Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had some good news for Republicans on Tuesday. Speaking at the National Press Club, the Empire State senator issued a veiled criticism of Hillary Clinton when he insisted that Democrats can only win the White House again in 2016 if they make a convincing case for big government.
“That same underlying expectation that government should help make life easier for the middle class is as strong as it’s ever been, setting the stage for a Democratic victory in 2016 if, and only if, we can convince people that government can work and help restore the middle class to prosperity,” Schumer said. “And we’re in a much better position to do this than Republicans, because when economic conditions are declining for the middle class, the electorate instinctively turns to Democrats.”
“But in order to win in 2016, Democrats must embrace government,” he added. “Not run away from it.”
Later in his address, Schumer had the audacity to blame the press for the Democratic Party’s current predicament. That’s right: the media, in Schumer’s estimation, is simply not favorable enough toward Democratic narratives about the efficacy of government:
“Republicans will continue to paint government as the enemy and the media will continue to highlight government failures, because they make for better copy than government success,” the senator said. “That leaves the job to we Democrats.”
If Schumer’s theory is accurate, Democrats sure have their work cut out for them.
In June, Gallup found that the public’s confidence in all three branches of the federal government had reached all-time lows since that firm began polling on confidence in 1991. The Pew Research Center, which has been monitoring the level of trust in government since the Eisenhower administration, essentially confirmed Gallup’s results.
In 1958, an average of 73 percent of the public expressed trust in the federal government. That rose to an all-time high of 77 percent in November of 1964. That trust collapsed over the course of the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Though it briefly rebounded under Reagan and George H. W. Bush, faith in the federal government waned significantly under George W. Bush and Barack Obama. As of February, only 24 percent of the public reported expressing trust in government.
Troublingly for Democrats, this crisis of confidence in government extends to a vital segment of the in-party’s coalition of ascendant voters: Young people.
“Harvard’s poll showed millennials, which the pollsters defined as peopled aged 18 to 29, have lost trust in a variety of different major public institutions including the President, the military, Congress, the Supreme Court, and the federal government as a whole,” Business Insider reported in April.
In November, 2014 exit polling revealed that 54 percent of voters believed that the government “is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals.” Only 41 percent of the public said that government “should do more to solve problems.”
Rather than focusing on assuring the public that their eyes are deceiving them and that big government is the answer to all the nation’s woes, Schumer might have advised his fellow Democrats to demonstrate some competence in managing the leviathan federal government. But perhaps that is too big of an ask even for Democrats.
Maybe, just maybe, that is the Democratic Party’s real 2016 challenge.