Emboldened by a struggling Republican President and recent legislative special election wins Democrats counterattacked and unveiled a new slogan and set of policies geared to helping the “working American.” The slogan, “A Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages,” was rightly derided by Twitter trolls. The policies that soon followed were essentially retreads of Hillary Clinton positions. Democrats seem to think spitting out the same ideas might finally win them an election with an unpopular Republican in the White House.
But maybe, just maybe, Democratic ideas are actually the problem. Trump’s win was not the first setback Democrats have experienced of late. Democrats were crushed in 2010 and 2014 and if not for some GOP Congressmens bumbles the party probably would not have gained half a dozen Congressional seats. Even Democrats victory in North Carolina’s Governor’s race was about the foolish actions of the then GOP Governor, rather than support for the Democratic candidate. At the state level, Democrats have been devastated. They have lost over 900 legislative seats, control a mere six state governments and Republicans have not been this dominate at the state level since the Civil War.
After the 2010 Tea Party whacking, then President Obama decided to buck his own Congressional allies and run an incredibly populist campaign. This, as many conventional Democrats ran under the “War on women” theme. Obama embraced this theme to win urban areas but to win the states he need to hit 270 he hit Romney on being a rich, plutocrat who cared little for the little guy. This helped him hold off the GOP nominee in down-scale, white and rural areas of the country that swung hard to the GOP in the prior midterm.
Republicans responded to their defeat in 2012 with an election post-mortem that told them they needed to reach out to women, minorities and others on immigration reform and social issues. Yet, by the time 2014 came around immigration reform was dead, almost every Republican running nationally was pro-life and the GOP still won. Democrats released their own post-mortem after 2014 focusing on expanding voting rights, controlling redistricting (it’s not fair we lose) and creating a more open party. The report also had an uncomfortable truth for the party. The Democrat’s leftward drift had won them single women and minorities but it had cost them blue-collar support in key states. Laws such as the Affordable Care Act were seen more as handouts to the undeserving and major trade unions were in revolt. Indeed, many of these voters defected to Trump last year.
It is interesting to note that Democrats concede Americans want bold change. The problem is the party is not presenting bold change. Instead, they are recycling old Clinton talking points. The “bold and new” Democratic proposal includes a $15 minimum wage (paging Seattle). The problem with this strategy being even left leaning economists concede this won’t work for the nation. Among other proposals offered, Democrats want to create a new regulatory agency to scrutinize larger mergers after the fact, limit Big Pharma’s ability to raise drug prices, reform redistricting in the states, provide more money for job training programs and tax credits for employers who hire for high wage jobs (curiously downplayed since most of the public supports the idea) and a host of new agencies doing this and that. Oh goodie!
However, absent from the new, new agenda are any significant ideas that appeal to the party’s defecting blue-collar support. Proposing policies is great and all but if voters don’t actually trust you to implement them why would they pay attention? On the other hand, Trump, at least symbolically, is governing like he cares about these voters. For example, he greenlighted the Keystone XL Pipeline, took us out of the Paris Climate Agreement, has proposed a $1 trillion public/private infrastructure program and has touted many jobs either being kept or created in the US. He invited union leaders to the White House to solicit their thoughts, has staffed his economic teams with bipartisan officials and rolled back regulations on coal mining and greenhouse gases (though the courts have not allowed the latter). He has even worried GOP constituencies by proposing to block or modify major trade pacts and is sticking to his word as the administration has begun to renegotiate NAFTA. Many Americans might disapprove of Trump’s performance but his base can be found among blue collar workers.
Democrats might be crowing about Trump’s unpopularity but it seems few voters like them much either. A recent poll found a mere 37 percent of voters think the Democratic Party stands for something beyond opposing Trump. A solid 52 percent majority disagreed. Democrats seem to operate off the mindset in the blogosphere that American workers want to be coddled and protected at work from greedy corporations. Only “regulations” and oversight mandating anything and everything can do this. It seems few Americans agree.
Trump has yet to deliver on the big stuff Presidents are usually judged by. He has not repealed the ACA, reformed taxes, built a border wall nor defeated terrorism. But, in turn, he has given many former Democratic blue-collar voters what they wanted- less government bureaucracy, fewer regulations burdening organization’s ability to hire employees and less cultural elitism in the White House. He actually has represented these voters cultural and economic preferences fairly well (health care notwithstanding).
Democrats believe their new ideas strike the right balance between moderation and progressivism, between the interests of urban and suburban vs. rural and pragmatism vs. idealism. But, in reality, the ideas are recycled plans of old and ignore the party is still not addressing the very real concerns of many different types of voters on immigration, crime, ISIS and more. This might be the only thing that saves the GOP majority in 2018 and helps them retain power in crucial state elections next year.