House Democrats are debating whether winning back Congress’s second chamber will be as easy as linking competing Republicans to the failures and antics of President Trump.
“I think we can tie House Republicans to the failure of the Trump administration,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.). “It’s conceivable we could probably win back the House.”
It is obviously conceivable Democrats can win back the House. As the handicappers at Sabato’s Crystal Ball have pointed out, the party controlled by the White House has lost seats in 36 of the 39 midterms since the Civil War.
“The average loss is 33 seats, a shift in seats that would flip the House next year,” Kyle Kondik, Sabato’s managing editor, wrote in a preview of the 2018 midterms.
But running a Trump attack campaign certainly didn’t win the day in 2016, and in recent special elections viewed by the left as referendums on Trump’s failures, Democrats came up empty-handed. Naturally, disagreements about how to move forward in 2018 have ensued.
“I don’t want to run against Trump,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said. “My recommendation is to run against the Republican Party, and I think our party has made a mistake by emphasizing too much Mr. Trump. He’ll speak for himself, and he’ll trip on himself.”
As a way of upending Trump’s populist appeal and resilience to controversy, Rep. John Larson (Conn.), a former chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, believes Democrats should focus on delivering their base tangible rewards.
Thus, he urges them to leave Obamacare repeal and Russia alone, and focus on one thing: jobs. And this means doing more than smearing Trump.
“Whether it’s Russia or whether it’s the healthcare proposal — those are all going to work themselves out,” he said. “But when you go back to your district, the overarching thing is: Where are the jobs and what’s your solution? It won’t be enough just to resist — you have to have a solution.”
Frank debate on political strategy is the norm within the party since their losing streak, and has escalated to where Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s position is extremely tenuous. Leading members know they need to change what isn’t working.
“We’d better take a good, long, strong look in the mirror and realize that the problem is us, it’s the party,” Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) — who challenged Pelosi for her post last November — said after the loss in Georgia, where the Democrats spent almost $25 million.
One reason the Democrats may have lost the race in Georgia may be reflective of their inability to connect with liberal grass roots in the way Trump has done with conservative.
“The young man that ran [was a] liberal filmmaker that didn’t even live in the district,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said. “You’ve got to have people that reflect the district.”
The resulting strategy for the Democrats will inevitably more complex than 2016, and won’t abandon attacking Trump’s failures altogether. They’ll just frame them as Republican failures, policy based. Effectively disallowing legislative figures such as House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from evading criticism in Trump’s shadow.
“Because of the justified fixation on Trump, you’re letting [Senate Majority Leader] McConnell [R-Ky.] and Ryan off the hook. They’re the legislative kingpins around here. They’re the ones pushing the crappy healthcare [bill]; they’re the ones talking about tax reform. It’s Ryan plan to undo Medicaid and Medicare,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.). “You can’t let them off the hook.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) noted the dual points of Trump criticism and promises of better policy.
“He broke his promises; he led you on; he led you to believe that you were voting for your own economic self-interest by voting for him — and boy, has he let you down,” Connolly said. “It was all a big lie.”
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