“If you're confused about what to do, it's a sign that your enemy is winning.”
The general consensus in the liberal media was that the Democratic Party squandered an important opportunity during the recently televised debates to show voters outside of their base that they have nationally electable candidates. The party instead seemed to move further to the left in the first debate, and spent much time infighting during the second, only serving to highlight that they are a deeply divided and leaderless party. I fear that this observation, made by the most supportive news outlets and friendly commentators is correct and unless the party works to remedy their current trajectory, they are likely to face another humiliating defeat in 2020.
Here are five things Democrats need to do if they are serious about defeating Trump.
One: Democratic National Committee Must Wrest Control of the Debate Process
It is wonderful that the party wants to show that it supports a transparent and democratic process, after the cloak and daggers they were caught doing with Hillary Clinton, but this does not mean that they should have a free-for-all circus. Part of the issue is that to stand out in such a crowded field the candidates have no choice but to resort to positing extremist views.
To remedy this, the DNC needs to change the criteria for the next round of debates, so that only a handful of the candidates are able to qualify. Further, they should hold one debate with the frontrunners - candidates who record double digit support in the polls - and a second for the next five contenders. This way they would ensure a more substantive debate, covering a wider range of issues in more depth than will ever be possible with ten candidates on stage.
The DNC also needs to take control of the format, rather than allow news outlets to determine it. This will prevent juvenile hand raising questions that oversimplify complex issues or childish ones, like CNN’s moderators kept asking in a bid to get candidates to attack each other.
Two: Stop Crying for ImpeachmentSaying that she is going to Clorox the Oval Office before moving in certainly provided Kirsten Gillibrand a viral moment, but it did nothing to win middle and low-income voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, who voted twice for Mr. Obama before turning to Mr. Trump. Neither will hysterically pushing the case for impeachment, in a partisan manner.
An NBC News poll found that the support for impeachment had steadily declined among registered voters before Mr. Mueller’s testimony, with just “21 percent of registered voters saying there is enough evidence for Congress to begin impeachment hearings.” After Mueller’s testimony, which many Democrats had hoped would be a watershed moment, an ABC News/Ipsos poll found that little had changed in voters’ minds on the issue”.
Even if Democrats in the House find the votes to impeach (they don’t currently have them), the GOP-controlled Senate will likely exonerate the President. Both Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are acutely aware that such an outcome, while placating a minority in their base, will also play right into Mr. Trump’s hands. The President has claimed all along that this is nothing more than a naked partisan witch hunt and a Senate trial clearing him will be the final vindication he needs to claim his false victimhood.
Democrats would be wise to stop publicly calling for impeachment and focus instead on the pocketbook issues that people vote on. Privately, they should absolutely continue to pursue the numerous investigations already under way into the Trump administration and his family business and allow these to reach their natural conclusions. There is nothing protecting a President from prosecution once he leaves office.
Three: Build a Rational Case against Trump (not a moral one)
Democrats need to understand that the people did not elect them to be the moral guardians of this country. So instead of feigning outrage and trying to be the moral police, they need to focus their energies more on holding the President accountable for his actions and lack thereof, and less on offensive tweets and insensitive words.
To defeat Trump they should focus on both his numerous broken promises to the working class and farmers, and on his routinely erratic behaviour. They should build a non-partisan case explaining how the President is putting every American’s national and economic security at risk with his shoot-from-the-hip, go-with-his-gut policies.
He has dangerously conflated trade and national security issues with the Huawei case in a bid to score easy concessions in his ill-conceived trade war. The issue is not that he is being tough with China, but that he has picked a fight with the second largest economic and military power in the world without a plan or a long-term strategy, which makes it likely that the outcome will be damaging for American manufacturers and consumers.
Also, why aren’t Democrats questioning the invisible line between affairs of state and the President’s personal business? It is clear that Mr. Trump draws no distinction between self-promotion and official business; family members regularly accompany him on state visits to places where the Trump enterprise has business interests. This should be a legitimate concern for all Americans, who need to understand that when foreign policy decisions are made based on personal motives, they will never align with the interests of the country and its citizens. So much for America first because it seems more like Trump first.
Another issue Democrats should be raising is the fact that there has been a marked drop in the number of warning letters issued by the FDA under this administration. These letters have long been considered a vital tool to protect consumers from unsafe drugs and food products, and a way to ensure the safety and quality of medical devices. At a time when we are facing rising healthcare costs and increasing corporate abuse, peeling away these protections will likely lead to dangerous health and safety consequences for all Americans.
Even our foreign policy is in complete disarray. From Venezuela to Iran and Syria to North Korea, beyond bullying allies, touting his personal charm and creating photo ops, it is clear the President again has no game plan. Democrats would do well to remind Americans that the last time a US president winged and went it alone on foreign policy; we wasted trillions of taxpayer dollars on two wars with no tangible results.
Four: Present a full-throated defense of Capitalism
If government were in the business of running businesses, we would all be raving about the DMV’s ease and efficiency, and the TSA’s world-class customer service. Visit any government website - federal, state or local and let me know how simple the language is, and how easy the process to do anything is - from registering a small business to filing a claim.
Take the example of the US department of education. Their stated mission is to promote student achievement. In the thirty-six years they have been a cabinet-level agency, their taxpayer funded total annual budget has increased from approximately $14 billion in 1980 to $70 billion in 2018, while improvement in student test results has been negligible. “For 17-year-olds, math scores have improved by only 1.6 percentage points from 1982 to the most recent test. In reading, scores are up 0.4 percentage points since 1980.”
Now think about who finances all government enterprise and consider how much accountability, transparency and results we get for our tax dollars from federal, state and local agencies – do you truly believe that MORE government is the answer to our problems?
There is no question that there are many things that are broken with our current system of Capitalism, but the solution is not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Instead, we need to focus our efforts on improving the systems and processes that are not working and to rebuild trust in public and private institutions by creating greater transparency and demanding more accountability from elected and unelected officials. We also need to use the law to prosecute those who have misused power; from abusive cardinals to errant CEO’s.
John Delaney put it best when he suggested in the first debate that Democrats should be the party “that keeps what’s working but fixes what’s broken”.
Five: Don’t Ignore a Winning Strategy
Winning more votes in California is completely pointless. The path to defeating Trump requires winning the Electoral College and the only way for Democrats to do this is by appealing to a broader cross-section of voters beyond their base. Consider that 35% of Americans describe themselves conservative, 34% moderate and 4% refuse to identify themselves according to Gallup. Only 26% call themselves liberal. Given this, I cannot fathom why the majority of Democratic candidates seem hell-bent on alienating 76% of the voting population.
As I have written before, the most valuable lesson learned from the 2018 midterms is that Democrats can successfully flip Republican districts and turn red strongholds blue when they campaign as centrists. The majority of Democratic newcomers who scored surprising victories in historically red districts said they were tired of the partisan gamesmanship. They promised to solve problems like healthcare costs and income inequality by reaching across the aisle, not by going it alone. Importantly, not one of these candidates ran on the promise to remove the President from office. The majority of them won.