Despite Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte assaulting a reporter from the Guardian on the eve of election night, he managed to pull off a victory in the special election race to fill Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s vacant seat. Gianforte had the advantage of coasting off his failed bid for governor in the 2016 election, using his name recognition in the state and receiving substantial help from wealthy Republican donors who helped him edge out his opponent Rob Quist. The race should serve as a wake up call to the Democratic Party that they cannot rely on the polarized political environment and unpopularity of Trump to recoup their losses in Congress and state legislatures across the country.
As much as Democrats tried to convey their message by attacking Trump, the Republican Party successfully aligned their Democratic opponent Rob Quist with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi through attack ads. Pelosi is one of the most widely known, yet least liked politicians in the country. Pelosi’s leadership has been the subject of several Republican campaign ads across the country, and Pelosi fulfills the Republican caricatured portrayal of her as out of touch by continuing to focus and drive Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election as the Democratic Party’s main message.
Politico reported on May 24 that Democrats were divided over whether to focus their messaging on health care or Russia. Health care provides the party with a policy issue that impacts voters’ individual lives and communities, but Russia doesn’t. Politico noted that the Super PAC American Bridge, run by Clinton operative David Brock, wants to focus on the Russia issue. Center for American Progress, founded by Clinton campaign Manager John Podesta and run by Clinton surrogate Neera Tanden, has focused on Russia as well, creating a propaganda site called the Moscow Project that calls for crowdsourcing the investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia. Focusing on Russia for the sake of political theatrics instead of working without a highly polarized partisan agenda to further the investigation will backfire for Democrats—especially since it’s unlikely that the truth will match the hysteria.
On May 22, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was cited as advising the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) on how to win in 2018. Emanuel, a quintessential establishment Democrat, ran the DCCC in 2006 when Democrats won big, but that victory was short lived. Less than half of the 41 new Democrats that were elected to office that year are still serving their districts. Truth-Out reported in 2007, “According to Democratic candidates who ran for House of Representative seats in 2006, Rahm Emanuel, then head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, took sides during the Democratic primary elections, favoring conservative candidates, including former Republicans, and sidelining candidates who were running in favor of withdrawal from Iraq.” Progressives criticized Emanuel for interfering in Democratic primaries to support the establishment’s preferred candidates, a tactic the Democratic Party continues to employ today at its own peril.
Democrats should be focusing on developing a message about how they will improve the lives of Americans and how Trump’s policies will hurt working class, middle class and low income Americans. Ahead of elections in 2018 and 2020, Democrats need to determine how they will help voters. Right now, they don’t have any answers. Instead, they’re stuck on an anti-Trump loop and looking for strategies from the same sources that helped drive the Democratic Party into the ground in the first place.