Markos Moulitsas: No, the sky isn’t falling

Markos Moulitsas: No, the sky isn’t falling
© Francis Rivera

Prior to the 2014 congressional elections, headlines predicting Democratic doom poured into inboxes across America, among them: “Crushing defeat,” “debilitating defeat,” “shocking defeat,” “humiliating loss,” “it’s too late,” “devastating blow” and “dead in the water.” 

Those predictions weren’t coming from mainstream media outlets, or even from right-wing bloggers. They were the subject lines from fundraising emails sent out by House Democrats themselves. In fact, those subject lines were all used in one short month — February 2014 — nine full months before the November elections. 

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And it got worse. As the elections drew near, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent similarly apocalyptic emails virtually every day. 

Simply put, the House Democrats’ message to its most committed supporters was that the election was over well before it began. 

DCCC staffers swore to me that this relentless barrage of negativity and defeatism didn’t affect supporters’ intensity. They claimed they had tested their messaging and that everything had come up roses. 

And they were quick to point to the mounds of cash raised. Indeed, if cash was the measure of success, this approach was an unambiguous triumph. Despite being in the minority, House Democrats outraised their Republican counterparts in the 2014 cycle by a staggering $55 million. In late September 2014, the gap between Democratic and Republican small-dollar donations (those under $200) was $41 million. So it may well be that the constant drumbeat of doom-and-gloom emails gave House Democrats their huge financial advantage in the cycle.

So, the DCCC won — but it won the wrong game. The DCCC’s job is to win races, not just to raise money. Of course, you can’t win elections without money, but fundraising should never be the end in itself. And when it came to winning elections, the committee failed, with Republicans notching their largest House majority since 1928. All that money couldn’t stop Republicans from gaining 13 seats, and it couldn’t fix the Democrats’ off-year base-voter turnout problems.

It was comical, therefore, seeing then-DCCC Chairman Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.) deliver his post-election post-mortem: “One of the functions of DCCC chair and leader is to be cheerleaders. You can’t be going out there and telling people that the sky is falling. It tends to hurt recruiting and fundraising.” You can’t be out there telling people the sky is falling! That’s exactly what they did. And ironically, while it didn’t hurt fundraising and recruiting, it hurt what most mattered: winning. 

Now in a sane world, you’d think House Democrats would say, “Well, we had a good run, raised a lot of money, got fundraising bragging rights all cycle. But none of that mattered because we got crushed in a way that we never want to happen again. ” But apparently, this isn’t a sane world. 

Just last week, three emails came through from the DCCC: “DEVASTATING defeat,” “CRUSHING loss” and “DANGEROUSLY behind.” The committee has learned nothing. It still thinks the money race is all that matters, even though it doesn’t (as Republicans proved last cycle). And it somehow, impossibly, doesn’t realize that telling people the sky is falling nearly two years out from the next election is the perfect recipe for demobilizing and demotivating our base. 

Perhaps the DCCC has really tested these emails, and really believes that they aren’t affecting supporter morale and intensity. But in elections there is only one test that matters, and the committee failed its final exam. 

Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.