Ten Action Items for Democrats

The 2020 presidential campaign began on November 7th, the day after the midterm elections; many Democrats are prepared to work every day for the next two years in order to oust Donald Trump from the White House. For this prolonged effort to be effective, national Democratic leaders should heed these words of friendly advice.

1.Develop a 50-state strategy: In 2016, the national Democratic leadership abandoned whole swaths of the U.S. and focused primarily on the coasts and the rust belt. In 2018, the Party began to move away from this model and, as a result, fielded competitive candidates in — what had been regarded as — deep red states such as Georgia and Texas.  (Although a lot of support from candidates like Stacey Abrams and Beto O’Rourke came from organizations outside the traditional Democratic framework — such as Way to Win (https://waytowin.us/ )).

In 2020, Democrats must compete in every state at all levels.

2.Learn from 2018.  There are valuable lessons to be learned from the 2018 elections; the national Democratic leadership should spend the time and money to study what worked and what did not work.  For example, Montana Senator John Tester was Trump’s number one target; yet Tester won by 3 percentage points in a red state.  How did Tester accomplish this when other  red-state Democratic Senators got stomped?

As another example, in Ohio. incumbent Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown won by more than 6 percent while Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray lost by 4 percent — competing for an open seat.  Why the discrepancy?

Each state has races that deserve a detailed study.  For example, in California where Dems captured 46 of 53 congressional seats, two dreadful Republican incumbents won: Devin Nunes (CA 22) and Duncan Hunter (CA 50).  Why?

3.Deal with voter suppression.  In several states, notably Georgia, voter suppression was a major problem for Democratic candidates.  (Democrat Stacey Abrams lost the Georgia gubernatorial race by 55,000 votes and there’s reason to believe that several hundred thousand votes were suppressed by Republicans.)

As part of their 50-state strategy, Democrats need to assess the voter suppression problem on a state-by-state basis and start working to combat this.  For example, on November 27th, the Georgia “Fair Fight” PAC. “filed a federal lawsuit against Georgia election officials asking a judge to order fixes to what it says are deep-seated problems in the state’s election system.(https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/11/27/stacey-abrams-fair-fight-action-georgia-election-lawsuit-brian-kemp/2128540002/ )

4.Convince their (unelected) “stars” to run again.  Several charismatic candidates, such as Stacey Abrams and Beto O’Rourke narrowly lost in 2018.  National Democratic leadership should convince them to run again: Abrams for Georgia Senate versus Republican incumbent David Perdue and O’Rourke for Texas Senate versus incumbent John Cornyn.

The demographic tide is running in a direction that favors Democrats.  Candidates such as Abrams and O’Rourke can win if they start their campaigns now, by registering new voters and dealing with voter-suppression issues.

5.Recruit exciting candidates.  This was a change election and one of the primary changes was the election of many women and people-of-color.  This trend must continue.  The Democratic Party needs to look like America.

National Democratic leadership needs to embrace diversity.

6.Expand the use of ballot initiatives.  In 2018, one of the many reasons that Democrats prevailed was their intelligent use of state ballot initiatives,  For example, in Michigan, a state where Democrats retained a Senate seat (Stabenow) and added a governor (Whitmer) Dems boosted their turnout with three initiatives: legalizing marijuana for recreational use, creating an independent redistricting commission, and adding additional voting policies to the state constitution — including automatic voter registration.  These ballot initiatives furthered Democratic objectives and increased voter participation.  (The statewide turnout was 57.5 percent, the highest midterm-election participation in more than 50 years.)

7.Develop a rural strategy.  A recent Alternet article (https://www.alternet.org/its-official-first-time-history-gop-has-become-party-rural-white-voters?src=newsletter1098031 ) declared: “If there was one demographic group that blunted the force of the ‘blue wave’ in this month’s midterm elections, it was rural white voters.”  The CNN exit polls indicate that 56 percent of rural voters favored Republicans (versus an even 49-49 percent split in the suburbs and only 32 percent in suburban areas).

Alternet notes: “As the suburbs have turned against the Republican Party of President Donald Trump, rural whites have embraced the Party’s new message of economic protectionism, immigration restrictions, and an ‘America First’ foreign policy.” [emphasis added]

There’s a way for Democrats to sway some rural voters: convince them that Donald Trump’s economic policies are not working.  In other words, change them frame of the discussion from ideological to practical: “Donald Trump has deceased your income and opportunity.”

8.Talk to White Evangelicals.  One of the most surprising 2016-election statistics was that 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump.  In 2018, Pew Research found that 75 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for Republican candidates (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/11/07/how-religious-groups-voted-in-the-midterm-elections/ ).

Writing in the Washington Post, Sociologist Janelle Wong explains Donald Trump’s hold over this segment of his base: “I find economic anxiety isn’t [their] primary reason for supporting Trump. Rather, white evangelicals fear losing racial status. White evangelicals’ perceptions they’re the targets of discrimination – more so than other groups — influence far more than simply their votes for Trump.”

There’s no simple strategy for appealing to white-evangelical Christians except to find ways to talk to them and seek common ground.  We know that conversations about Trump, immigration, and feminism are unlikely to succeed.  Possible positive topics are health insurance (pre-existing conditions), education, and infrastructure-related jobs.

9.Anticipate Trump’s fear initiative.  Trump’s go-to strategy is to appeal to fear.  At the conclusion of the 2018 election campaigns, when Trump thought that Republican control of the Senate was in doubt, he invented an immigrant “invasion,” blew it out of proportion, and used this fear to motivate his base to vote.

Why didn’t the Democrats anticipate this?  Why didn’t they come up with an effective counter measure?

10.Counter Trump’s Tweet of the Day.  It’s part of Trump’s persona to dominate the news each day.  Usually with a series of early morning tweets but sometimes with impromptu news conferences.  Heading into the 2020 presidential election, Democrats have to find a way to counter this.  (Sigh.)  Democrats have to have more message discipline.