Democrats Need a Hard-Nosed Strategy to Counter the GOP
There is little to admire about the Republican Party.
Its economic and health care policies hurt the most vulnerable. Its immigration platform is cruel and ineffective. It denies climate science and the existential threat climate change poses to our planet. And the party’s inaction on sensible gun reform has no doubt cost us American lives.
That said, there is one thing that we, two lifelong Democrats, do admire: The GOP stays in line.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bold move to effectively steal a Supreme Court seat from the Democrats by refusing to consider Merrick Garland may be the most glaring example of the party’s ruthlessness, but we are surrounded by their unmerciful politics daily. Well over 200 bills have passed the Democrat-controlled House while McConnell continues to run his legislative graveyard, putting Republicans’ partisan interests ahead of those of Americans.
We may be repulsed by their policies, but there is worth in the GOP’s strategy when you consider the results.
The saying goes: “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line.” One only has to look at how Republicans have stood by President Trump as he degrades our intelligence community and immigrants while raising up dictators to see evidence of this. And while the story is yet to be written on how Senate Republicans will handle the question of impeachment, if the past few years are any guide, we should assume they’ll be front and center in Trump’s reelection effort.
In the meantime, Democrats can evolve – and must. Here’s how:
Step 1: Do not play into the right-wing narrative. “Socialists.” “Anti-Semites.” “Enemies of the first and second amendments.” That’s what Republicans call Democrats and we still play into the right-wing media’s attacks. Conservatives own not only their airwaves and radio waves, but also influence media spaces that lean left. Our time is spent countering disinformation rather than advancing our own cause. We have been bullied into regular games of whataboutism and both-sidesing to satiate a sick desire for right-wingers to call us fair. Look no further than the current controversy over Hunter Biden for evidence. It doesn’t signal journalistic integrity to give airtime to conspiracy theories and it must end. You never hear Rush Limbaugh, one of the fathers of the modern Republican Party, both-sidesing anything.
Step 2: Appreciate battle-tested leaders. All across America, candidates are hungry to challenge Democrats who enjoy strong support and, more often than not, are minority representatives. We in no way seek to diminish 2018 midterm victories by left-wing progressives, but these insurgent victories are undoubtedly outliers. The progressive left isn’t akin to the Tea Party, which tapped into what was revealed as the majority conservative viewpoint. Democrats remain a moderate party and our primary results reflect that. It follows that the discussions around challenging House leadership after Democrats took back the majority fall into the same category. Divisive and ill-considered, these contests expose us to the right and hinder the cohesion we need to continue delivering big wins.
Step 3: Defend Obamacare. This one isn’t hard. Obamacare enjoys its highest level of popularity since inception and all we hear about is various denominations of “Medicare for All.” Policy purity tests like this are bad for Democrats and do not reflect national sentiment. Polls consistently show voters’ preference for protecting and improving Obamacare over instituting a government takeover of health care, especially with no private insurance option. This is why Joe Biden’s health care policy is ranked far ahead of those advocated by his competition for the nomination. Pragmatism and improving on good policy do not represent failure – quite the opposite, actually.
Step 4: Find an animating issue. It’s imperative that Democrats home in on a turnout issue that will mobilize our voters on Election Day. Republicans have abortion and guns and we have a smattering of issues that are important to our voters, but none that motivate like those two do for the right. The obvious choice is health care, which consistently ranks as the most important issue to Americans on both sides of the aisle, but we’re open to anything that guarantees turnout. The Supreme Court and federal judgeships across America should also be a contender.
Step 5: Listen to minorities. Too often the preferences of our most reliable and loyal voting bloc – African Americans – are pushed to the side in favor of candidates and policies favored by white liberals. The Democratic Party is made up of moderates. Victories all over the country are due to the mobilization of black voters who are given short shrift in our politics. Preference should be given to voters who actually show up to vote.
These are just a few ways that can help us get a little bit closer to having the same hard-nosed GOP mentality that puts preserving and accumulating power above all else.
We will never become as heartless as they are. It isn’t in our DNA and it certainly isn’t in our policy platform. But game recognizes game and we must rehab our strategy.