Dems fault leaders for brushing off losses

Senior members of the Democratic Party say congressional leaders need to look in the mirror after a disastrous Election Day. 

Several former chairmen of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) say the party waged a tepid fight this year and hasn’t had enough of an internal deliberation about what went wrong. 

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“No, I haven’t seen any discussion about the complete lack of message,” said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who served as DNC chairman from 2005 to 2009. “I think they need to figure out what they stand for and then talk about it.”

Following their 2012 losses, many Republicans publicly and privately said the party’s brand and message needed major work. The Republican National Committee subsequently released an “autopsy” report on why it lost the presidential race and seats in the House and Senate.

Dean said the only congressional leader who has acknowledged what he described as an utter communications failure is Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the House assistant Democratic leader. Clyburn has argued that Democrats should have emphasized President Obama’s accomplishments.

Sen. Tim KaineTim KaineDemocrats thought they could produce a political earthquake in Kansas Poll: Dems hold double-digit leads in Virginia governor race Sen. King: Trump needs Congress to sign off on new military action MORE (Va.), who served as DNC chairman from 2009 to 2011, said his party should have a serious discussion about why it got blown out.

“No, there’s not been enough. I’m less focused on the party than the Senate. We have to do some serious soul-searching to ask why so many of our colleagues lost races. They were not bad public servants. They weren’t bad candidates. We have to ask why they lost,” he said.

Kaine, who is up for reelection in 2018, said the other two-thirds of the necessary discussion is about what Democrats need to do to become more successful, not just in winning races but also racking up legislative accomplishments. 

“We haven’t had the discussion about what went wrong. We haven’t had the discussion about what we need to do going forward to be more successful in the mission we have, and now is the time to really begin the discussion,” he said.

He believes Democratic voter turnout was so low because Congress accomplished so little in the past two years, squandering the chance to pass immigration reform and ducking a vote on authorizing combat operations in Iraq and Syria. 

Democratic leaders in the Senate and House have minimized their own culpability in last week’s poor showing. They blame their losses on historical trends, Obama’s low approval ratings and an unfavorable reelection map.

 Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidWeek ahead: House to revive Yucca Mountain fight Warren builds her brand with 2020 down the road 'Tuesday Group' turncoats must use recess to regroup on ObamaCare MORE (D-Nev.) has said little publicly or to his own caucus since the defeat. He said Wednesday that he is focused on moving forward with legislative priorities that need to pass.

“I have always believed it wise to follow Will Rogers’s admonition: ‘Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.’ We have a lot of work to do and no time to linger on the past,” he said.   

His chief of staff, David Krone, publicly blamed the White House for not working more closely with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). He also claimed the president’s 40 percent approval rating worsened the Democrats’ chances in battleground states.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) argued in a recent Politico interview that there was no Republican wave despite the loss of at least eight Democratic seats in the Senate and a dozen in the House. She said she believes the party’s message is largely fine.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who served as DNC chairman from 1999 to 2001, disagrees.

“We didn’t develop a national brand. The Republicans have a very good, simple national brand message that they’re for less government, less regulation and less taxes,” he said.

Exit polls showing that voters tended to agree with Democrats on the issues even though they tended to vote Republican proves “we’re not doing a very good job of getting our message across to the people,” Rendell said.

Obama initially resisted accepting blame for the party’s losses, saying in a press conference after Nov. 4 that “Republicans had a good night” and pointing out that most Americans didn’t vote. 

In an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” over the weekend, though, he acknowledged the “the buck stops” with him. 

Denis McDonoughDenis McDonoughSunday shows preview: McMaster hits circuit for second straight week Obama chief of staff: 'The president cannot order a wiretap' Obama's chief of staff joins foundation with focus on jobs MORE, White House chief of staff, met with Senate Democratic leaders Wednesday but the focus of the session was on the lame-duck agenda — not what went wrong in the campaigns. 

The Senate Democratic Conference is expected to reelect its leadership team on Thursday and the House Democratic Caucus will do the same on Nov. 18. The chairmen of the DSCC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will change. 

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) last week called for a delay in the Democrats’ leadership elections for “at least a month” to allow members to “take inventory” of the party’s future. 

On Saturday, DNC Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) acknowledged there is trouble. “Our party has a problem,” she said. She has ordered a top-to-bottom review of party tactics and plans to release the findings at the committee’s 2015 winter meeting.

Senior Senate Democratic aides argue there was little they or their bosses could have done to save faltering incumbents in the final weeks of the campaign.

“There’s not a lot of second-guessing of the tactical approach. The Washington Post said we had an 80 percent chance of losing the Senate in April” because so many races were in red states, a senior Democratic staffer pointed out. 

Senate Democratic aides contend a series of unforeseen crises, such as panic over the Ebola virus and a string of military victories by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, drowned out their economic message.

“We could have sent a million emails. They never would have come near the same level of attention as the numerous crises that popped up,” the Democratic aide added. “Republicans had a strategy of riding a wave of bad news in the last year and the news abided.”

Rendell said attempts to blame much of the Democrats’ performance on an unfavorable election map are “baloney.” 

“Iowa’s not a bad map. That’s a purple state. It’s a state a Democrat held and it’s a state Obama carried,” he said. “We got beat in Colorado, a state with a Democratic governor and a state Obama carried twice.”