Florida Democrats have patented how to lose elections, spin narratives internally to maintain some degree of control and make ideology all about the opposition to the other side rather than anything values based. Given the runaway success Florida Democrats have had in maintaining control of a weakened party and pushing business to consultants and campaign professionals who have almost nothing to show on their resume other than General Election losses (but importantly for the maintenance of control, lots of primary wins). I will note that the Democratic response to President Trump’s speech given by Governor Steve Beshear was excellent and perhaps means we will see more emphasis on economic issues and less on identity. But for now the critique of the Democrats remains because Beshear’s response is just an isolated data point until we see more evidence of a shifting Democratic narrative.
The DNC seems to be mimicking the Florida playbook which reignites suggestions that they aren’t really the party we knew just a few years ago. A few examples.
- After a covert smear campaign which bordered on racist Islamophobia (which is different than what Bill Maher or myself do which is to call out radical Islam as being equivalent of the evangelical Christians we as liberals oppose) , Rep. Keith Ellison was “accommodated” with a newly created leadership position by the DNC victor Tom Perez. This isn’t terribly different than the token unity Florida Democrats left the 2013 FDP Chairs Election with – five statewide loses later (out of a possible five), the FDP again had to re-calibrate and rearrange its deck chairs in early 2017.
- Florida Democrats, who have lost 17 of the last 18 elections for statewide cabinet or Governor in what is a purple state at the Presidential level have long focused on personal critiques and possible scandal to oppose Republican officeholders rather than unifying economic themes or any degree of populism. National Democrats have begun in earnest to follow this strategy by focusing on potential Trump scandals and extraneous far-flung conspiracy theories rather than the nuts and bolts of public policy as well empowerment of people. The GOP under Trump can play populist but the best interest of working families will never be represented by Republicans, yet the Democrats seem too passive to express this consistently (though again it must be noted Governor Beshear’s response to President Trump’s televised address was more along the lines of what we need to see).
- Democrats nationally seem committed to reinforcing its coastal elite strategy much like Florida Democrats have failed to engage beyond a handful of large urban counties and areas with lots of college students and government workers in our state. The Democrats messaging, organizing and tenor all indicate that the party is convinced demographic shifts mean little need exists to reengage voters outside big cities and coastal regions that have recently abandoned the party. Democratic operatives in Florida have made similar assumptions and that’s led to a virtual abandonment of places like Volusia, Pasco and Flagler counties. Republicans are basically able to offset large Democratic margins in Orange and Osceola Counties by running up the score in Polk, Hernando, Lake, Sumter and Brevard while flipping Volusia, Flagler and Pasco, for instance. This was the same strategy the GOP employed in Michigan and Pennsylvania and the Democrats fell into the trap.
- Complaints about racism are abound as Democrats double-down on identity politics. But racism doesn’t explain how Hillary Clinton could have run 19 points worse in Iowa and 16 points worse in Wisconsin than Barack Obama did in 2008. In 2012, President Obama carried a majority of white voters in both those states en route to winning a second term. But suddenly in 2016, racism was an issue? The same can be said for any number of medium-sized Florida counties where similar shifts occurred between 2008 and 2016. Simply put, the Democrats in Florida and now nationally have retreated to a comfort zone both geographically and from a messaging standpoint. Identity politics is easy for political strategists and commentators deployed on TV – label anyone who is white that holds different views as you or votes for the GOP as “racist,” and try and conjure emotion up that way. But it’s clearly a losing strategy as we see time and again. Democratic operatives who are more invested in maintaining party control than winning elections insist demographic shifts mean it will eventually be a winning hand – even if this is the case, shouldn’t a political party stand for something more than “we’re not those awful racists on the other side!”