Maureen Dowd: Donald Trump skunks the Democrats – again

Stuck in loser gear, the Democrats need fresh talent and a clear message

Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff delivers a concession speech after losing the race for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District to Republican challenger Karen Handel. Photograph:  Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff delivers a concession speech after losing the race for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District to Republican challenger Karen Handel. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

You know who is really sick and tired of Donald Trump winning, to the point where they beg, “Please, Mr President, sir, it’s too much”? Democrats. The Democrats just got skunked four to nothing in races they excitedly thought they could win because everyone they hang with hates Trump. If Trump is the Antichrist, as they believe, then Georgia was going to be a cakewalk, and Nancy Pelosi was going to be installed as speaker before the midterms by acclamation. But it turned into another soul-sucking disappointment. “It’s Trump four and us zero,” says Democratic congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio.

“I don’t want to admit that. When it comes out of my mouth, it bothers me. But Trump does robocalls. He tweets. He talks about the races. He motivates his base, and he moves the needle, and that’s a problem for us. Guys, we’re still doing something wrong here because a) he’s president and b) we’re still losing to his candidates.”

The 43-year-old Ryan, who failed to unseat Pelosi as house minority leader last year, says that the Democrats’ brand is toxic, and in some places worse than Trump’s. Which is beyond pathetic. The Republicans have a wildly unpopular, unstable and untruthful president, and a Congress that veers between doing nothing and spitting out vicious bills, while the Democratic base is on fire and appalled millennials are racing away from Trump. Yet Democrats are stuck in loser gear.

Democrats cannot bear to look in the mirror and admit what is wrong

Trump’s fatal flaw is that he cannot drag himself away from the mirror. But Democrats cannot bear to look in the mirror and admit what is wrong. “We congenitally believe that our motives are pure and our goals are right,” Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, told me. “Therefore, we should win by default.” But, he added dryly: “You’ve got to run a good campaign. In elections, politics matter. Oooh, what a surprise.”

As Ryan sighs: “If you don’t win, you don’t have power, and you can’t help on any of these issues we care about.” Democrats cling to an idyllic version of a new progressive America where everyone tools around in electric cars, serenely uses gender-neutral bathrooms and happily searches the web for the best Obamacare options. In the Democrats’ vision, people are doing great and getting along. It is the opposite of Trump’s dark diorama of carnage and dystopia ? but just as false a picture of the US.

With Jon Ossoff, as with Hillary Clinton, the game plan was surfing contempt for Trump and counting on the elusive Obama coalition. Heavy Hollywood involvement is not necessarily a positive in Georgia, though. Alyssa Milano drove voters to the polls but couldn’t bewitch the Republicans. And not living in the district is bad anywhere.

Democrats are going to have to come up with something for people to be for, rather than just counting on Trump to implode. (Which he will.) The party still seems flummoxed that there are big swaths of the country where Democrats once roamed that now regard the Democratic brand as garbage and its long-in-the-tooth leadership as overstaying its welcome. The vibe is suffocating. Where’s the fresh talent?

A real message

In a new piece in the Atlantic, Emanuel and Bruce Reed – who engineered their party’s last takeover of Congress in 2006, the first since 1994 – argue that Democrats need to channel their anger and make 2018 a referendum on Trump’s record, not his impeachment.

In dwindling swing districts, Emanuel told me, Democrats need to choose candidates who are pro-middle class, not merely pro-poor. They can’t just waltz in and win seats held by Republicans. And they can’t go full Bernie. They have to drum up suburban candidates who reflect their districts, Emanuel says, noting that they wrenched back control of Congress by recruiting a football player in North Carolina, an Iraq veteran in Pennsylvania and a sheriff in Indiana.

They forgot that first and foremost, people have to pay their mortgages and get affordable health care

It’s shocking that Hillary couldn’t be bothered to come up with an economic message or any rationale other than “it’s my turn”. “Hillary never got a real message out,” Michael Bloomberg, who eviscerated Trump at Hillary’s convention, told Anderson Cooper. “It was ‘Don’t vote for that guy’ and the gender issue. Whereas Donald had us saying ‘Make America Great Again.’”

A great opportunity?

Ryan says Democrats need to stop microtargeting. “They talked to a black person about voting rights, a brown person about immigration, a gay about gay rights, a woman about choice and on and on, slicing up the electorate,” he said. “But they forgot that first and foremost, people have to pay their mortgages and get affordable health care.”

He also urged his fellow Democrats to stop obsessing about Trump and Russia and start obsessing on globalisation, automation and wage stagnation. “The crazy thing is that there’s a great opportunity here, because neither party has figured out how to thrive in the new economy,” he said. Carrier and Boeing, where Trump visited to boast about saving jobs, announced layoffs last week, and Ford is shifting some production to China. And news flash for Donald: King Coal has been dethroned.

“Trump leveraged his wealth to convince working class people that he could deal with these changes,” Ryan said. “But just saying: ‘The Chinese rent from me,’ doesn’t mean he’s figured this stuff out.” Trump may be nuts enough to blow up the world. But the Democrats are nuts if they think his crazy is enough to save them.

– The New York Times News Service

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