Bankole: Democrats lack compelling, attractive message
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders may have predicted the loss last Tuesday for Democrats in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District race.
A week before that closely watched and most expensive election in which Democrats were supposed to prove that President Donald Trump is an albatross for Republican candidates, Sanders explained how his party can stop losing elections.
Among other things, Sanders, writing in a June 13 op-ed piece in The New York Times, suggested income inequality should be a central theme for a true comeback from the loss the party suffered in the 2016 presidential election.
“The party’s main thrust must be to make politics relevant to those who have given up on democracy and bring millions of new voters into the political process,” Sanders, a 2016 presidential candidate, wrote.
“For the sake of our country and the world, the Democratic Party, in a very fundamental way, must change direction. It has got to open its doors wide to working people and young people.”
Two days earlier, Sanders hammered on a similar message before 4,000 activists who had met at Chicago’s McCormick Place for the “People’s Summit.”
The point Sanders is making underscores the need for new leadership in the Democratic Party. It is no surprise that in the Georgia campaign House Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi was used as a boogeyman in television attack ads that claimed that the since-defeated Jon Ossoff was going to Washington to work for Pelosi’s agenda of bigger government.
Weeks after last year’s election, this column called for Pelosi to resign on the simple basis that when a general loses a war, it is expedient that he or she no longer lead the army to another battle.
She needed to hand over the mantle of leadership to someone with fresh ideas who can connect with working-class people, much in the same way Trump was able to appeal to working-class whites who felt economically alienated.
But again, establishment Democrats re-elected Pelosi as their leader in the House, instead of the more viable U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio.
Like Sanders, Ryan also was drumming the resplendent message that Democrats need to organically connect with voters in places like Youngstown, Ohio, a traditional Democratic stronghold where many voted for Trump. Lamentably, the message fell on insensitive ears.
It made no sense to re-elect Pelosi. It was a quintessential dumb move. She served her time and should have moved on. But one of the reasons she stays at the top of party leadership is that she is a formidable fundraiser. So was Hillary Clinton, the Democratic flag-bearer last year who outspent Trump but lost the election in key battleground states like Michigan.
It is not fundraising alone that matters in elections. Winning an election rests on the kind of message the candidates promote. What they say and how they articulate the issues can be the main driver to the polls. Trump mastered the art of messaging, and he used it effectively during his campaign.
“My position hasn’t changed. I think it’s very concerning that that tactic still has some punch. Again, it’s part of the broader national brand that average people don’t feel connected to the Democratic Party,” Ryan, who challenged Pelosi for the House leadership post told Politico after the Georgia loss.
“Walk up the street and ask 10 people what the Democrats stand for, you’ll get 10 different answers. That’s no way to build a national party.”
A defiant Pelosi on Friday said it will be up to her to decide how long she stays in the House leadership role, not other members.
The 2018 midterm elections are just around the corner.
Will the string of avoidable losses ever lead Democrats to change their game?
Let’s hope so.
The writer hosts “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Super Station 910AM. This column appears Mondays and Thursdays.