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Democrats Have Momentum – Here’s How They Could Lose It

Simply being not Republicans won’t be enough for the Dems in 2018 or 2020, even after big wins in Virginia and Alabama

Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam and newly elected Alabama Senator Doug Jones

Win McNamee/Getty Images, John Bazemore/AP

There’s no denying that the modern GOP is more successful than the Democratic Party at getting what it wants – Republicans fire up their voting base during elections, and then they deliver. That’s why the GOP is unified in support of its horribly unpopular tax plan right now. America as a whole might not like it, but the people Republicans count on to get them elected sure do.

Imagine if the Democratic Party could adopt the same mindset.

Instead, Democrats have developed a habit over the last four decades of trying to get their voting base fired up during elections without delivering a whole lot once in power. They think Americans, and liberals in particular, want to see bipartisanship – lots of hand-holding and playing nice. By the time they wake up from that fantasy, it may be too late.

Over the weekend, newly elected Democrats Ralph Northam, the winner of Virginia’s gubernatorial race in November, and Doug Jones, Alabama’s new senator, both gave troubling indications that this pattern will continue. Activists on the left fought hard to get these two men elected. How many times can the Democrats expect people to fight for them if they won’t return the favor once in office?

Gov. Northam gave a truly surreal interview that sounded like a Democratic stump speech from maybe 2002. At a time when the Republican Party is as strident as ever and getting cozy with white nationalists, Northam claimed he’s going to emphasize bipartisanship. Huh?

Centrists appear unable to grasp a simple and obvious reality: Republicans do not like you and do not want to work together.

He also suggested that he’s having second thoughts about Medicaid expansion. This is bizarre since Medicaid expansion is popular with the general public, and among his own party it is almost universally embraced. It isn’t just an easy play for Northam; it’s a slam-dunk.

Imagine you’re a Virginian who worked herself to the bone to get Northam elected. Does that interview inspire confidence that he’s going to work as hard as you did? Democrats clearly have built up some momentum in recent months. But they will not maintain that momentum if they fall back into old habits.

I’ll venture a guess that bipartisanship is about the last thing on most voters’ minds right now, regardless of which party they support. Other than perhaps Aaron Sorkin, nobody considers it the goal of governing to make people feel good about the process.

Doug Jones, meanwhile, flubbed a softball question by saying it’s time to “move on” regarding accusations of sexual assault and misconduct against Trump. A more forceful, even if noncommittal, answer would have been so simple: I look forward to hearing what these women have to say. Donald Trump is remarkably unpopular right now. What could Jones gain by being gentle? If ever there is a time to score points by taking a whack at Trump, this is it.

Democrats like Jones depend heavily on the support of women, especially African-American and Hispanic women. It’s not fair to make too much of a single comment, but we can forgive some of the people who worked hard to elect him if they take it as a bad sign.

Anti-Trump and anti-Republican energy will probably carry the Democrats through the 2018 midterms with some success. Frankly, the party could nominate a loaf of bread in some races and it would win by 20 points. However, if the Dems are not prepared to deliver something beyond calls for bipartisanship and promises to “work with” the most inept, corrupt and disastrous president in American history, then any success they have in 2018 will be temporary. If they didn’t learn from 2016 that “We’re not the Republicans!” isn’t enough in the long run to get the party’s core supporters excited about voting, then there’s no hope for them. Disband the party and replace its candidates with cardboard cutouts of David Brooks and Tim Kaine holding hands.

The Democratic Party cannot accomplish everything liberals want simply by winning some special elections, or even by taking the House majority in 2018. But it has to try. The people who fight to get you elected expect to see you fight for them in return. The Democrats have to stop treating women, African-Americans, Hispanics, LGBTQ people and young voters like some resource to be tapped every two years when it’s time to campaign. Instead, they need to listen to what those voters want and actually push for some of it. Whoa!

The Democrats, of course, have accomplished some things while in power; health care reform in 2009 is an obvious example. But they are maddeningly stuck on the idea that taking the high road and extending an olive branch to Republicans – who have no intention of compromising – is what voters want.

What Democratic voters would like to see from their party are results. A lot of Americans are working their asses off to fight back against Trump. If it’s too much to ask for elected officials who will do the same, the Democratic Party in 2020 will once again be scratching its head and wondering why the voters it relies on most heavily didn’t show up.

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