Democrats should not allow Republicans to define them

Democrats should not allow Republicans to define them
© Stefani Reynolds

Campaigns generally wield broad brush strokes. Indeed, President TrumpDonald John TrumpBooker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Booker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Trump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' MORE is seeking to paint every Democrat in office or on the trail as a socialist or a reflection of Representative Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarGOP hopes dim on reclaiming House GOP hopes dim on reclaiming House Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record MORE, whose comments on Israel and 9/11 continue to fuel protest and controversy. The question is will it work?

In fact, Republicans have so far been successful at painting Democrats in Congress as lurching left, despite the reality that their caucus expanded to the right. Their majority was secured by adding 40 seats in previously Republican held districts. Socialism may resonate in bright blue districts, but it dissuades in the purple ones. Even in the very blue districts where committed capitalists write up healthy campaign checks at swanky Democratic fundraisers in New York and Los Angeles, the inevitable question is why do people think that we are all a bunch of socialists?

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House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' Trump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record MORE sought to set the record straight during a CBS “60 Minutes” interview last Sunday when Lesley Stahl asked about the self-described socialists within her caucus. Pelosi interjected to say “like five people” comprise that group. When you can count the number of socialists on one hand, it is not exactly a Marxist cabal. Also, Stahl asked the question at a time when most of the socialists I know were watching “Game of Thrones” reruns before the season premiere.

So it did not exactly ignite the Communist International. Still, Pelosi understands how devastating it would be to her majority if the Republican paintbrush fills in the blanks with, well, blanks, or voters not affiliated with or committed to either party. As many have argued before, most notably political analyst Charlie Cook, the 2020 presidential election is locked in with 80 percent of the electorate. They either adore or abhor Donald Trump. It is the 20 percent in the middle who can still be persuaded that will determine the next White House occupant and majority in Congress.

“We have to hold the center,” Pelosi told Stahl in the interview. “We have to go down the mainstream.” It is a tall order setting a mainstream course in frothing rapids shifting far left and right. Managing the diversity among the members of her caucus, Pelosi has taken to telling her colleagues, “Our diversity is our strength. But our unity is our power.” She is right.

Indeed, the Republican campaign playbook will be to strip that power by attacking the diversity of Democrats, wrapping them all in the image of Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezChuck Todd: Ocasio-Cortez's concentration camp remarks do border detainees 'tremendous disservice' Chuck Todd: Ocasio-Cortez's concentration camp remarks do border detainees 'tremendous disservice' GOP hopes dim on reclaiming House MORE or Ilhan Omar, and watching gleefully as the energy on the left threatens to consume moderate Democrats running in moderate districts with more progressive primaries in the next election.

“Define your opponent” is basic to any candidate strategy. Pelosi gets that. So does President Trump. The party with the bigger brush wins.

Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelIs America headed toward war? Is America headed toward war? Campaign dads fit fatherhood between presidential speeches MORE represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.