The Republican Party now controls the White House and Congress, and may soon establish an originalist Supreme Court majority that could last a generation. In the coming 2018 elections as many as eight senate seats could flip from Democratic to Republican providing a 60 vote lock on the chamber. Their strength is even greater at the state level with 33 of 50 governorships and control of both houses in 32 state legislatures.
The ongoing debate for Chair of the Democratic National Committee reveals a consensus about needed organizational change. The candidates for that position all recognize that in order to compete at the national level the party must invest itself much more in state party development.
Reorganization of the Party’s resources is one needed shift, but it is not enough.
President Obama and others contend the Party message needs to be conveyed better. President Obama emphasized this as one of the reasons for the 2016 loss when he said, “are you making sure that your message is reaching everybody and not just those who have already been converted.”
Others, rightfully, argue it is not just the organizational focus or the messaging but the MESSAGE that needs to change to win elections at all levels of government.
Mark Lilla, a humanities professor at ultra-liberal Columbia University opened the debate on message saying, “American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.”
In response to Lilla’s piece came a scathing response from Katherine Franke, Director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia University calling Lilla a “white supremacist.” Asked in an NPR interview about Franke’s retort professor Lilla said, “I rest my case.”
The far left base of the Party will resist any debate of the identity strategy. But a message of exclusive inclusion that allows a limited scope of “approved” constituencies by nature excludes those who are not “approved.” It is not inclusive. It is divisive and fails to address issues of broad concern such as economic growth and trade. In part, the 2016 presidential election was lost because many felt outcast by the divisive strategy and rejected the Democratic message.
It gets worse.
African Americans and Hispanics cannot be taken for granted by the Democrats. Both groups voted for Trump by higher margins than for Romney. If Trump’s New Deal for Black America is even moderately successful the Republican Party could increase African American support sufficiently to damage the coalition fatally.
The 29% of Hispanic voters who preferred Trump did so largely because they do not fit neatly into a monolithic ethnic identity that suits the Democratic strategy, but in fact hold varying political views more akin to say their rural and pro-life neighbors. Again, if Trump can grow the economy and jobs, restrict abortions, reduce entitlement costs, and achieve immigration reform he can make inroads with Hispanics that will further crack the constituency coalition.
The greatest risk is private sector labor unions breaking ranks. Long the staple of reliability, field operations, and cash, they are slipping from the coalition.
Union households in Ohio voted for Donald Trump by 54%. Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa recently heaped praise upon Trump for reaching out to union leadership, pressuring manufacturers to keep jobs in the U.S., infrastructure plans, ending TPP, and opening NAFTA to renegotiation. Again, labor has been taken for granted and could be stripped away from the coalition with devastating effect. Having seen private sector union jobs shrink from 32% in 1965 to about 6.5% today – what have they got to lose?
Unable or unwilling to address the utter failure of the constituency coalition and identity strategy the Democratic Party will pursue an obstructionist policy led by President Obama from behind a thin veil of feigned restraint that aims for the complete failure of the Trump Administration.