New Dem message doesn’t mention Trump

New Dem message doesn’t mention Trump
© The Winchester Star/AP

BERRYVILLE, Va. — Eyeing big wins in 2018, Democrats are fighting to reclaim the populist mantle from President Trump — without actually talking about him.

In 12 pages of messaging documents released Monday, the Democrats unveiled their much-hyped 2018 agenda designed to win over working-class voters, ditching an emphasis on attacking an unpopular president in favor of a new agenda focused on the economy while passing over the social issues that have sometimes defined the party.

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Trump is not mentioned once in the messaging documents.

It’s the clearest sign yet that congressional Democrats want to discard last year’s campaign playbook, which revolved largely around attacking Trump. Instead, they favor a 2018 theme designed to address the financial insecurities of working-class voters.

Their “Better Deal” campaign focuses on pocketbook issues such as creating jobs, training a modern-day workforce and lowering the cost of essential items like prescription drugs and secondary education.

It also proposes aggressive new efforts to rein in corporate power, particularly large mergers and anti-competitive actions that harm consumers and workers alike.

Launching their campaign in rural Virginia, Democratic leaders said their recent election woes are not the product of misplaced priorities, but of the party’s inability to define their agenda — and a reluctance to fight for it.

“Too many Americans don’t know what we stand for,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerRed-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick Trump's latest win: More Americans are saying, 'I quit!' MORE (D-N.Y.) said.

“Not after today.”

As a sign of the uphill battle the Democrats face, Monday’s rollout was briefly overshadowed by the sprawling investigation into Russia’s election interference and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Just as the Democrats took the podium in Virginia, TV networks were instead carrying Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s statement on his meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee live from outside the White House.

Still, the Democrats said it’s the economy, not Trump or the many controversies surrounding him, that voters are most concerned with.

“People need to know not only what we’re fighting against,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), “They need to know what we’re fighting for.”

A Washington Post/ABC News poll released last week lends credence to the Democrats’ strategy — and highlights their challenge. The survey found that just 37 percent of voters think the Democratic Party “stands for something,” while 52 percent view the party as simply anti-Trump.

The poll also found that, while just 36 percent of voters approve of Trump’s performance in the White House, a majority — 51 percent — said Trump would not be a factor in how they vote in the 2018 midterms.

The Democrats’ “Better Deal” campaign arrives after nine months of post-election soul searching and number crunching in search of a formula that might translate their policy prescriptions — which enjoy widespread approval in national polls — into election victories.

The post-mortem has been complicated by internal disagreements about whether the Democrats should pursue the diverse liberal coalition of voters that propelled President Obama into office, or make an aggressive push for the more conservative-leaning heartland voters who came out for Trump.

Schumer called the dilemma “a false choice,” arguing that economic insecurity is a shared concern for all voters, regardless of region or party affiliation.

“What resonates in North Dakota or Montana or Missouri [also] resonates in California, New York and Massachusetts,” Schumer said. “There is not that divide on economic issues. What happened is the Democratic Party forgot to emphasize them.”

House GOP aides were quick to note the similarity to House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFive GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Trump walks back criticism of UK Brexit strategy | McConnell worries US in 'early stages' of trade war | US trade deficit with China hits new record Tampons sent to Dem who called for free feminine hygiene products in House MORE’s (R-Wis.) “Better Way” agenda, which the Republicans released last year.

AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, quipped on Monday that reporters “might be thinking to yourself: That sounds familiar. I swear I’ve seen this message before. Maybe from House Republicans?”

The Democrats quickly pushed back, challenging Ryan to debate the two plans on their merits.

“Speaker Ryan should probably be most concerned about how ‘A Better Way’ falls short in helping the American people, and especially hard-working families,” said Rep. Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), the head of the House Democrats’ campaign arm.

The plan unveiled on Monday is the first phase in the Democrats’ messaging push. It features a series of specific policy changes designed to boost wages, train new workers, lower drug costs and rein in corporate power.

Yet even as the Democrats were promoting their message, a group aligned with Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOcasio-Cortez to campaign with Bernie Sanders in Kansas Sanders: Trump should confront Putin over Mueller probe indictments Booker seizes on Kavanaugh confirmation fight MORE (I-Vt.) was looking to pull the Democrats’ agenda further to the left.

Schumer said Sanders had “great input” in crafting the message, noting the push for a $15 minimum wage and efforts to dilute the power of corporations — both prominent themes in Sanders’s surprisingly competitive primary run against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDHS secretary: No sign Russia targeting midterm elections at 2016 level Twitter suspends Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks accounts after indictments Elon Musk donated nearly K to Republican PAC, filings show MORE last year.

In a nod to the populist Sanders’ camp, the Democrats unveiling their message Monday included Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSanders: Trump should confront Putin over Mueller probe indictments Midterms will show voters are tired of taking back seat to Wall Street McConnell: I won't be intimidated by protesters MORE (D-Mass.), another liberal leader whose fight against Wall Street has made her a national figure. Calling the economy “rigged,” Warren highlighted Democratic proposals for stronger enforcement of antitrust laws.

“We’re here today because the economy is broken,” she said.

Clinton has been criticized since the election for blaming her loss largely on Russian interference and the decision by former FBI Director James Comey to open a new phase of his investigation into her emails just days before voters went to the polls.

But Democratic leaders on Monday were offering no excuses, blaming themselves for failing to come up with a message that spoke to voters’ financial concerns.

“When you lose elections as we did in 2014 and 2016, you don’t flinch, you don’t blink, you look in the mirror and ask, what did we do wrong? The number one thing we did wrong is not present a strong bold economic agenda to working Americans,” Schumer said.

“President Trump campaigned on a populist platform, talking to working people — that’s why he won. But as soon as he got into office he abandoned it.

“We Democrats are going to fill that vacuum.”