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 TrumpTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir MORE is seeking to paint every Democrat in office or on the trail as a socialist or a reflection of Representative Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Sanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Donald Trump' if the US doesn't elect a progressive 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 PelosiFormer senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Democrats step up pressure over witnesses after Bolton bombshell Texas AFL-CIO endorses Cuellar's primary challenger 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-CortezThe Memo: Impeachment dominates final Iowa sprint 'The worst news': Political world mourns loss of Kobe Bryant Biden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements 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. IsraelWith surge in anti-Semitism, political leaders need to be aggressive and reflective in response Pelosi and Schumer were right with the strategy to delay impeachment The Hill's Morning Report - Deescalation: US-Iran conflict eases 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.