The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Democrats’ message and communications problem

Doug Jensen
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File
FILE – Trump supporters, including Doug Jensen, center, confront U.S. Capitol Police in the hallway outside of the Senate chamber, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. A trial is set to open for Jensen, who ran after a police officer retreating up a flight of stairs during a mob’s attack on the U.S. Capitol, a harrowing encounter captured on video. Jensen, who wore a shirt promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory, told the FBI that he wanted to be a “poster boy” for the events that unfolded on Jan. 6, 2021.

We are just about seven weeks from election day 2022. Polls show a very large number of very close races across the country, and both parties are focusing on turning out their voters. That is as it should be, especially in off-year elections.

The latest Washington Post poll shows a dead heat in congressional races between Republicans and Democrats, 47-46 percent in the Republicans’ favor. Ten Senate races are too close to call — labeled toss-up or lean one party or the other according to the Cook Report.

Make no mistake, this is also not your usual off-year election, and Democrats may be missing the boat in not ratcheting up their messaging. This is, after all, not a simple series of disagreements on how to handle issues facing the country. It is not just a debate about fiscal policy or foreign policy as is often the case. According to an NBC poll the number one issue facing the country is the threat to democracy. The poll found 21 percent of respondents most worried about democracy, while 16 percent indicated cost of living and 14 percent jobs and the economy.

If they are going to have a chance of winning in November, Democrats must get on the offensive against this new breed of Republicans. Democrats must make clear that radical Republicans, led and fueled by Trump, pose a direct threat to American values and, if they win, true chaos will be the order of the day. As President Biden said in Philadelphia a few weeks ago: “They promote authoritarian leaders, and they fan the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country.”

If Democrats don’t raise the stakes of this election, focus on the “clear and present danger” that conservative Judge Michael Luttig called Trump and the MAGA Republicans, we will be hard pressed to generate the turnout we need or convince voters on the fence.

Here are the major messages Democrats should pound home between now and Nov. 8:

  1. The threat to democracy and America is real — The Trumpian Republican Party has been taken over by extremist election deniers, committed to trampling the rule of law, undermining confidence in our elections and turning candidates who lost into winners.
  2. The threat to American freedoms and our way of life is real — The overturn of Roe v. Wade will result in horrendous laws and rulings on women’s health and the right to choose. It will be swift and devastating if Republicans take over the House and Senate and win in the states. LGBTQ rights and gay marriage will be under attack, and most possibly, rolled back. Culture wars will be ramped up and basic human rights severely threatened.
  3. If the Senate and House go Republican any reasonable progress will end: Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will have veto power over judges; no legislation will pass on climate change; nothing on early childhood education, family and medical leave, health care; near total gridlock will ensue.
  4. We will see months, even years, of show hearings on Hunter Biden, “critical race theory,” the FBI and Mar-a-Lago, the Afghanistan withdrawal, you name it — a spectacle that will make the ten investigations into Benghazi and Hillary Clinton look like child’s play. None of this, by the way, will be designed to pass legislation to help the American people.
  5. Attacks against immigrants, transgender people, minorities who are seeking their basic civil rights will escalate under the renewed power of the Donald Trump MAGA message.
  6. There will be an increasing fondness for foreign right-wing authoritarian autocrats like Vladimir Putin of Russia, Viktor Orban of Hungary and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. Instead of embracing democracy around the world, we will be embracing dictators. Instead of supporting NATO, MAGA will cozy up to Putin.
  7. Finally, Democrats should think seriously about what a Republican victory in 2022 will say about 2024 and beyond, about the further destruction of the two-party system and the move toward authoritarianism. What would Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, the two Bushes, even Richard Nixon, think about what is happening to America?

2022 is no ordinary election year; these are no ordinary times; Democrats either step up now and make that clear or we suffer the consequences, and America will suffer the consequences. Democrats have seven weeks to drive that home. Time to turn up the heat.

Peter Fenn is a long-time Democratic political strategist who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was a top aide to Sen. Frank Church and was the first director of Democrats for the 80s, founded by Pamela Harriman. He also co-founded the Center for Responsive Politics/Open Secrets. He serves on the board of the Frank Church Institute. Follow him on Twitter @peterhfenn.

Tags 2022 midterm elections Authoritarianism Culture Wars Democratic Party Donald Trump Far-right extremism Gridlock Joe Biden LGBTQ rights MAGA Republicans messaging opinion polling Peter Fenn public opinion polls Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Roe v. Wade threat to democracy trumpism Viktor Orban Vladimir Putin Womens rights

More Campaign News

See All

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video