Commentary: Democratic Dilemmas

Apr 18, 2017

Here are three things Democrats should not do if they want to regain the majority.

They should not be like Donald Trump and use profanity in public.  Last week it was reported that the Democratic National Chairman said in public one of the words you can’t say on TV, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said one of the other ones, in its gerund form.  Lots of Millennials talk this way and for some reason Trump can get away with talking this way.  But “I am authentic because I am vulgar” is not a winning strategy for Democrats.

Neither is fighting the culture wars.  Conservatives just love it when Democrats man the barricades over transgender bathrooms and sanctuary cities.  While these may be noble issues, and the fight may feel good, the issues are secondary and are certainly not the economic battles Democrats should be fighting.

And they should not be threatening other Democrats, those in red states who have to vote with Republicans occasionally.  Three Senators in states carried overwhelmingly by Trump – Heitkamp in North Dakota, Donnelly in Indiana, and Manchin in West Virginia – have been told by the left “We will replace you.”  Yes, if they are seriously primaried, they will be replaced all right – by Republicans.

What Democrats should do is remember three numbers: 3, 77 and 35.

There were three million more Democratic votes for president than Republican votes.  Had 77,000 voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin voted Democratic instead of Republican, then Clinton would have been elected -- flawed candidate and campaign notwithstanding.  And only 35 percent of the American people support Donald Trump, the lowest popularity rating ever for a president so early in his term.

So the Democratic situation is far from hopeless.  But it is fraught with challenges.  One is political and the other is psychological.

The political challenge is to understand the national problem for what it really is.  It’s not jobs.  Rather it’s more than jobs.  It’s economic security, which includes jobs but also health care and other government services that provide safety and hope.  If the GOP insist on talking about repealing popular regulations, defunding popular programs, repealing Obamacare without replacing it and tax cuts for the rich, Democrats have an opening. 

But only if they move all the way through the five stages of grief.  To refresh your memory, the stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Too many Democrats are stuck on one of the first four.  And Trump follower taunts of “We won, you lost.  Get over it” don’t help.

But accept they must, which almost certainly means that on policy issues and legislation they must start working with Republicans, who have lots of problems of their own.  But that’s a topic for another commentary.

Terry Smith is a political science professor at Columbia College and a regular commentator on KBIA's Talking Politics.