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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Edsall: Dems Must Harmonize Message and ‘Brand’

In his column, “Democrats Are Making Life Too Easy for Republicans” at The New York Times, Thomas B. Edsall writes,

Ruy Teixeira, co-editor of the Liberal Patriot, argues in an email that “the cultural left has managed to associate the Democratic Party with a series of views on crime, immigration, policing, free speech and of course race and gender that are quite far from those of the median voter. That’s a success for the cultural left but the hard reality is that it’s an electoral liability for the Democratic Party.”

Teixeira went on: “The current Democratic brand suffers from multiple deficiencies that make it somewhere between uncompelling and toxic to wide swathes of American voters who might potentially be their allies.”

In Teixeira’s view, many Democrats have fallen victim to what he calls the “Fox News Fallacy.”

“This is the idea,” Teixeira explained, “that if Fox News criticizes the Democrats for X, then there must be absolutely nothing to X and the job of Democrats is to assert that loudly and often.” For example, he wrote, “Take the issue of crime. Initially dismissed as simply an artifact of the Covid shutdown that was being vastly exaggerated by Fox News and the like for their nefarious purposes, it is now apparent that the spike in violent crime is quite real and that voters are very, very concerned about it.”

Edsall quotes a number of political scientists, who affirm Teixeira’s argument, including John Halpin, a co-editor of The Liberal Patriot, who adds,

The biggest problem ahead of 2022 midterms is that voters don’t think Biden and the Democrats are focused on the issues that matter most to them. If you look at the most recent Wall St. Journal poll, Democrats are currently suffering double-digit deficits compared to Republicans on perceptions about which party is best able to handle nearly all of the issues that matter most to voters: for example, rebuilding the economy (-13), getting inflation under control (-17), reducing crime (-20), and securing the border (-26). Democratic advantages on issues like education are also down considerably from just a few years ago.

Edsall also quotes Third Way Vice President Matt Bennett, who notes, “Of the 12 House Democratic freshmen who lost last cycle — on a ticket with a winning presidential candidate — all were seriously hurt by culture war attacks.”

Edsall shares the perspecive of one of the critics of this view, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch, who observes,

party messaging largely remains dominated by reaction and fear rather than boldness. Those fears seem rooted in a panic that progressive values will be seen as less American — when the reality is that ideas like academic freedom, preventing censorship, and a belief in inquiry, including science, are the core beliefs of this nation. It’s past time for President Biden and other leaders of the Democratic Party to approve this message….The white working class is a much more diverse group than commentators from all sides tend to credit….I think the greatest cause of resentment is lack of educational and related career opportunities that have shut out the working class of all races. The Democrats are philosophically wired to expand these opportunities — through free community college and trade school, for example — yet have failed to make these a priority, ensuring a continued sense that Dems are now the party of self-enlightened degree holders looking down on them. That cycle can and must be broken.

Then there’s media critic Dan Froomkin, who calls ‘critical race theory’ a “phony issue….that serves as a stalking horse for inciting white grievance.” Froomkin adds, “I have been horrified at how credulously many political reporters have written about Republican lies — and how impressed they were at their alleged (but entirely unproven) effectiveness. They wrote about it as if it were a real problem, rather than an obvious, bad-faith attempt to manufacture white panic.”

A bright young Democratic left activist I know agrees, and argues that “the ‘culture wars are a distraction from the more important economic wars,” which is true. But that doesn’t make the problem go away.

As Edsall concludes, “What we can be sure of is that the Democrats can’t go on forever with this much of a gulf between what the majority of progressive party activists think the party should stand for and what the majority of Americans think it should.”

One comment on “Edsall: Dems Must Harmonize Message and ‘Brand’

  1. Martin Lawford on

    As long as racist dog whistles like Glenn Youngkin’s campaign against “critical race theory” win elections, Republicans are going to use them. The solution is to make their racist tactics ineffective by exposing them. We cannot count on the spineless news media to help with this. They gave up on honest reporting years ago. Instead, the vehicle for exposing the Republicans’ code-worded racist appeal must be our own messaging.


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