OPINION | Hey Dems, Russia won't define 2018, so why not fix your party's problems instead?
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Amid all the Beltway noise, you may have missed the fact that Donald Trump is still more popular than Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThere are many unanswered questions about FBI culture FBI agent who sent anti-Trump texts offers to testify on Capitol Hill Giuliani wants 'full and complete' investigation into Russia probe's origins MORE. So much for #resist.

Talk to Democrats in D.C. these days and chances are good they will be fixated on Russia. They won’t be talking about their economic message, their path back to power, or their solution on what to do about a failing healthcare system.

But the Russia matter is in the capable hands of Robert Mueller, with whom with the Trump administration is cooperating. Even former Obama speechwriter, Jon Favreau, implored Democrats to turn their attention to policy matters, tweeting, “Reminder: unless you’re a journalist or Bob Mueller, you have a better chance of influencing the [healthcare] vote than Russia-gate.”

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More importantly, Hillary Clinton didn’t lose last year because of Russia. She lost because she was a terrible candidate with no economic message who was distrusted by the American people. Former Obama strategist David Axelrod posited, “One of the things that hindered her in the campaign was a sense that she never fully was willing to take responsibility for her mistakes, particularly that server.” Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump to nominate budget official as next consumer bureau chief Sessions floats federal law that would protect states that decriminalize marijuana Bank regulator faces backlash over comments on racism MORE (D-Mass.), with an eye on 2020, said that Democrats lost because they “didn’t make the case.”

 

The Democrats lacked a winning message in 2016, and still do today. But as a practical consequence, the Russia talk obscures their challenges. Still, when put on the spot, Democrats reveal just how bleak their outlook is. Take House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), for example, who admitted in an interview this week that his party’s core message is “being worked on.”

The Democrats’ messaging woes aren’t the only thing that might have escaped your notice recently. It’s also the strong-arming campaign to define what that message will be. The party’s de facto leader, socialist Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) Sanders If Congress takes no action, the Social Security trust fund will become depleted in 2034 Ex-campaign manager: Sanders is still eying another presidential bid DNC chair backing plan to cut superdelegates opposed by Dem lawmakers MORE (I-Vt.), has been driving down ballot Democrats far to the left.

On healthcare, Democrats such as Sens. Warren, Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandCongress must confront sexual abuse of military children The Hill's Morning Report — Can the economy help Republicans buck political history in 2018? Sanders gets best reception at early 2020 audition MORE (D-N.Y.), and rising star Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) are rushing to praise a single payer philosophy. Meanwhile, Democratic senators in red states are pledging to work with Republicans on more practical solutions.

On so-called “free” college, Sen. Sanders’ signature issue, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a 2020 hopeful, announced a Sanders-like program in the Empire State. On the minimum wage, the party has also lurched to the left. As a compromise to disenfranchised Sanders voters at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, the party included a $15 minimum wage provision in its platform.

This spring, minimum wage legislation backed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump knocks Schumer, touts North Korea summit in early morning tweet Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Dems want answers on DOJ ObamaCare decision The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump, Kim make history with summit MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had more than 30 co-sponsors. In 2015, by contrast, similar legislation was only able to garner a half dozen Democratic legislators to support it.

What do these leaders get for adopting these radical views? It’s not just the blessing of Bernie Sanders. Big-moneyed, liberal groups like Democracy Now! and MoveOn.org are also sweetening the deal, offering dollars and grassroots support for adherents to their extreme ideology.

But the ties between Sen. Sanders and billionaire George Soros comes at a cost. These moves have the potential to be toxic to a party struggling to find its footing. Not only are the party’s far-left policies decidedly unpopular with voters (and particularly with midterm voters), but their path to victory is also bleak. Democrats have 10 Senate seats up in states won by President TrumpDonald John TrumpEx-ethics chief calls on Trump to end 'monstrous' migrant policies Laura Bush blasts Trump migrant policy as 'cruel' and 'immoral' US denies report of coalition airstrike on Syria MORE — five of them by double digits.

By obsessing over last year’s election, the Democrats are missing an opportunity to focus on what’s next. Russia is not going to decide the 2018 midterms. Issues like healthcare, the economy and national security will. Without a leader and a message, the Democrats have a lot of work to do. The first step is recognizing this fact, but here we are, six months into the Trump presidency, and the Democratic Party remains stuck in a state of denial.

Alexandra Smith is executive director of America Rising, a political action committee dedicated to advancing conservative principles and holding liberals accountable. She previously served as chairman of the College Republican National Committee.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.