Analysis by Reporting San Diego
May 25, 2017 (San Diego) Over the last few months we all have seen the makings of a Democratic wave. Town hall meetings with Republicans, and at times Democrats, have become rather heated affairs. Indivisible, among other groups, has shown to these with signs, and a message. It is quite a simple message: Resist.
It is also a message that lacks a coherent strategy. Until that message develops a strategy that goes beyond copying the tactics of the tea party, it will be full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Over the last three months we have also seen special elections not go the way of Democrats, and Democrats not react too well to it. (We also had a couple state election that did, Democrats have to look at the internals of those races and figure why they worked. One, in particular, was in a very red district.)
Democrats have blamed Republicans for voting against their own interest. They are ignorant and in the worst of cases, they are evil. Now, this betrays two things. The first is obvious. The political environment in the United States is so fractured that the two main warring tribes are at each other’s throats and are in the process of demonizing the other. This did not start under Trump. This process started during the Bill Clinton years. In Congress, it is easy to tract to the diktat from then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich that house members should avoid going out for a drink with their Democratic counterparts after work.
I know these days this is almost impossible to conceive, but members of Congress went out for dinner together. They went to each other’s weddings. and they also attended mixers at the White House. Tip O’Neil and Ronald Reagan had drinks in the White House.
Of course, it would be tempting to blame only Republicans for the behavior that exists today. I mean, they started it right? And while it is accurate to say that, for the most part, we are not in kinder garden and that excuse will only go so far. Democrats have developed their own dislike, even hate, of Republicans. They have become increasingly radicalized and susceptible to conspiracy theories as well.
This dehumanization goes in different ways. They are dishonest, they are fascists, they are authoritarians, and while some Republicans are all that, you could also say that some Democrats can and have acted in pretty authoritarian ways as well. So far it is less common, but it is there.
Do we have a problem with the country, in general, adopting a less democratic outlook? Absolutely, but as the saying goes, it takes two to tango, and as the two national parties have continued their rightward slide, we have had a hardening of attitudes by members of both tribes. It is accurate to see them as tribes, that see the other as an outsider.
A Harvard Business School Study found in 2016 that:
The political system is no longer delivering good results for the average American. Numerous indicators point to failure to compromise and deliver practical solutions to the nation’s problems. Political polarization has especially made it harder to build consensus on sensible economic policies that address key U.S. weaknesses. It is at the root of our inability to progress on the consensus EightPoint Plan.
So what does this have to do with a Democratic wave? Under any normal circumstance, you could say that Democrats are activated and motivated to turn out at the polls. So in places like the 49th Congressional District in California, where Darell Issa kept his seat, but just barely, in 2016, it makes sense the seat is considered to be in play for 2018.
However, this will only happen (and Democrats need 20 of these at-risk seats to flip the House), if Democrats stop doing a few things. The first, and most obvious are blame the voters. I know it is easy to demonize people who do not agree with you politically. However, Democrats are not just wasting their time doing this, but it will only harden the attitudes of Republican and independent voters.
At one point Democrats knew this and could reach across and convince voters to go their way. Mind you, not every voter, and that is a fool’s errand for either party as well. You will never get every voter to follow you, no matter how hard you try. So you have to concede some.
Here is where ideological framing comes in.
If you are a Democrat, you will agree with the following statement. “Health Care is a human right.” It is common sense and logical right? This is not a statement that makes sense to your counterparts on the conservative side of the House. This is how the Intercept found out when the Montana race got tight. It did not involve an assault on a reporter. That did not have time percolate.
But in the wake of the attacks on his gallbladder surgery-related debts, Quist decided to lean into the issue of pre-existing conditions. That’s when the race got real. “Russia is on TV all day long and it’s what people in Washington are hyperventilating about, but health care is what’s on people’s minds and what they care about because it’s personal,”
The Democrat is in a red state knew that this unicorn talk of human rights is not going to go anywhere. He reached into the tool box and used something else that is very real to most voters. Raise your hand if you do not have any preexisting condition. If he had started that talk early on, that might have worked and a Democrat, mind you a conservative Democrat, might have won a seat that no Democrat has won since the 1990s.
Instead, Rob Quist decided to at first do the I am far more of a second amendment defender than my Republican counterpart. Whoever suggested that strategy should be run out of town on a rail. However, many Democratic Candidates are doing this. They are trying to play to the strengths of the other side because they are trying to out-conservative the conservatives. They forgot this saying attributed to Harry Truman. “If a voter has a choice between a Republican and a Democrat who acts like a Republican, he’ll vote for the Republican every time.”
We are living though a populist wave. President Donald Trump rode that wave to the White House. Bernie Sanders rode that wave during the Democratic primary. It exists. Centrist Democrats are still in denial that this populist wave exits. If they do not wake up fast and get more populist (and mean it), that wave will be much smaller than it appears at this point. Worst case scenario, it will be inexistent.