Dems search for clear message
Despite Republican disarray, leaders struggle to tell voters what Democrats stand for
NEW YORK — House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley hesitated when asked about his party’s core message to voters.
“That message is being worked on,” the New York congressman said in an interview this past week. “We’re doing everything we can to simplify it, but at the same time provide the meat behind it as well. So that’s coming together now.”
The admission from the No. 4 House Democrat — that his party lacks a clear, core message even amid Republican disarray — highlights the Democrats’ dilemma eight months after President Donald Trump and the GOP dominated last fall’s elections, in part, because Democrats lacked a consistent message.
The soul-searching comes as Democrats look to flip at least 24 GOP-held seats necessary for a House majority and cut into Republican advantages in U.S. statehouses in the 2018 midterm elections. Yet with a Russia scandal engulfing the White House, a historically unpopular health-care plan wrenching Capitol Hill and no major GOP legislative achievement, Democrats are still struggling to tell voters what their party stands for.
Some want to rally behind calls to impeach the Republican president as new evidence indicates possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. Democratic leaders are reluctant to pursue that approach as it only energizes the GOP base. Others want Democrats to focus on the GOP’s plans to strip health insurance from millions of Americans. And still others say those arguments can be fashioned into a simplified brand.
“The Democratic Party needs to up its game,” party chairman Tom Perez said in a speech last week. “What I hear most from people is, ‘Tom, we not only need to organize, but we need to articulate clearly what we stand for.’”
For now, at least, Democrats are waging a tug-of-war largely between the Russia investigation and the GOP’s attempts to gut the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
Several liberal groups that had been laser-focused on health care have intensified calls for impeachment in recent weeks, including MoveOn.org, Indivisible and Ultraviolet.
“We need to be talking about impeachment constantly,” said Scott Dworkin, co-founder of the recently formed Democratic Coalition Against Trump. He warned on Twitter, “If you’re an elected Dem & you’re not talking impeachment or 25th amendment then find a new party.”
Focus on health care
Democratic operative Zac Petkanas, who led Hillary Clinton’s campaign war room, agrees that last week’s developments in the Russia investigation shouldn’t change the party’s focus heading into 2018.
“Candidates need to be saying the word ‘health care’ five times for every time they say the word ‘Russia,’” Petkanas said. He added, “I think it’s a fundamental mistake to make this election a referendum on impeachment.”
It’s not that easy for some elected officials, like Rep. Joe Kennedy III, DMass., who says concerns about Russia have caught up to health care as a priority among his constituents. He described the Russian developments as “a threat to our foundation of democracy” that demands attention.