I'm going to go a little off-script here and ponder several things that have been knocking around in my mind over the past couple weeks.
As I have written posts and looked through the comments, I'm getting the sense that I am not alone in being somewhat dismayed with the Democratic political class in Washington. Having reported from the Beltway and covered a White House, I'm well aware of how easy it is for political operatives in Washington to get so ensconced in the D.C. bubble that they seem to entirely lose touch with all the everyday Americans out here in the states. But truly, the last several weeks have been something special.
The makings of turning in a better-then-expected midterm election exist: redistricting hasn't been as brutal as we thought, GOP infighting is at a fever pitch, Trump continues to both dog and radicalize the Republican Party, and the fringe-y GOP candidates who appear likely to emerge in a handful of key Senate races will give a slate of very solid Democrats a good chance to prevail (think 2010, "I'm not a witch"). All those atmospherics have given me hope that Democrats could defy expectations.
But what is also glaringly obvious is that many Washington Democrats are already tucked in a defensive crouch, and Democratic messaging (whatever it is) isn't breaking through. Republicans have a several-point advantage in the generic ballot. President Biden's job approvals remain stuck in the low 40s. And everywhere I look, I see what appears to be political malpractice.
A Democratic operative goes on the Sunday shows to relay how "depressing" Democrats' prospects are in November.
President Biden, whose superpower is empathy, fumbles an opportunity to address voters’ top issue—inflation—during a high-profile interview on NBC just before Super Bowl coverage began.
It's not all bad—Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for instance, gave a much more disciplined interview last weekend on ABC's This Week. But on balance, if I'm being honest, it hasn’t inspired confidence.
I see missed opportunities to take action on things, such as student debt relief, which would shore up the Democratic base and literally be life-changing to a cross-generation of borrowers who are drowning in student debt.
I see a chance for Democrats and the White House to side with average Americans on inflation and stick it to the corporatists who are profiting handsomely as they suck American consumers dry.
Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, pointed to the recent result of a focus group in which some respondents expressed outrage at corporations over a massive increase in the cost of chicken fingers. “People are really responding to the idea that corporations are price gouging. You can’t tell people that’s not going on. They’re experiencing it,” Lake said. She added that “it’s testing off the charts.”
The letter from the American Economic Liberties Project and the Groundwork Collaborative pointed to an analysis finding corporate consolidation costs the average American household $5,000 per year. “There is now overwhelming evidence that large corporations with significant market power are exploiting the broader supply chain crisis to raise prices even when no bottleneck or shortage seems to exist,” the letter stated.
But the White House is reportedly shying away from tying inflation to corporate greed because the economist crowd doesn't like it and thinks it's overly simplistic.
Good god—how about trying to win a f*cking election here so we can save American democracy? Here's a thought from my good buddy and brother in the fight for LGBTQ rights, Joe Sudbay (follow him on Twitter!), who suggests a round of hearings to grill corporate leaders on the issue.
And another one from Sudbay, critiquing an inexplicable tweet in which the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee steps on its own message about Republicans not supporting the "Bipartisan Infrastructure Law." What? My colleague Joan McCarter has been pointing out Democrats' love affair with "bipartisan" too. Why not just call it, "Biden's Infrastructure and Jobs Act"?
I know some readers are going to bemoan this post as being an overly critical circular-firing-squad piece. But I assure you that I believe Democrats have a chance of over-performing this fall—maybe holding the House and even gaining in the Senate—if they would get out of their own way. If Democrats allow this election to simply be a referendum on Biden rather than a choice between Democrats and a dangerously radicalized Republican Party, then it will likely be a blood bath. How radicalized, you say? Check out this Friday night tweet from Michigan’s Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel (more from Mother Jones here.)
Once Republicans succeed in gutting Roe, they’re coming for contraception next. Not a joke.
As I noted Friday, Republicans have given Democrats an embarrassment of riches to work with—they have declared themselves the party of violent insurrectionists, they want to outlaw abortion and turn back the clock a century on women's rights, they are anti-vaccine in a country that is 70% vaccinated, they are the party of censorship, book bans, and book burning.
And yet it feels like Democrats in Washington can't see the forest through the trees here. Yes, I understand that Republicans have Fox News, Newsmax and Facebook, etc. But we're not trying to reach that crowd. We're trying to mobilize our own voters and reach a small but critical sliver of swing voters who don't spend their days ingesting right-wing media sludge. Unfortunately, we are currently losing our own people and losing persuadable voters.
In the comments section this week, I have noticed several readers who seem interested in further grassroots engagement on all these midterm issues, sometimes with a specific emphasis on ways to message and talk to friends, neighbors and other voters.
"I keep waiting for the day when DKos staff and other people smarter than me here start some sort of “messaging” diary where we can crowdsource the best messages for different issues in a sort of community workshop format. Maybe you’re onto something here Kerry?" wrote EagleOfFreedom.
"It’s not enough for the Daily Kos staff to keep asking us to sign petitions. There has to be way more action from you and the team that can allow us to engage," wrote poopdogcomedy.
I also saw several commenters remark on The Brief episode this week where we explored ways to deploy winning messages on race and class.
My basic takeaway is that a lot of people feel both a sense of possibility and missed opportunity out there for the taking, and they are looking for more ways to engage.
First, give to your state groups on the ground that are registering people to vote and will be there both before and after all the campaign consultants parachute in and then leave. Grassroots groups are great but giving to state parties can also boost longterm electoral efforts.
Second, it's worth a shot to sign up for the bipartisan pro-democracy movement Joe Trippi is plugging at JoinTheUnion.us. I have no idea if they will make headway, but they are looking for foot soldiers and people who are willing to donate some time and energy to winning the midterms.
Third, I will try to stay on the messaging beat with more posts and hopefully more coverage of the topic on The Brief. You can also sign up for at least some free posts on the topic from Dan Pfeiffer, former Obama communications director. He has a subscription-based substack called The Message Box, but you can sign up for occasional free dispatches.
Starting Thursday, I will be off for several weeks, but when I return, I hope to bring a fresh outlook and more ideas.
More than anything I'm convinced our democracy is worth fighting for and it's a fight we can win, but I don't think we can leave it up to the political class in Washington alone. We need to engage. And you know what, defying expectations in November would be delicious. Republicans are truly giving Democrats a chance, let’s help them.
Peace, solidarity, and cheers!
Let's get cracking on Democratic messaging on inflation
Republican positions are abhorrent and radical. Democrats must go on the attack
Can Democrats talk about race in a way that *wins back* the white non-college vote?