Democrats are gleefully ringing their hands as the Trump administration reels from the controversy in Charlottesvile, Virginia. Already two of the President’s Councils have disbanded and another has fallen in its infancy. But, even so, the “oppose Trump” mantra is all Democrats have.
A highly touted set of new plans that sounded more like a rip-off of the Papa Murphy’s slogan has largely fallen flat. Few voters seem to notice nor care Democrats are running around asking voters to trust them to create more governmental agencies to regulate yet more things. Democrats need a message to win over moderate voters and they still lack it.
The cost has been significant. In Kentucky, former Democratic House Representative Rita Smart still wonders how she lost her Lexington based seat in Madison County. For reference, Trump carried the county by 31 percent last year. Rita lost by 76 votes to a Republican pulled along by Trump.
Smart was a pro business, culturally conservative Democrat. She had represented the district since 2011. However, when push came to shove not enough voters differentiated her style among the national party’s brand. “I just don’t understand how I lost.”
In truth, the narrow margin she lost by compared to her 17 percent win in 2014, speaks to the fact she did not. Her party did. The party’s sharp lurch to the left in 2009 has hollowed out the party in middle America and old, conservative Democratic redoubts like the Kentucky House of Representatives. The progressivism of the party fits well in urban locales and college towns but has lost its limited shelf life in much of America.
Arguably, few voters like Republicans that much. Or Trump for that matter. Rather, it is just Republicans don’t thumb their noises that their values. Many voters now perceive the Democratic Party as looking down on them, their lifestyles and their values.
Republicans have at least made it okay for voters to be in the pew, own a gun, hunt, want to live their lives without the government being involved in their internal affairs and spend their money how they choose. Not the government.
Last year, Kentucky’s Democratic controlled House since 1921, flipped to the GOP. It was the sole remaining Democratic controlled legislative chamber in the South. Republicans gained over 20 seats and fit well with the party’s surprising win in the 2015 gubernatorial contest and control of the state senate.
Smart was not the only incumbent Democrat to lose. Smart, the Democratic Speaker of the House and 15 other incumbents lost. Democrats as far as Maine and as close as Iowa saw their majorities disappear in chambers based on the loss of rural seats.
Wave elections in middle America were nothing new. The country gave it to the GOP in 2010 and 2014 and middle America continued the trend last year. To put this in greater perspective, Democrats have lost over 1,100 seats since 2009.
Some Democrats acknowledge they have a problem and have turned to the same old agenda in a fancy, new name. But, in truth, the base of the party is young, progressive and urging for a fight with the middle of the country. They believe Clinton lost because she was too moderate. Tell that to rural voters in Ohio will you.
Smart’s lost to Republican C Wesley Morgan was not her fault. It was about voters rejecting the ideology of a progressive party that has forgotten the kinds of voters who reside in rural Kentucky.
For the reeling state party, 2018 does not look much better with six of their 36 House candidates having won with 52 percent or less. These are the few that survived the wave but their seats likely flip next year or after they retire.
David Wasserman put it best when he said, “If more than 50% of your ’16 voters lived in just 9 states and 94 of America’s 3,141 counties . . . you’re probably not a healthy national party.” The hollowing out of the Democratic party’s moderate middle has had disastrous effects in Kentucky and beyond.
If Clinton had adopted the moderate message of her husband, many representatives like Smart might still be in legislatures across the country. Maybe, just maybe, Democrats could have begun to repair the damage done by Obama and other progressives. Instead, representatives like Smart, who did try to represent her constituents well were washed away.
Almost a year after Donald Trump was elected President the party still has not found its way. Sure, the party is winning small-bore legislative contests and out-performing Clinton in non-nationalized races but when races become national the party loses (ie. GA-6, MT-AL). If Democrats find a compelling and unifying message they can whittle down the GOP advantage in the states in the oh so crucial election before redistricting. If not, well, smart, pragmatic and moderate Democrats like Smart will continue to lose and the Democratic Party will lose its connection to an important part of their history to the electoral benefit of the GOP.