Republicans disagree on.
- Most Democrats voted in favor of the increases to the military budget.
- Most Democrats shy away from the topic of our foreign wars if they don’t outright support them.
- Sixteen Democrats (plus Angus King) voted in favor of the Bank Bailout Bill in the Senate. The law was eventually passed, thanks to those same Senators and some Democrats in the House.
- Many Democrats are fiscally conservative and adhere to neoliberal economic theory. So do many Republicans, but they use the budget and deficits as a cudgel.
- Some Democrats leaders would like to deport undocumented immigrants and now some, like McCaskill and Joe Donnelly, are supporting Trump’s positions. Donnelly said that he would even look at a plan to take away birthright citizenship.
- Both parties weaponize identity. Although they do it differently, leaders from both parties ultimately throw people of color, women, and poor whites under the bus in favor of the wealthy.
- Both parties have corporate leadership.
As the Democratic Party has consistently moved to the right, so have the Republicans. In order to break through and win more, the Democrats must appeal more to progressives and left-leaning independents.
Neither of these parties will move to the left unless something was to pull them there, but no group is able to do it because both parties are obsessed with money. Sadly, there is more money on the right because the uber-wealthy tend to be economically conservative (in the interests of keeping their money). If Democrats could move past the money and push for reforms that limit the amount of money in politics, they’d build a strong coalition — but that won’t happen any time soon.
6. Playing by the Republicans’ Rules
As we have seen time and time again in the age of Trump, the Republican leaders are acting in bad faith. They’ll lie, cheat, steal, and kill to get what they want, and they will break every last one of their stupid rules along the way. That’s because the rules they imposed never applied to them; they were only there to excuse their bad behavior and keep Democrats and lefties in check.
- Look at what happened with the Supreme Court.
- Look at what is happening with the civility discussion.
- Look at how Republicans talk about protestors.
- Look at how they talk about law and order.
- Look at the budget fights. Once Republicans assume power, they stop caring about the debt.
It should be clear now that Republicans and far-right ideologues don’t really believe in much of what they espouse. They hope others do, though. That’s why Democrats and lefties need to cut through the crap and do what they must to actually help people. Otherwise, we will trade periods where we’ll be stuck in limbo and seeing ourselves in a slow slide downward.
7. Not Telling the Clintons to Go Away
In early 2017, Hillary Clinton talked to reporters about the prospect of helping Democrats and causes that she supported. Immediately, there were critics who said that she would do best to just help people financially — if at all. Even among Democrats, there were rumblings that Clinton’s presence was more harmful than helpful, especially she created more headaches after going on a book tour for What Happened.
This year, HRC caused even more headaches for saying that her husband did not abuse his power by being involved with Monica Lewinsky while he was president — despite the reckoning that has been going on due to the #MeToo movement. And last month, she said that she would like to be president, which caused even more ire.
Another thing to consider is how Republicans feel about HRC. They hate her, but they love seeing her tie herself to Democratic candidates because of how unpopular she is. To be completely blunt, Hillary Clinton is less popular right now than Trump is. That’s bad. And Republicans like it when she resurfaces because they can then focus on her in order to drag down their opponents.
For these reasons, Democrats need to cut ties with the Clintons or at least discourage them from campaigning with Democratic candidates. It seems like she got the message — at least a little bit — because she canceled an appearance she was to make with Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.
8. Not Supporting Progressive Candidates
Throughout the primary season, there have been numerous examples of the Democratic leadership giving the cold shoulder to progressives, it not outright telling them to get out of their races. Most of the trouble comes from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other Democrats in the House. For example:
- The DCCC infamously ran opposition research against Laura Moser in Texas.
- The committee also urged Greg Edwards to get out of his race in Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District.
- Steny Hoyer was caught on tape telling Levi Tillemann to get out of his race in Colorado.
- In New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was openly berated by Nancy Pelosi, her own corrupt governor, and other Democrats.
Of course, it doesn’t stop there.
Above, I mentioned Benjamin Jealous. That’s because his case illustrates how the Democratic establishment refuses to back progressives who win their primaries. He’s running for governor in Maryland, but he will likely lose despite Democrats holding a 2-1 advantage to Republicans in the state.
Early on, Democratic leaders let it be known that he would not have their endorsement. Some openly expressed their support for Gov. Larry Hogan, and now, we can see that the sentiment had already filtered down to the voters. Many Maryland voters don’t know a lot about Jealous, and it doesn’t help that Hogan already had a 24-1 lead in campaign cash. This is where the Democratic Party could come in and help, but it hasn’t.
See, it’s funny how these “Blue No Matter Who” types scream for unity when Democratic incumbents (namely corporate Dems) are running (for re-election), yet they have nothing to say about progressive Democrats being treated like this. If this isn’t proof that Democratic Party leaders and their loyalists are full of shit, I don’t what is.
9. Shaming Voters
Ever since the 2016 election kicked into high gear, lefties have been shamed by Democratic voters or Democratic supporters for not cooperating. Lefties were being blamed for Trump even before his Electoral College victory, nonvoters were blamed for not voting for Democrats, and those doing the blaming have never let up. Now, voters are being shamed into voting for Democrats, lest we have more years of Republican rule.
This deserves another post, but I will say right now that voter-shaming doesn’t work. It’s pointless and those doing the shaming include the very people who helped put us in this situation. I include Barack Obama in this because he has said several times now that there is no excuse not to vote and that voter apathy is the greatest threat to our democracy.
Obama is wrong.
In short, if people want others to vote (for Democrats), those people need to do voter outreach, make sure people can get to the polls, and give people something to vote for.
10. Not Protecting Voters from Republican Shenanigans
I will get into this in the next post, but Republicans will do everything they can to stop Democrats — and especially non-white voters — from getting to the polls. Republicans have used every dirty trick in the book, from gerrymandering, voter ID laws, voter purges, and contracting polling places, to disenfranchise voters. This is how they win despite being largely unpopular and even being outnumbered by Democrats in swing states.
Democrats know this, but what have they done to structurally prevent it? Practically nothing. If Democrats lose close races this year, those losses will likely be the result of voter suppression. That’s why Democrats need to do everything they can to make sure as many voters can enjoy they right to vote. It may take years to have the type of democracy we need, but we will not get there if the people who can do something about it do nothing.
Voting isn’t the cure to voter suppression. Action is.
In Short …
The Democratic leadership threatens any prospect of a blue wave because of its intransigence. If the Democrats are to make any headway in Congress or across the country, they would have to get rid of their bad habits, yet I doubt they will. They might retake the House despite it all, but what happens after that?
In particular, what can Democrats do to protect any majority and retake other chambers if the vote isn’t protected? That’s what I’m going to talk about in the next post in this series. Hopefully, I will have the post ready tomorrow, but there’s a lot to go through.
- These 2018 Midterms Are Tests Because They Will Be Hard
- 2017 Rewind: A Prelude to the Midterms
- Jan.-Feb. 2018: Are You Ready for Some Midterms?
- Mar.-Oct 2018: The Primaries Are upon Us
- Extra Midterm News: Will There Be an October Surprise?
- Will We See a Blue Wave in 2018?
- Republicans Will Try to Hold onto Their Seats by Cheating
- November 6, 2018: Election Day Is Here. Who Won?
- Midterm Wrap-up [Might be retitled later]