The midterm elections happen in four months. in the interim, we’ll have to endure a daily barrage of Trump. Some days, American politics are very depressing; we have to resist the impulse to stay in bed and hide under the covers. To prevail in November, Democrats must stay cool and do the political organizing we know how to do.
Many Democrats were discouraged because the last week of June seemed to be a good week for Trump. The Supreme Court made several conservative decisions. Then Supreme Court Justice Kennedy announced his retirement; giving Trump a vacancy to fill with a more reliable conservative. Trump made several campaign appearances touting the economy, tax cuts, and his immigration policies. In some polls, Trump’s popularity appeared to increase.
But on June 26th, there was a hopeful sign when 28-year-old Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez defeated long-time Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district. Ocasio-Cortez won for several reasons: Crowley seemed to take his position for granted and ran a lackluster campaign. Over the 20 years that Crowley has been in office, the 14th district became increasingly diverse; Ocasio-Cortez ran as a Latina woman in a district that is now two-thirds non white. And, Ocasio-Cortez ran to Crowley’s left; she caught the Democratic wave that favors youth, women, and progressive positions. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rq3QXIVR0bs )
Over the next four months, Democrats can gather strength from two encouraging trends: Trump’s positions and exciting Democratic candidates.
After his meeting with Kim Jong-Un, Trump’s popularity ticked up; now it’s trending down (https://news.gallup.com/poll/203207/trump-job-approval-weekly.aspx ). Trump’s on the campaign trail but his red-meat issues — tax cuts, immigration, and jobs — don’t resonate outside his base. Only about one-third of voters say they are better off because of the tax cuts (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/06/29/not-what-we-expected-trumps-tax-bill-is-losing-popularity/?). Recently, the “highlight” of Trump’s immigration policy has been family separation; however, two-thirds of voters disapprove of this policy (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/06/18/two-thirds-of-americans-oppose-trumps-family-separation-policy/?).
A recent 538 article indicated that while 49 percent of voters approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, bigger numbers do not believe he is honest (59 percent) or level-headed (64 percent). Nonetheless, objective indicators signal that the U.S. economy is heading for troubled waters. First, investors worry about a flattening yield curve (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/27/investors-analysts-read-the-yield-curve–and-worry-about-a-slump.html ); which historically has suggested the onset of recession. Second, Trump’s insistence on tariffs has begun to cost American jobs; for example, Harley-Davidson is moving production to Europe. (The Chamber of Commerce denounced the tariffs as “the wrong approach.” (https://www.thestreet.com/politics/u-s-chamber-of-commerce-launches-anti-tariff-campaign-14640063 )) Third, Trump’s foreign-policy stance, unilateralism, is having negative economic repercussions. As one example, tourism has been hurt; in Trump’s first year in office, tourism was down $32 billion and 40,000 jobs were lost. (https://www.cheatsheet.com/culture/u-s-cities-losing-millions-in-tourism-business-under-donald-trump.html/?a=viewall )
Over the next four months, Trump is going to campaign for Republican candidates. He’ll attempt to motivate his base with his usual polemic: “Build the wall!” “Lock them up!” “I’ll renegotiate all the bad deals.” Etcetera. This may work for hard-core Trump supporters but it’s doubtful it will work for anyone else. And it will force Republican candidates to become mini-Trumps. They won’t run on issues — because Trump is failing on all the usual Republican issues — they will run on support for Trump.
Thus the typical contested race will pit a mini-Trump, typically a middle-aged white man, against an exciting younger progressive Democrat. The Democratic candidate will not defend the status quo; they will instead run on the issues that matter to their constituents. That’s what happened in New York District 14. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez walked around and talked to her neighbors and then she ran on a platform that reflected their concerns: Medicare for all; raising the minimum wage; housing as human right; free college education; abolishing ICE; strict gun controls; etcetera. (https://twitter.com/ndrew_lawrence/status/1012148765476745217/video/1 ) To some this appears to be a far-left agenda. In reality it is an agenda that reflects the needs of voters in New York District 14. Ocasio-Cortez ran on their issues.
The same set of issues won’t necessarily work in other contested congressional districts but the process will. Democrats need to build their policy agenda from the bottom up; they need to reflect the wishes of their constituents.
Some Democrats yearns for strong national leadership; they want the Democratic agenda to be established in Washington and then promulgated to Dems – cast down as “pearls before swine.” That’s the old way. That doesn’t work. (That’s what Republicans continue to do.)
At the national level, Democrats need to agree on values and principles. They must unite on values such as empathy, caring, and responsibility. They should agree on principles such as equity, equality, and Democracy. Then they should recruit young progressive candidates and trust them to run their own campaigns based upon issues that resonate with their voters.
In November, Progressive Democratic candidates can beat Republican mini-Trumps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York. M.J. Hegar running for Congress in Texas’ 31st congressional district (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/after-viral-ad-can-texas-dem-really-win-in-conservative-district/ ). Beto O’Rourke running for the Senate in Texas (https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/05/beto-orourke-ted-cruz-texas-senate-2018). And Stacey Abrams running for Governor in Georgia (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/22/us/politics/georgia-primary-abrams-results.html ). To name only a few exciting candidates.
Cheer up Democrats. Get out of bed and start organizing to win.