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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

At CNN Politics ‘The Point,’ Chris Cilliza observes, ““During a closed-door lunch last week with some of his most vulnerable incumbents, House Democrats’ campaign chief delivered a blunt warning: If the midterms were held now, they would lose the majority….“Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney followed that bleak forecast, which was confirmed by multiple people familiar with the conversation, with new polling that showed Democrats falling behind Republicans by a half-dozen points on a generic ballot in battleground districts. Maloney advised the party to course-correct ahead of 2022 by doing more to promote President Joe Biden’s agenda, which remains popular with swing voters.”….What that says, in not so many words, is this: Democrats are losing the message war….”How do Democrats win in places like North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and Georgia?” former South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges asked in an interview late last month. “The circus has left Washington and Biden has already cleaned up the mess. I’m not sure why Democratic candidates would stray from that message — particularly in purple states….An NPR/Marist/PBS poll released last month showed 50% of adults approve of how Biden is handling the economy while 45% disapprove. Among electorally-critical independents, 48% approved while 47% disapproved….Those numbers are good but not overwhelming. But there’s no question that talking about the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 stimulus package that passed Congress earlier this year and the bipartisan infrastructure bill currently working its way through Congress is far better political ground for Democrats to fight on than more “woke” issues like defunding the police.”

Former editor of the Cedar Falls Courier Saul Shapiro argues that “Democrats are miserable at messaging in the context of Iowa’s congressional races, and explains, “Mainstream Democrats are running from it with Olympian speed, but without deflecting any deserved crime blame to Republicans obsessed with rescinding gun laws….Iowa had a record 353 gunshot deaths overall in 2020, up 20%, with a 73% homicide increase. Republican evisceration of state gun laws echoes Missouri, a national leader at 5.6 homicides per 100,000. The U.S. average is 3.6….While Democrats profess to “fight for you,” they’re often punching bags. Their “when-they-go low, we’ll-go-high” mantra ignores GOP history….These days Republicans brand all Democrats as “socialists,” popular social programs aside….Yet Democrats won’t paint all Republicans as Trump-loving, history-averse white supremacists, anti-democratic insurrectionists and conspiracy wackos, despite their growing footprint….Or cite hypocrisy. Iowa Republicans love local control only when they’re in control, stripping localities of control on issues that didn’t comport to their agenda….Republicans refuse to implement a sales tax approved in a 2010 state constitutional referendum to clean Iowa’s chemically degraded waterways. Iowa drinking water is linked to 300 cancer cases annually….”

Shapiro continues, “While teaching marketing at Wartburg College, I touted Republican strategist Frank Luntz’s success. Luntz transformed the inheritance tax — largely targeting the rich — into the hated “death tax.” More recently, he advised Donald Trump to stress “border security.” Democrats still can’t shake the “open borders” perception. (Their 2020 convention didn’t help.)….Luntz repackaged “climate change” as “global warming” so Republicans could repudiate human complicity….But after the 2017 L.A. wildfires nearly engulfed his home, he changed his tune, offering Democrats more accessible messaging….Ditch “sustainability” for “cleaner, safer, healthier.” Replace “ending global warming” with “solving climate change.” Recast empty “new jobs” as forward-thinking “new careers.” Don’t use nebulous “groundbreaking” or “state of the art,” but “reliable technology or energy.” Forgo globalist “one world” for “working together….Cities initially embracing “defund the police” now pragmatically avoid it. “Reimagining the police” — alleviating social service obligations, improving community interaction, and removing discernible bad actors — is proactive, not alarmist….Unfortunately, Democrats have a penchant for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory with low-profile candidates and inept campaigns (Theresa Greenfield against Joni Ernst) devoid of Luntz-like messaging. They should emulate the Lincoln Project, former GOP strategists alienated by Trumpism but committed to democracy. Their ads don’t pull punches….Policy matters, but the right messaging is required to sell it.”

Ronald Brownstein writes in the Atlantic that “Biden, with his earnest and unpolished persona, hasn’t inspired the visceral backlash from his opponents that Trump, Barack Obama, or even George W. Bush and Bill Clinton did. While White House officials are closely watching for signs of backlash, they remain optimistic that this August recess won’t produce anything like the grassroots conservative uprising in August 2009 against the Affordable Care Act that crystallized the Tea Party movement….For those Democrats comfortable with Biden’s approach, the benefits are clear. Sean McElwee, a leading pollster for progressive causes, says Biden has found an effective division of labor: By stressing unity and courting GOP officials, McElwee argues, Biden has made it more difficult for Republicans to mobilize their base. “Biden has made politics boring again,” he says admiringly, while other Democrats can call out the GOP’s turn toward extremism on issues from COVID-19 to voting. “I think it’s possible to walk and chew gum at the same time here,” he says….To Democrats in this camp, the infrastructure deal “is proof of concept,” especially if Biden can pair it with an ambitious follow-on bill for human-capital investments passed solely with Democratic votes, says Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at the centrist Democratic group Third Way. If Biden can pass those two massive proposals, and contain the pandemic over the coming months, Kessler insists, he’ll be reelected. “And if he gets reelected, that could be the end of Trumpism,” Kessler says.”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Martin Lawford on

    “Democrats still can’t shake the “open borders” perception.”

    Considering that illegal immigration is at its highest in twenty years, according to the Department of Homeland Security, that “perception” is accurate. This is not a messaging problem, this is a performance problem which no amount of messaging can gloss over.


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