After losing the most expensive congressional race in history in Georgia Tuesday, and a notching a close-but-no-cigar finish in a lower profile contest in South Carolina, Democrats are getting a lot of advice about what they need to do to have a chance of victory in 2018.
Perhaps the best of it comes from the unlikeliest of sources, a frequent Twitter poster under the handle @realDonaldTrump. After a bit of crowing about the failure of “fake news” fueled, big spending candidates and a shout-out to Fox News, President Donald Trump offered up this: “Democrats would do much better as a party if they got together with Republicans on Healthcare, Tax Cuts, Security. Obstruction doesn’t work!”
We would dispute the first half of that – joining the GOP in passing a profoundly unpopular health care bill, voting for massive give-aways to the rich and banning Muslims from entering the country are no ticket to taking over Congress in next year’s midterm elections. But the second part – “Obstruction doesn’t work!” – is sound advice. Merely being against Donald Trump isn’t enough, and we now have the results in four special elections to prove it.
The political number crunchers have produced a variety of analyses of the results in the recent special elections in Kansas, Montana, Georgia and South Carolina in an attempt to quantify the two parties’ strength in the Trump era. The upshot: Democrats did much better in those districts (and in Montana’s at-large seat) than they would under normal circumstances.
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Even so, they would be in a much better position if they had won somewhere. Losses by Republicans in any of those races would likely have hastened the retirement of incumbents in competitive districts and would have emboldened strong potential Democratic candidates to jump in.
That’s the kind of thing that needs to happen under our gerrymandered political map for Democrats to flip the 24 seats they need to take control of the House. For all the attempts to nationalize these elections and make them a referendum on President Trump, candidates matter.
John Ossoff may have raised more money for his campaign than any House candidate in history, but he is still a 30-year-old who had never run for office before and doesn’t actually live in the district.
His opponent, Karen Handel, 55, is a well known and experienced Republican politician. Democrats need a lot more candidates with resumes like hers if they want to win, and close losses in these special elections might lead them to conclude they should stick with their safe seats in state or local government rather than take a risk in 2018.
The other ingredient they need is an agenda. Trump’s election doesn’t necessarily settle the internecine argument between the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders wings of the Democratic party in favor of full blown socialism, but it does at least make the case that a robust, easily identifiable policy agenda is necessary.
Much of what President Trump ran on may have been abhorrent, but it wasn’t vague.
It is difficult, of course, for a party to rally behind an agenda when it’s out of the White House, and there’s plenty of concern after she became an issue in the Georgia election that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is too polarizing a figure to lead such an effort.
But Democrats don’t necessarily need her or anyone to play the role of a former occupant of the seat Handel just won, Newt Gingrich, who led the Republican takeover of the House in 1994 with his Contract for America. They just need to show that the party has answers for the economic anxiety gripping middle class and working class voters across the country.
That’s a winning strategy because it should be pretty clear to most voters by 2018, if not already, that Trumpism isn’t delivering on its populist promise. The House passed a disastrous health care bill that would result in millions of Americans becoming uninsured over the coming decade, and the Senate’s proposal, released Thursday, is likely to be no better. President Trump’s tax reform plan amounts to a massive giveaway to people like him. And his tough talk on trade hasn’t kept companies from shipping jobs overseas.
If Democrats can offer a better idea, voters will be receptive.