Democrats face important challenges as we move beyond the disappointment and fear associated with this year’s election. With our worst Electoral College showing since 1988, a Republican will enter the White House with outright majorities in both houses of Congress for the first time since 1928.
First, don’t minimize the depth of our problems by saying, for example, that we won the popular vote for president. We’ve gotten in trouble before by thinking “it cannot get any worse.”
Second, avoid finger-pointing. No one honestly knows what would have happened if Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic nominee or if a different allocation of campaign resources would have changed the outcome.
For example, there is no evidence that another candidate visit to this or that state, for example, would have made a difference.
Third, we should be realistic about the opposition we face. Do not assume Donald Trump’s presidency is doomed to fail. Low opinions about his abilities make it easy for him to exceed expectations.
Fourth, don’t assume Republicans possess special tools, issues, or messages guaranteeing their future success. Four years ago, many wrongly believed that changing demographics and superior technology would give Democrats a permanent edge.
By the same token, don’t assume the Electoral College, gerrymandering, turnout, or other structural advantages will translate into future Republican successes.
Fifth and most important, don’t blame the voters, including members of groups that voted disproportionately for Trump and the Republicans. We need support from many of them to win elections.
For example, before we write off non-college whites, remember that about 12 million of them voted for Clinton, including 5 million non-college white men.
The first thing we should do is take advantage of the experience from people who participated in the 2016 campaign. Too often Democrats toss aside operatives and consultants who played central roles in losing presidential campaigns. Losing can be a better teacher than winning, and the Clinton team will have learned important lessons that benefit others.
Second, we should rebuild our party infrastructure in the states — all the states.
Through inattention and underfunding, many state parties have shriveled to the point of ineffectiveness. We will not be able to fix the problems with gerrymandering or recruit better candidates unless we rebuild those organizations — including states ignored by recent presidential campaigns.
Third, embrace candidates who differ from those we find most exciting. This advice applies no matter where one stands on the ideological spectrum. For instance, recruiting candidates who can fund their own campaigns or attract significant contributions will help offset the difficult fundraising period we will face in the next couple of cycles.
This means encouraging rather than discouraging candidates who have been successful accumulating wealth. Likewise, we should not blackball candidates because they do not pass all of our litmus tests.
Fourth, understand that issues seldom win campaigns. Except in very rare cases, compelling value messages and personal stories will win more non-partisan voters than any particular issue position. A great personal story is more powerful for the voters who decide elections than the most precise micro-targeting or modeling.
Fifth, listen to the voters, even if they do not fit the notion of our ideal coalition. Democrats won in 2008 because we unified people who felt ignored or mistreated by the Bush Administration.
One of our major problems this year was the coalescing of voters who felt ignored by Democrats in recent years. Let’s admit it: we dismissed the economic hardship of many working class voters because they do not fit into our idealized constituency.
Democrats succeed when voters believe we are empathetic toward them, their families, and their communities. At best, we have shown insufficient empathy for the working class Americans who struggle to make ends meet and to be heard. Convincing voters that we are empathetic requires listening to their concerns, finding solutions that empower them, and giving them a stake in the outcomes.
Hickman is the CEO and Koren is vice president of Hickman Analytics, Inc., a Democratic polling and consulting firm.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.