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Democratic Party needs to rebuild itself, mobilize the middle class

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An unexpected election result is getting the typical reaction.  Many Democrats are analyzing, theorizing, ruminating.  Here’s an idea: maybe we should stop and think about what went wrong and how to get it right.  Maybe we take some time to seriously listen to the voters who turned away from us, as well as successful Democrats whose best practices won in districts and states where Trump won.

{mosads}The fact is, there are no easy answers and slap dash solutions.

We do know one thing.  In all the diagnoses of the 2016 election, there’s one common theme: The Party of the Middle Class lost too many middle-class voters. 

We’re witnessing a unique and historic convergence of anxieties among hard-working Americans:  The economy is changing radically in front of their very eyes. To be in the middle class is now to be in an economic minority in America.  There’s virtually no mobility for non-college educated workers. According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, out of the 11.6 million jobs created in the post-recession economy, 11.5 million went to workers with at least some college education.

There’s also an historic breakdown of faith in institutions—not just government, but sports, religion and Wall Street. And voters are feeling now more than ever that democracy has been reserved for special interests.

Democrats need to tap into those anxieties constructively or Republicans will do so destructively. We are the party that is on the side of the working man and woman. 

George Packer recently wrote in The New Yorker: “In the long run, the Democratic Party faces two choices. It can continue to collapse until it’s transformed into something new, like the nineteenth century Whigs, forerunners of the Republican Party. Or it can rebuild itself from the ground up.  Not every four years but continuously; not with celebrity endorsements but in school boards and town councils; not by creating more virtual echo chambers but by learning again how to talk and listen to other Americans, especially those who elected Trump because they felt ignored and left behind.  President Trump is almost certain to betray them. The country will need an opposition capable of pointing that out.”

Packer is right, and to follow his formula, we need to create the most sweeping and precise middle-class voter research, message and mobilization project in history.  And this project should be decidedly ground-based.

We must begin by convening sessions with the real experts: Democrats who run – and win – in competitive electorates that turned away from the rest of the ticket.  They know firsthand the strategy, tactics, message and mobilization necessary for Democrats to prosper in new “Trump neighborhoods.”   I am talking about candidates like Rick Nolan who won in Minnesota with 50.2 percent of the vote while Hillary Clinton garnered 38 percent in the same district. Or Tom O’Halleran who beat his opponent in Arizona by more than 7 points, but Trump won by 5 percent. Or Steve Bullock who won the governorship in Montana while Trump won by about 20 points.

There were successes last week and we need to turn to these models from governors to school board members to build a model for future success.

Once we complete this effort, we can translate it into a successful message, tailored to specific areas and media markets where we need to break through and offer innovative and resonant solutions to voter anxieties.

Middle class mobilization is our answer. If we are to succeed as a party and regain the power we need to steer our country in a direction of progress and prosperity, we cannot cede this large swatch of voters to a dangerous Republican Party. It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves, do our research and truly reach everyday Americans.

Rep. Steve Israel is chairman of the House Democratic Policy & Communications Committee.

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

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