October 17, 2018


The Democrats' Incredible Shrinking Message (ALEX SHEPHARD, October 17, 2018, The New Republic)

Writing in The Atlantic in August, former Democratic Congressman Steve Israel described attending a campaign fundraiser in "a plush residence on the 64th floor of Trump World Tower," where "most in the crowd wanted to know one thing: What's the Democratic message?"

"There, in a building staffed with uniformed doormen, standing on floors so fine that we'd been asked to remove our shoes, the donors demanded to know why their party had no unifying theme. Or, more precisely, why wasn't the message the specific message that they wanted messaged?" he continued. "These questions have come up at Democratic gatherings across the country this year, from grassroots fund-raisers to posh weekend retreats."

Israel argued that "Democrats have it wrong that they need a national-message template in the first place. Past elections have shown that the most effective messaging is local and specific to each district." This year's election seems to be proving this true, or at least Democratic candidates are campaigning as if it is. By and large, they are running on a single issue. It's not impeachment or collusion or corruption or #MeToo; it's not even specific to Trump. The election, for many Democrats, is all about health care.

"The top three issues this year are health care, health care, health care," J.B. Poersch, the head of the Democratic Senate Majority PAC told CNN last week. Candidates across the country, from Cindy Axne in Iowa to Claire McCaskill in Missouri to Josh Harder in California are talking about their own struggles dealing with the high cost of medical care. West Virginia's Joe Manchin, toe lone Democratic senator to vote to confirm Kavanaugh, is leading in the polls in his state, thanks in large part to his embrace of Obamacare, which he even made an issue during the most recent Supreme Court confirmation.

Republicans are following suit, even those who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017. Republican Martha McSally, who is running to fill Jeff Flake's Arizona Senate seat, has campaigned on protecting coverage for pre-existing conditions, despite voting for the AHCA, which would have repealed the ACA, last year. In a debate on Monday, she told voters, "We can't go back to where we were before Obamacare."

Trump's most significant legislative accomplishment, the $1.5 trillion corporate tax cut passed last December, has also factored into Democratic messaging--partly to highlight the hypocrisy of Republicans' deficit hysteria during the Obama years, but also as another way to discuss health care.

Journalists and politicians talk about "the health care repeal and the Trump tax plan as two different issues," Democratic consultant Jesse Ferguson told CNN back in May. But "the voters see them as ways Washington isn't looking out for them.... On both of them, it's basically the same: [Republicans] have been giving tax breaks to health insurance companies, to pharmaceutical companies, and those come at the expense of people who work for a living. It means higher health care costs, eventually higher taxes, more debt for your kids, and cuts to Social Security and Medicare as you get older."

After Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that entitlement cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are the only way to reduce the deficit, Democrats immediately sent out emails tying his statement to the tax cut.

The problem for Democratic leadership is that they need electable candidates so much they recruit ones who disagree with them.

Posted by at October 17, 2018 5:40 PM