Is the DNC taking pages out of the Florida Democratic playbook?

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!”

 

14 comments

  1. Wake up DNC & FDP. We are no longer your grandfathers party. Welcome Progressives and Independants. They hold the keys to vicyory.

    1. Mark Lynn · · Reply

      Victories like George McGovern & Walter Mondale delivered?? It took two decades to move the party back to the center (and win again), we’re not going backward like the British Labour party!

      1. Wouldn’t you agree though that the overemphasis on race and identity is actually Mondale/McGovern like? We’re either all Americans with similar values or we aren’t. The Democrats or at least the leadership of the party seems to want to emphasize what divides us rather than what unites us. To me dividing people is irresponsible from societal standpoint and is a poor electoral strategy. Either way it’s bad news as our results demonstrate.

  2. Susan McGrath · · Reply

    With new leadership of six weeks at the FDP and less than a week at the DNC level, it’s entirely too soon to be making any relevant judgement. Give them the opportunity to lead and then hold them accountable. They aren’t responsible for past sins.

    1. I agree on that but this piece is on past FDP failings and how the DNC seems to be doing the same thing. The Bittel tenure doesn’t apply here. This is about the previous eight years and how those failings are now being copied nationally.

      I am hearing positive things thus far about the new FDP leadership but time will tell if a change has really come.

  3. Mark Lynn · · Reply

    Agreed, I think Bittel has things headed in the right direction. Last strong Chair the FDP had was Simon Ferro & that was a quarter century ago. Recycled/has-been pols were a disaster at the helm. In fairness, concerning our win-loss statewide record, many of those races we didn’t really contest. Bob Crawford was the last serious candidate we had for Ag Comm’r & other than Sink in 06, CFO has not been on our radar since the post was created. Dyer, Campbell & Gelber were good candidates for AG, but fell short for a variety of reasons (02 & 10 being really bad Dem years). If we can snag the Guvs office, one other cabinet post (CFO or AG) & re-elect Nelson, I think we as a party will have finally turned a corner.

  4. More relevant than ever: #DemExit

  5. lunchcountersitin · · Reply

    To Kartik RE: Wouldn’t you agree though that the overemphasis on race and identity is actually Mondale/McGovern like?

    The thing is, to many Democrats, your comments feel like a straw man argument.

    They would say that THEIR emphasis is on diversity. And that, the embrace of diversity serves to UNIFY people.

    To them, your argument amounts to calling them out for something they are not doing (or believe they are not doing). They would say that you are misinterpreting their actions as as emphasis on race and identity, rather than an emphasis on diversity.

    Here’s the problem: your framing of the issue cannot help but be divisive itself, because “the other side” will see it as incorrect and unfair. They will interpret your comments as a back-handed slap at the goals of diversity and inclusion.

    If you’re going to make your argument work, you’re going to need to frame it in a different way. What that way is, I don’t know.

    1. It’s a catch-22 I agree, as is anything related to race and ethnicity. You make an excellent point and how to frame it is difficult.

      But I find it odd that liberals like myself who have emphasized the need for a race-neutral society have gone in this direction. I was concerned about the way we on the left were teaching and embracing multiculturalism as early as the late 1990’s but kept my mouth shut and went along with it. But now having seen the consequences, silence isn’t an option from where I sit. I DO think multiculturalism is important but in the context of us all being Americans first and that assimilation and respect for elders and white peers (as well as the contributions of white leaders of the past who yes were flawed on racial matters but also built the country with its institutions we enjoy today) it should be emphasized. What has instead happened is many on the political left (I don’t believe this is an issue among less political liberals but among those tied explicitly to the Democratic Party and associated special interest groups) have found identity as way to try and lock in the votes of a given group without stressing issues or values. What has resulted is a disconnect between progressives and our natural allies who were the backbone of the New Deal coalition – whites in small towns and rural areas who benefit from Government and suffer when the corporatist Republicans are in control. By losing those voters, we’ve become more about identity and race than issues and policy. We’ve also become a party that has leaders in it that subtly demonize poor people, folks in rural areas, those who disagree with us, etc. Most of these voters happen to be white.

      I can only speak from personal experience as a dark skinned person that I have faced more discrimination and editorial commentary about my background in suburban settings than in rural ones. I’ve gone to many small towns in the south and always been received well even if I look different and talk differently. Maybe I am an exception and others that look, think and talk like me face massive discrimination when driving through and stopping in places like Cuthbert, GA or Andalusia, AL but I haven’t. So I must based my own experiences feel that the hysteria created on the left about the racism of whites in small towns and throughout the rural parts of this country is exaggerated. I have no doubt it exists, as the election results in rural Florida counties from 2008 and 2012 when compared to 2000 and 2004 show us but to stereotype an entire group of people and demonize them to me is contrary to being a liberal or a Democrat.

      1. Here’s my experience of small town Appalachia reaction to race (which is specific and peculiar). Everyone in the mountain towns knows there’s a toxic, outlier bunch of people who maybe drink too much and cause trouble and coalesce around “white identity” or KKK or motorcycle clubs or whatever. Most are ashamed of, or try to compensate for those people.

        I’ve encountered (once or twice) a county commissioner or sheriff who you could say is a straight-up racist (if not nazi). Some of the churches practice a form of extremism that overtly targets the LGBTQ community, along with having pro-Israel-b/c-end-times sympathies (anti-Muslim sympathies, therefore, are perceived as part of their Christian holy war).

        This stuff *seethes* beneath the surface. It took me years to get access to some of this, and by then I was in grad school in social theory, and later had a newspaper…so I had some skill at it. It’s NOT EASY to find on purpose. It’s part of the culture of Appalachia that people keep to themselves. Outsiders are easily spotted, and aren’t trusted. And you can live there and be an “outsider,” for sure. It takes a lot of work to gain access to what people *really think* because for generations people have been taught that you don’t share with outsiders (people from outside of the holler). That can also amount to people who don’t have a long land-owning or law enforcement/city administration history. There’s lots of angles. Point is — the first people you encounter in a mountain town are likely going to be the nicest people you ever met…because they’re trying to make a difference. Most of the people I knew in East TN were the folks who were trying to change things. But the bad guys were still there. Close-by, always.

      2. lunchcountersitin · ·

        There is not enough space to adequately respond to your points. I do not doubt that you feel strongly about this, and of course you have some valid reasons for your views.

        But, for example, RE: “we’ve become more about identity and race than issues and policy.” African Americans would strongly disagree. They would say they are driven by a number of issues: voting restrictions; mass incarceration; unfair policing practices; racial gerrymandering; income inequality; and others. There are REAL ISSUES to REAL PEOPLE. And these issues resonate at the local level especially.

        Now: it might well be true that not enough is being done by Democrats to address the issues of white voters, especially white rural voters. But that is NOT the same thing as saying that there is an identity politics whose only focus is on race or ethnicity, not issues. When you say that, it only brings division.

        It seems like the direction you want to go in, is one that puts a stress on issues and policies. If that is the direction you want to go in, then you should stress THAT. If you think that is what we need right now, then show us exactly what people should be saying, and exactly how they should say it, and establish how this different way is better than what we have now. Or perhaps point to be people who exemplify this different approach, if we can call it that.

      3. That is the direction we’ve talked about repeatedly on this site – developing a party based on values much like we had in the not-so-distant past. But the influx of corporate money and the coziness of the Democratic establishment with corporate interests IMO have pushed the Democrats into this position of seeking to ensure the votes of minority groups (including some that previously favored Republicans such as Asian-Americans and Arab-Americans … both groups favored Bob Dole in 1996 for instance over Bill Clinton) based on identity rather economic empowerment. I think it is a direct result of the Democrats race to raise corporate money so maybe I should point it out that way. This really began with the Watergate babies elected in 1974 so it’s been gradullay and long-term drift of the party away from populism and toward softer corporatism than the GOP (but still corpratism).

  6. DG Pressley · · Reply

    With regards to George McGovern, one could easily make the case that his electoral defeat had more to do with a backlash against societal changes made during the 1960’s more than anything else. But that’s ancient history. We’re living in different times now. The Democratic Party has been under the control of the Clinton/Third Way/DLC wing since the early 1990’s. You cannot blame the sad state of both the Florida Democratic Party and the National Democratic Party on progressives because they wield very little power, if any. Both the Democratic and Republican parties have become so beholden to big banks, wealthy donors, and mulitnational corporations at the expense of the American people, and we are waking up. The old and tired “too left” label is dated and in many ways inaccurate. New alliances between conservatives and liberals on a whole hosts of issues are forming around such issues as the TPP and the surveillance state. Universal health care, Wall Street reform, strengthening the social safety net, and many other issues are not only popular with progressives, but the American people as a whole.

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