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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Waldman: Dems Finally Play Offense

Some instructive comments from Paul Waldman’s Plum Line post, “Republicans have rigged the system for years. Democrats are finally fighting back“:

One of the most important differences between the two parties today is that Republicans never stop asking how they can change the rules to benefit themselves. Democrats, on the other hand, are almost always on the defensive, trying to stop what Republicans are doing (with mixed success), but often getting bowled over by Republicans who have thought more about how to go about rigging the system and have more resources at their disposal.

The recent history of these efforts starts a little under a decade ago, when Republicans realized that if they could win victories in the 2010 elections, they’d control redistricting after the census. Democrats weren’t paying nearly enough attention to state elections, and in that 2010 wave, the GOP took control of multiple state legislatures. With their control of redistricting, they redrew maps across the country, and as a result, in the 2012 House elections, Democratic candidates won over a million more votes than Republican candidates, but Republicans controlled the chamber by a 33-seat margin (you can read more about that here).

Yes, Democrats have gerrrymandered on occasion, as well, notes Waldman, “but they haven’t waged the kind of organized and sustained assault on institutions that Republicans have.” He quotes Carolyn Fiddler, a state politics expert at Daily Kos, who adds that “Democratic donors are definitely stepping up and investing in state-level politics this cycle in ways I’ve never seen.”

Waldman cites the work of “new groups on the left such as Indivisible and Run For Something that are channeling so much activist energy are putting a large portion of their attention on state and local elections.” Further,

And in a few places, Democrats have actually gone on the offensive, passing automatic voter registration that would render some Republican vote suppression efforts moot. Voters in Florida will have a ballot measure in November to end the state’s felon disenfranchisement law, which leaves 1.5 million Floridians who have served their time without the right to vote.

However, Waldman concludes that “it’s still the case that Republicans are on the offensive while Democrats mostly play defense, trying to stop Republicans from rigging the system.”

The Republicans haven’t paid much of a price for their voter suppression, stonewalling in congress and gerrymandering projects, despite all that has been said about it in the media. It appears that they correctly calculated that voters who would be disgusted by their obstruction of democracy are already against them, while the small percentage who are swing voters don’t seem to care much about it.

Deciding the allocation of resources to be invested in defensive and offensive strategy is always a tough call. But it’s encouraging that Democrats are now investing more resources into the latter, a needed first step to becomming a more pro-active party.

2 comments on “Waldman: Dems Finally Play Offense

  1. Victor on

    One year into the Trump administration what do Democrats stand for?

    We stand 35 weeks from elections for the whole House of Representatives and a third of the Senate. If Democrats win majorities they will be able to not only initiate but also significantly shape legislation/policy in the United States.

    What are they offering the electorate in order to be given this power? One whole year into the Trump administration it is still not clear. Democrats have denounced many policies like the Muslim travel ban, DACA and ACA repeal and the tax bill.

    But Democrats didn’t really articulate alternative proposals to Trump. On the one issue they tried to articulate proposals (DACA) the party split internally both on strategy and substance.

    While it makes good strategy to remain silent if your victory is assured due to the mistakes of the opposing party, there really is no guarantee that Democrats will achieve majorities.

    It may be that Democrats don’t really want to achieve majorities under a President Trump because they would be forced to engage in governing and stop “resisting”. Party leaders may prefer to gain seats while remaining in opposition until 2021.

    Democrats have:

    1. Not arrived at a united position on immigration reform.

    2. Opposed the voter fraud commission but not said whether they would advance a new Voting Rights Act.

    3. Opposed the Muslim ban and revokation of refugee status for several groups but not said whether they would review asylum policies or the war on terror.

    4. Opposed anti-LGBT and religious discrimination policies but not said whether they will enact new policies like GENDA.

    5. Not clarified whether they will support renegotiation of NAFTA and other free trade agreements.

    6. Not clarified if they plan on limiting themselves to support the Affordable Care Act or whether they will move with policies to expand and strenghten it.

    7. Not said whether they will push for a raise in the minimum wage, overtime protection or other labor policies.

    8. Not said anything about marihuana.

    9. Not said anything about criminal justice reform.

    10. Failed to articulate innovative ideas to deal with gender disparities and sexual crimes and harassment.

    11. Not articulated any substantive ideas for the coming reauthorization of the higher education act or regarding preschool and childcare.

    12. Not articulated any ideas regarding housing affordability.

    13. Not articulated their own plans for infrastructure investment and broadband expansion (including whether they will codify net neutrality).

    14. Not clarified if they will move to review the tax reform just passed.

    15. Not clarified if they will block any moves regarding welfare reform.

    16. Not clarified if they have any ideas to deal with China, Russia and North Korea.

    17. Not clarified if they will support decreases or a freeze in military spending or will go ahead with the status quo (including enhanced Trump appropriations).

    18. Not clarified if they will push for any policies regarding climate change and energy policy.

    19. Not clarified if they will establish campaign finance reform as a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees.

    20. Not clarified if they will get rid of the filibuster in order to move their agenda or if, on the contrary, they will reverse some of the relaxation of the filibuster that has taken place more recently.

    When Democratic candidates go to the states and districts they will have to answer questions about these issues. In 2020 the party as a whole will have to account for how it used any power gained in 2019.

    Democrats used their 2006 victories to enact a pragmatic agenda. It is time to offer for Democrats to offer at least a modicum of clear proposals looking towards the midterms and beyond.

  2. Victor on

    Opposing almost anything Trump proposes doesn’t mean playing offense.

    Its February 2018 and it is still almost impossible to say what Democrats stand for.


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