A lot of ink has been spilled over comments made by the new Florida Democratic Party President Sally Boynton Brown. The Miami New Times wrote a piece (Click here to read it) railing against many of the points that Ms. Brown made. My good friend Kartik, who I have a lot of respect for, editorialized here on The Florida Squeeze on why he disagreed with her assertions (Click here to find what Kartik wrote). As someone who made the fateful/idiotic/ masochistic decision to jump in to the political realm professionally back in 2010 I can say without equivocation that most of what she said made a ton of sense to me. It not only made sense, but a lot of her comments were actually refreshing to hear. Her comments and actions since she took the reins at the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) makes me more optimistic about achieving our shared goal of electing more Democrats both this year and beyond.
Whether you agree with Ms. Brown or not you have to give her a ton of credit for showing up, which is more than half the battle. Chairman Bittel and now President Brown have made it a point to travel across our diverse state and listen to Democrats from varying regions of Florida. This may not seem like a big deal to some, and while it should be something that a Chair/President do as a matter of course the Florida Democratic Party leadership has not always excelled at showing up and listening with a sympathetic ear. Back in 2011 now Broward DEC Chair Cynthia Busch and I led a group of South Florida activists into a meeting with then FDP Chair Rod Smith. Chair Smith chided us for doing exactly what he asked us to do less than a year before, and called our home county of Broward, “the Serbia of Florida.” So, covering the basics of showing up, listening, and being respectful is not something to take for granted.
I concede that showing up does not add nor does it detract from the credence of what is said, but before I get into the heart of the matter there is one basic foundation of politics that we should all be able to agree on: the winner of every election is the candidate who gets the most votes. It isn’t necessarily the candidate who has the best message, the candidate who is the most experienced, the candidate who raises the most money, the candidate who works the hardest, the most honest candidate, or even the candidate who is best suited to serve in the office that they seek. All of those things can help, but at the end of the day the candidate with the most votes wins regardless of everything else. Florida Democrats too often focus on ancillary issues at best and useless distractions at worst instead of focusing on improving at the hard work of garnering enough votes to win more elections.
One other thing that I hope that we can all agree on is that facts matter, which gets me to the first criticism of Ms. Brown in the Miami New Times article that needs to be addressed:
“I’m not going to get into the hard-head debate,” (Ms. Brown) said. “I’m just sharing my perspective and that we absolutely will do data testing to see which scripts work best [and then share that with our candidates].” (So now Brown’s job does include deciding policy? What?)
It’s worth noting that Hillary Clinton’s campaign relied on data testing to an almost extreme degree in 2016 and lost catastrophically after much of that data turned out to be wrong.
Let’s pause for a second: Who is not an “issues person”? Politics is entirely about issues. The basic reason you vote for anyone is because you want that person to accomplish things that make your life better. Who are these “emotional beings” that get excited about candidates but don’t care about policy?
Ms. Brown never said that it is her job to decide policy. It seems like her point is that there are major issue areas, and that the FDP can test to see which approach of communicating those issues to voters is most effective. You know, the type of message testing that is exactly what the Obama campaign did in both of their successful campaigns in Florida and that the Clinton Campaign did none of. Also, it is patently untrue that the Clinton Campaign relied at all on data testing. The actual truth is that they didn’t do any data testing, as anyone who read the book Shattered knows. They had their data and stubbornly refused to test it with polling or any other method for that matter, which is one of the reasons that they lost because if they had tested their data they would have likely found out that it was flawed before Election Day and had the opportunity to adjust course.
Further, Ms. Brown is right that it isn’t the job of the FDP to try and force a particular message on every Democrat running in Florida. First, there are many parts of Florida that are very different from other parts of Florida. So, the same message and issues that could work in one place may not work or even be an issue of importance in another area. Second, every campaign has a different candidate and it is up to the candidates themselves to choose which issues to focus on in their campaigns. Having the FDP test different ways to couch different issues should be welcomed by every candidate as it will benefit their campaign. Testing messages so that candidates can get a leg up in communicating with voters is a good thing. Trying to force candidates to run on a pre-determined one size fits all set of issues is a bad thing that the FDP is right to avoid. This is a distinction with a monumental difference.
Also, a lot of people aren’t “issues” people. Most voters in General Elections are low information voters. If you think that even 1% of the voters who cast ballots have read a single word of a Democratic Party Platform then you are delusional. Platforms have their place and do matter, but they do little to nothing to help in the effort to win the votes that decide elections. A lot of people who voted for Trump are emotional voters as they wanted someone who they thought would look out for them with no detailed policy agenda in mind. Also, “Hope and Change” has nothing to do with being President of the United States and has nothing to do with issues, but was an emotionally charged phrase that was the centerpiece that voters associated with the Obama Campaign back in 2008 more than anything else. “Who would you rather have a beer with?” has predicted the winner of every Presidential Election in my lifetime, which crosses the ideological spectrum and proves that emotions matter in winning elections.
There are many more things that have been said and written about Ms. Brown’s visit to Broward this past week that need to be unpacked that I cannot get to everything in one column while keeping it at a reasonable length. So, I will write and publish Part 2 of this diatribe in the coming days. The last point I want to make here is that we should all be rooting for Ms. Brown to succeed, as I am, because if she does succeed then more Democrats will get elected and we all win. That doesn’t mean that someone in her position shouldn’t be criticized when criticism is warranted, but it does mean that any criticism made of someone like her should be constructive in an effort to get better at what we do to win elections. This becomes truer with each passing year as the craft of electoral politics changes rapidly, and as with a lot of other things in life the pace of that change keeps accelerating.