Eying 2018 gains, Dems build on economic message

Eying 2018 gains, Dems build on economic message
© Getty Images

House Democratic leaders on Wednesday launched the latest phase of an economic messaging campaign designed to make inroads with working-class voters in 2018 and beyond.

The caucus unveiled a series of task forces charged with crafting specific policy proposals with two overarching goals in mind: practically, they want to help the middle class thicken their wallets; politically, they want to reclaim the populist mantle from President TrumpDonald John TrumpKimberly Guilfoyle reports being asymptomatic and 'feeling really pretty good' after COVID-19 diagnosis Biden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad MORE.

The effort, which builds on the party’s economy-focused “Better Deal” agenda, is an acknowledgement that the Democrats’ 2016 strategy of focusing on Trump's foibles backfired, particularly among many working-class voters in states like Michigan and Wisconsin.


It’s a mistake they’re vowing not to make twice.

“We all know our agenda can’t just be against Donald Trump — as alluring as that may be,” Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said during a press briefing in the Capitol. “We need a vision — a vision backed by policy so all Americans know what Democrats stand for, and what we’re fighting for and how it will help them in their bottom line.”

The refrain is familiar. Democrats have, for years, sought ways to make their economic message more appealing to a broader swath of voters, particularly those in the conservative-leaning districts they need to win in order to take back the Speaker’s gavel. Toward that end, they’ve created policy-specific working groups; launched a “Make It In America” agenda that was endorsed by President Obama; toured the country trumpeting the virtues of universal health care and a hike in the minimum wage; and sponsored countless legislative proposals designed to ease the economic burdens on working Americans. 

For all the effort, they have failed to win the House majority in the last four election cycles.

The string of losses has led to tensions between some liberal Democrats, who want to pull the party left, and Democratic leaders who are pushing the more centrist “Better Deal” agenda aimed at the purple-district voters that went for Trump. 

That tug-of-war will be on full display Wednesday in the Capitol, where Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTammy Duckworth is the epitome of the American Dream On The Money: Deficit rises to record .7 trillion amid pandemic: CBO | Democrats sidestep budget deal by seeking 0B in emergency spending | House panel advances spending bill with funding boost to IRS Biden-Sanders unity task force calls for Fed, US Postal Service consumer banking MORE (I-Vt.), a liberal leader, will introduce a single-payer health-care bill that party leaders have declined to endorse.

For the Democrats, the messaging push has gained more prominence — and urgency — following Trump’s victory. And party leaders are framing this year’s strategy as a bottom-up endeavor that learns from the failures of cycles past. Some rank-and-file members have criticized the Democrats’ leadership structure for being overly top-heavy. Crowley said that will change under the “Better Deal.”

“It’s an acknowledgement that if we’re going to be successful, in terms of the messaging and in terms of … creating solutions to the problems … that Americans are facing everyday, it’s going to take our entire caucus being involved in this process and tightening up that message,” Crowley said. 

“The caucus will own this message.”

With that in mind, the Democrats have created five new working groups, each consisting of a handful of members, targeting different economic topics. 

One will focus on fixing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure; a second aims to boost working-class wages and bolster retirement security; the third hopes to help small businesses by improving access to loans and encouraging apprenticeships and vocational education; a fourth aims to prepare the workforce for the tech-heavy economic future; and the last seeks better job opportunities for military veterans.

Crowley said the groups are aiming to introduce specific bills before year’s end. 

With Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress, it’s unlikely the Democrats’ proposals will move very far. From a messaging standpoint, however, the Democrats are hoping to draw a sharp public contrast between their economic prescriptions and those of Trump and the Republicans.

“In many instances, they prefer to go it alone and they’re not interested in talking to us about our agenda,” Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus. 

“But we want to highlight exactly, specifically, what we intend to do for the American public if they put [their] trust in us and give us back the majority in 2018.”