Earl Ofari Hutchinson
During the first year of the Trump White House, things couldn’t have looked rosier for the Democrats. The Russia probe sucked up a lot of air. Trump’s immigrant ban was widely ridiculed and routinely shot down in nearly every legal challenge. He appeared totally befuddled and inept in getting any of his and the GOP’s agenda through Congress. He looked even more ridiculous by touting, then denying he touted, white nationalists after their rampage in Charlottesville. And best of all for the Democrats, his, my way or the highway style of Oval Office rule, had resulted in a sea of appointees and staff bailing out from the Trump ship of state.
This was clearly a President and a party seemingly stuck in the political mud. The predictions were that if the mid-term elections had been held at any point that year, the Democrats would be back in business in the House or Senate, or both.
But the mid-terms weren’t held then. And in the space of little more than a month in 2018, the GOP has come back seemingly from the political dead. A recent Politico-Morning Council poll confirmed that. It found that by a slender margin more voters would back a GOP candidate than a Democratic candidate. The only issue that the Democrats still beat the GOP with voters on was health care. But even here not by much.
What happened? The GOP seized the high ground by turning the tables and conning the public into fingering the Democrats, as the bad guys in the brief government shutdown over DACA and the budget. It then sold the public that its rob the poor and middle-class and give to the rich tax bill somehow is a boon to the very poor and middle-class whose pockets it picks. Then Trump managed to do something that few thought was humanly possible. He managed to actually sound presidential by sticking tightly to his script and teleprompter in delivering his first official State of the Union address. This was good for a bump up in a few points in the popularity polls for him and by extension the GOP.
That’s only part of the reason why the GOP suddenly is looking a lot better to more voters. The other reason is even more troubling. That’s the Democrats. Now there are some hopeful signs for the Democrats. The ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that torpedoed the GOP weighted districting in the state, and some wins in elections in Alabama, Virginia and Florida. But that’s not enough. The Democrats need to capture more than two dozen House seats to grab back the House. And as yet, there’s no solid evidence that the Democrats have figured out how to beat Trump and the GOP in the races that they must win to flip the House.
There are three crucial things the Democrats must do to beat Trump and the GOP. The first is understand that the GOP won’t beat itself. Democratic contenders must do that through hard, patient, organizing, telling voters why they should vote for a Democrat, and not simply vote against a Republican.
The second is that putting time, energy, and resources into an over the top reach for supposed on the fence white, mostly male, less educated rural and blue-collar workers won’t work. For now, they are locked down for Trump and the GOP. The Democrats must reconnect with and reenergize their traditional base, African-Americans, Hispanics, and youth. Their voting numbers plunged in 2016 from 2008 and 2012. The reason wasn’t just that Obama wasn’t on the ticket in 2016. The brutal reality was that the Democrats did what many black voters have screamed at them about for years, and that is take them for granted.
A party and a candidate must get off their haunches, put lots of face time into talking to voters about why they are important, and what exactly the candidate will do for them for their vote. Black voters want to know for instance about health care. They also want to know about issues such as police abuse, and jobs, and what a Democrat will do about them.
Then there’s this. Spending millions on TV ads and getting big name celebrities or party big shot endorsements means little. In more cases than not, it’s a turn-off. People get sick of being preached to in non-stop sound bite TV ads that endlessly go negative about the rival candidate. There’s much evidence that celebrities and a national party household name official barging into a local race and commanding voters to vote for a Democrat has almost no effect.
The GOP is far from a spent party in 2018. The Democrats will have to mount a full court press rallying their base and provide a clear fighting alternative program and vision to Trump and the GOP. Failing this the Democrats will still be out in the cold in 2018.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, Forty Years Later: Why the Murder of Dr. King Still Hurts (Middle Passage Press). He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.