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Can the Democrats Wake Up?
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Can the Democrats Wake Up?

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

After all the quick analyses of Tuesday’s election and the dramatic discussions in Washington as well as the media excesses, the take-away from Tuesday’s election appears to be quite simple for the Democratic Party. The 2018 congressional elections could produce a dramatic turnaround for them on Capitol Hill if they follow three guidelines. In addition, they have a real chance to win back the White House in 2020 if they learn one additional lesson from their mistakes in 2016.

  1. Democrats need to develop a constructive, positive message. They cannot expect to attract voters strictly by being anti-Trump. That approach will clearly help them, but will not enable them to win close races. Slamming the President alone as their message also will alienate many independent voters who dislike Trump. They want to understand what it is they are voting for; not what they are voting against. It must attract supporters not drive away voters. Good campaigns need a simple, direct, message around which its candidates can run, not a detailed, complicated program. To paraphrase Jim Carville in 1992, “Keep it Simple Stupid”.
  2. The Democrats need to focus on winning and not feeling good about having run a good race. Successfully selling their product and then governing from the left after winning is one thing, but winning elections comes first. (Many Trump supporters, for example, are upset that the President is not following his populist campaign program; that is because he is now governing.) The Democratic Party needs to develop a standard bearer(s) who can win, not candidates who make elements of the party feel good but who alienate more voters than they attract. Many Democrats may well like Bernie Sanders but his supporters will not win enough elections to bring the Democratic Party back into power.
  3. The Democratic Party in the November off-year election for legislative and gubernatorial races and in preparation for 2020’s presidential contest must change the voting culture once and for all among the majority of American citizens. Their wide support among Blacks, Latino, and Asian Americans must be translated now into a tradition of turnout and voting. Ethnic and racial blocs which have tended to be a dependable only when one of their own was running must change their behavior pattern and exercise their franchise in each and every election. The Democratic Party must reach out to them and their own leaders must underscore the fact that to achieve change they must develop a consistent pattern of voting.  
  4. The Democratic Party must not run campaigns which write-off their old base.  They cannot dismiss those elements within the electorate which once were their core voters and which they have disregarded or which have felt dismissed in recent elections. Rust-belt state voters, working class and lower middle class workers, and white ethnic voters must feel included in the Democratic tent. There are certainly large elements within this group, who have been attracted by the Trump-Bannon rhetoric. They can be convinced to come home to the Democratic Party, but only if there is a sincere effort made to make the party appear inclusive. They cannot be ridiculed.

This is an achievable strategy for the Democratic Party. Tuesday’s vote when seen not only in the most obvious gubernatorial races but also in local and state legislative contests, suggests a genuine opportunity for the Democratic Party. The anti-Trump vote was obvious, but it will not be enough to turn things around for the Democrats. Trump will undoubtedly provide the Democrats with plenty of additional political fodder, but to win, the party’s challenge is to be constructive and positive with winnable candidates.

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