Democrats need a roster like the Patriots to make waves in 2018
© Getty Images

With fall fast approaching, football coaches and political strategists alike are finalizing their rosters for the upcoming season. What makes a great team? The Patriots head coach Bill Belichick knows something about that. He once said, “On a team, it’s not the strength of the individual players, but it is the strength of the unit and how they all function together.”

Ideally, recruiters for a national political party ought to heed Belichick’s advice. A political party should recruit candidates who fit the individual needs of their districts. But, at their core, candidates should share fidelity to a common governing philosophy or set of beliefs. In his thoughts on team-building, Belichick doesn’t call for uniformity, but rather cohesion. Basically, it’s great to have Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, but Brady better be able to work with Malcolm Mitchell, if Gronk isn’t on the field.

This isn’t how recruitment is working within the Democratic Party these days, and sunny headlines like, “Democrats recruit newcomers, hoping to spark anti-Trump wave in 2018,” and “The sheer number Of Democrats running for Congress is a good sign for the party,” belie some ugly truths.


For one, Democrats face a tough field. They need a net gain of 24 seats to regain control of the House of Representatives. In the Senate, Democrats have 25 seats to defend, with 10 of those in states that voted for President Trump in 2016. The deficits Democrats face aren’t the result of an unlucky cycle or two. They are the product of sustained messaging failures and an utter disconnect with the electorate.

Money matters, too. After all, Bill Belichick can’t run a successful team without Bob Kraft. In July, the Republican National Committee raised $10.2 million to the Democratic National Committee’s $3.8 million. While the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee have fared a bit better, the DNC’s fundraising collapse is significant.

Symbolically, the anemic numbers demonstrate that progressive donors disgruntled by the disastrous 2016 primary process have not come home in this time of need for the Democrats. These woes are greatly exacerbated by Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersShowtime says Sacha Baron Cohen did not dress as 'disabled veteran' 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser Ocasio-Cortez floating progressive sub-caucus MORE’s decision to withhold his prolific email list from the DNC.

But who are the Democrats choosing to put in the game in the midterms? Their strategy to ride the “outsider” wave of 2016 in the recent special elections was a complete failure. Georgia’s Jon Ossoff, for example, was such an outsider that he actually lived outside the district. Once lauded as a fresh-faced, formidable contender by the left, Ossoff lost the race despite having over $30 million backing him.

So, Democrats have tweaked their profile ahead of the midterms. A recent Politico analysis summed up what Democrats are looking for in a candidate: “veterans, preferably with small business experience too. They’d like as many of them to be women or people who’ve never run for office before — and having young children helps.”

While these candidates are certainly an upgrade in quality from Ossoff and his Star Wars costumes, they’ll likely face the same challenge he did. Ossoff first rose to progressive prominence with his “Make Trump Furious” campaign in this spring. When the race got close with Republican Karen Handel, however, Ossoff changed his tune, refusing to discuss his San Francisco benefactors, declining to back a single-payer health care plan, and going so far to say that he would work with President Trump.

Similarly, these new Democratic recruits can’t bank on being a well-respected physician or community leader in winning next year’s contests. Why? Because the team lacks unity. Progressive donors are on the sidelines, as are certain organizations refusing to back Democratic candidates who flunk their abortion litmus test.

Sanders, a key player in this team, hasn’t ruled out primary challenges for candidates who don’t support single-payer health care. Leaders like Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Red-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (D-N.Y.) offered Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonShocking summit with Putin caps off Trump’s turbulent Europe trip GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE leftovers in “A Better Deal,” but were met with a decidedly lukewarm reception from both leftists and centrists. Moreover, Democratic officials routinely cannot even state who the leaders of their Party are.

The Democrats might have found some better players, but larger structural problems remain. The whole franchise — donors, activists, elected officials and candidates — have yet to agree on a strategy and message. And without cooperation, their season will be a bust.

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.