The last eight months have not gone ideally for Democrats, particularly in Georgia. Beginning with President Donald Trump’s tragically shocking electoral victory on November 8th of last year and ending most recently with Congresswoman Karen Handel’s somewhat less shocking electoral victory on June 20th, Democrats are being forced to do a lot of soul-searching. It is not the most pleasant process, but it is necessary.
There are a lot of questions being asked right now about the direction of the Democratic Party and its electoral strategy in the aftermath of those losses. One thing that Democrats must keep in mind is that now is not the time to publicly attack each other in an effort to get a good soundbite or pander to a subset of the party. Frank conversations are necessary, but they should be carried out in meetings, e-mails, and phone calls, not on page 3 of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.
There are plenty of improvements to be made, from field to communications to fundraising. There will no doubt be plenty of debate in the next few months about how to improve on those aspects of a campaign, but there will still be no one correct answer. It will come down to the individual judgments of field directors, comms directors, and finance directors to come up with innovative ways to win elections.
However, those are not the biggest problems. The biggest problem is far more pervasive and dangerous. Fortunately, it is also one of the easiest to fix. Democrats have forgotten to give voters a reason to vote for them. Democrats need a forward-thinking platform on which all candidates can run and use for guidance and inspiration. Republicans mastered that in the last four election cycles by uniting around a single, common goal – repeal Obamacare. They rode that message through all 50 states, earning them significant victories at the local level and control of both chambers of Congress. That message no doubt contributed to their newfound control of the White House, at least in part.
It worked because it was simple. Democrats often get mired in wonky policy details, which tend not to be very engaging to the average voter. To be fair, the reason for that is admirable. Democrats actually care about good policy, something the GOP has proven especially uninterested in since winning the White House. However, Republican apathy for smart governance did nothing to diminish their ability to turn out voters and get votes.
Obviously, it would be foolish to suggest that Democrats abandon good policy ideas, but those ideas do need to be tweaked and significantly better communicated. For example, one such policy that most Democrats have championed as of late is “raise the minimum wage.” There is some disagreement about how that would work, such as how much to raise it by and over what length of time to raise it. The fact that those debates are still happening on the campaign trail is part of the problem. As the old political adage goes, “if you’re explaining, you’re losing.”
A better platform to run on would be a livable wage. Perhaps the greatest flashpoint in the entire Ossoff-Handel race was Handel accidentally revealing her disregard for low-wage workers when she said “That’s the difference between Republicans and Democrats, I do not support a livable wage.”
That woke people up. It got people angry. It may not have won Ossoff the race, but people were paying a lot more attention to her then. How could anyone oppose a livable wage? If you work hard for 40 hours a week, then you should be able to simply live, whether you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or flipping burgers at McDonald’s.
It is far too easy to get into the weeds when discussing the minimum wage – a living wage speaks for itself. That’s what Republicans really oppose – the ability for a human being to make a living if they deem their job unworthy of fair pay. Voters should know that.
That is a simple message to communicate. Every campaign platform should be focused around one theme – how to make constituent lives better, safer, and easier. Most voters care about a select few things – keeping their family fed, sending their kids to good schools, and living in a safe community. Foreign policyand government procedure are important, but they do not inspire voters to go out to the polls, nor do they do much to highlight the differences between Republicans and Democrats.
It is past time to give Democrats, independents, and disaffected Republicans something to vote for, not just against. The Democratic Party cannot simply become the anti-Trump party. While Trump should continue to be called out for his incompetence, xenophobia, and fearmongering, Democrats cannot merely point those things out. There needs to be an alternative. There can’t just be opposition to classist health care policy – there need to be other options on the table, even if congressional Republicans choose to ignore it.
Unfortunately, there is no repealing the Trump administration. But in 2020, if Democrats offer fresh ideas and use them to engage with voters, perhaps it can be replaced.
Tharon Johnson is a consultant with Paramount Consulting Group and a Democrat strategist.