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Preparing for midterms — biggest threat to Dems is within their own party

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Democrats may outsmart themselves — again. For several months and as some high-profile special election wins reinforced, the Democratic Party is itching to claim a beautiful, “blue wave” of Dem wins in November.

Many believe Democrats are well-positioned to take back the House and perhaps make impressive gains in the Senate as the voters continue to reject the style and substance of “Trumpublican” rule.

{mosads}It may be premature, however, for Democrats to plan victory celebrations or to claim voters will prefer their brand. It is precisely because the Democrats now seem intent on tweaking their message and their brand to reflect the policy positions and polling specific to individual races. There is a very real risk of further diluting what the Democratic brand means to voters as a distinct alternative to Trump’s not-so-Grand-Old-Party.


While we have several months to go before the midterms, Democrats are signing up and queuing up in droves to run for office. Primary battles pit “Berniecrats” against “Hillarybots.” The 2016 Dem presidential primary battle created fault lines in the Democratic Party that are still being negotiated today.

In some areas, “establishment or corporate” Dems are pitted against the “hard left” or more progressive wing ignited during the run up to the 2016 general election. While the party has done a lot of work to bridge the divide, some Democrats worry that the leftward pull the Sanders’ campaign exerted will be subverted by the desire to win as many seats as possible in 2018 and to do so by matching candidates and their positions to the views held most widely in their districts and states.

We have already seen Democratic candidates who support a wide range of positions of gun control and safety, health care, climate issues and immigration.

An overall party platform would be difficult to pin down and the usual pressures about why some candidates are preferred by the “D-Triple-C” (as the party in-crowd labels the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or DCCC) have been magnified by the increasingly pliable core issues around what it means now to be a Democrat — what values do we hold together as Democrats?

Is there one party platform to which we all aspire? If our candidates are encouraged most strongly to reflect and react to conditions within their own races and to tweak their stands to match perceived voter trends, we are at real risk of losing the collective values of inclusion and fighting for the working class that drove Democrats to be Democrats.

This also encouraged voters to trust that voting for a Democrat meant voting for certain values. As we allow the softening around long-held policy positions in order to win individual races, we risk eroding the power of our collective voice to confront the threat that we are in the end stages of the American democratic experiment.

While it is true that a conservative-leaning area of one of the southern states certainly requires a different sort of candidate and campaign than a liberal leaning in the northeast or the west, that cannot and must not mean that policy positions or core values are morphed. Messaging can be tweaked; positions and values cannot.

Being a Democrat must still stand for something more than not being a Trumpublican or a Green or a Libertarian. If those elected in 2018 are all over the map in terms of their positions and values on critical issues, the dysfunction in Congress and beyond will be even more pronounced.

Being a Democrat need not mean one homogenous set of issue positions, but if we want to break the cycle in which a huge percentage of voters see all politicians as basically cut from the same cloth, we Democrats have some serious soul-searching to do.

Painful as it might be to do that now, if the current plan helps candidates win by measuring only winnability as the criteria for races will ultimately crush longer term success — and perhaps even damage the Democratic Party forever.

Tweaking the messaging is vastly different from tweaking the candidate. If Democrats are not able to hold firm positions and use their knowledge and research around policies that advance those positions to message appropriately, then Democrats do not really stand for much.

Democratic candidates who embrace the party platform and positions will be able to win and be part of a “blue wave” if those candidates articulate their positions intelligently and honestly.

Voters will not show up just to dump Trump and his ilk, but voters will show up if and when they hear candidates stand for them in tangible ways that make their American lives better — less difficult and less stressed by warring political scandals that highlight the vast divide between how the wealthy and powerful behave and how most of the rest of us live.

Becoming more decent and more ready to protect those things that make more people have the opportunities to live fulfilling lives is a powerful balm for voters. There is always a way to message common sense and human decency — always.

So what is the threat from within the Dem Party? It has been a house divided against itself for long enough, friends. The nation is at serious risk and Democrats can either throw down with the power mongers or stand up for and with their base  and right now, I see a lot of exclusion not inclusion. Dems need to clear away the words all those consultants are selling them for many millions of dollars.

Democrats need to be solid, positive and clear about what they believe and how hard they are willing to fight to achieve progress. Part of the core problem is and always has been the divide between words and actions — voters are inspired when given someone or something inspiring to support.

I am a Democrat for now. I say for now because I am worried and conflicted. As an aging. White woman with health problems, I am not exactly of much value to most of the Democratic power-brokers I know.

It used to be that I would have trusted that Democrats would be more attentive to disability issues, seniors, economic justice, health care, poverty, education and healthy communities. These issues were why I became a Democrat. What scares me most about Trump and his buddies is the damage being done in all of those policy areas.

What I want to see most is how Democrats will respond to these damages now and going forward. Our world has changed. How will Democrats be my voice in this mess if they do not hear or see me? In reality — not in some dreamland where money and status have no say. Democrats, give us your vision, your passion and most of all clarity to make things better and that Blue Wave will happen in November. But if you keep trying to ignore the base Democratic mission and if you keep trying to move more towards conservatism, get ready for another disappointing midterm performance. Don’t be Republican-lite, be power-filled Democrats.

Donna S. Smith is the executive director of Progressive Democrats of America.

Tags 2022 midterm elections Democrats Political parties in the United States Politics Politics of the United States Republicans Southern Strategy

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