Don’t laugh too much, Republicans. A decade ago, the GOP found itself out of touch with voters and devastated in national and state elections, and had to crawl back out of the holes in which they had dug for themselves. Now Democrats find themselves in much the same position — and probably worse — and have to find a way to reconnect to the voters that they’ve abandoned in favor of the hard-progressive identity politics that sells well in academia and urban enclaves.
Still, this description from Politico has a whiff of safari to it:
Gathering in Sheperdstown, W.Va., Democrats were scheduled to hear from liberal political operative David Brock on Thursday, who ran a session called “Hold Trump Accountable” with Center for American Progress CEO Neera Tanden and Priorities USA CEO Guy Cecil. Earlier in the day, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) moderated a “discussion with Trump voters,” according to a draft schedule obtained by POLITICO.
Manchin and nine other Senate Democrats are up for reelection next year in states that Trump won. Much of the event appears geared at figuring out how to turn people who supported Trump into Democratic voters in 2018.
Former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D), along with Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), held a session on “speaking to those who feel invisible in rural America,” according to the schedule. Other sessions were along similar lines: “Listening to those feel unheard” and “Rising America — They feel unheard too.”
They weren’t unheard — Donald Trump heard them well enough, and they responded to him. The problem for Democrats is not just that they weren’t listening; it’s that they actively ignored these voters. The Hillary Clinton campaign was especially guilty of this, taking voters in the “Blue Wall” states for granted and writing off most of the South and Midwest. But the party in general has oriented itself in the same way, holding onto its calcified leadership of coastal elites while locking out not just younger talent but also potential leaders who actually do know these voters.
The problem of leaving Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in charge cannot be understated. Younger, fresher leadership from somewhere other than New York and San Francisco might realize that they could improve matters by reducing the amount of advice they’re getting from Brock and Tanden. Even when the Democratic Party does engage middle-America voters, it’s usually to tell them how racist/sexist/bigoted they are, and to demand tolerance while demonstrating none of it themselves. That’s not engaging anyone who’s not already part of the base, and as a political strategy, it’s sheer box-office poison.
They’ve been talking at voters more than talking to them, and talking down when they should have been listening up.
Perhaps this safari will pay dividends, if for no other end than to learn that much. And Republicans flushed with victory shouldn’t chuckle up their sleeves for long, either. At some point, the GOP needs to learn how to talk with people in the African-American, Latino, and urban communities, because Democrats will not always run incompetents like Hillary Clinton, Russ Feingold, and Evan Bayh in important elections. Better to start now on those efforts than to wait until we’ve changed places with Democrats in the future, if we want to avoid that fate.