I was at the meeting of the Washtenaw Democrats a few weeks ago where State Democratic Chairperson Brandon Dillon brush off strategy question after strategy question. Mr. Dillon’s answer to all the strategy questions that he faced was that Democrats need to “first, regain power” before starting to talk about strategies that the party doesn’t have the power to implement.
I respectfully disagree with Mr. Dillon.
It was, IMHO, as a result of following a specific set of strategies over time that allowed the GOP to gain control of most States, control of the US Congress, control of the US Senate, and ultimately control of the Presidency.
The GOP’s Suppression Gameplan
Many years ago, a group of devious but smart people at a GOP think-tank called ALEC came to the realization that the GOP was facing a demographic death sentence (core Democratic voting blocs were getting younger while core GOP voting blocs were aging rapidly).
So what did they decide to do to counteract this oncoming demographic disaster?
They came up with a strategy to disempower and split the sources of tradition Democratic power while spinning every move toward disenfranchisement as a common-sense reform. The list:
- To break the power of Teacher’s Unions they Astro-Turfed a “School Choice” movement (who could disagree with the idea that every student should be able to choose the kind of school that they attend?).
- To break the power of traditional unions they created and introduced “Right To Work” legislation across the country in every GOP-controlled state (who could disagree with the idea that people should be able to choose not to be in a workplace union).
- To depress the African-American vote, they created and started to introduce “Voter ID” laws disguised just enough so that they could spin them as attempts to ensure voting was legal. These laws also usually, changed polling sites and hours only in neighborhoods of color etc. (who could disagree with the idea that people should have valid ID when they vote).
- Whenever they were able to take over the majority in a State, at the first possible opportunity, they suggested GOP majorities take full advantage of Gerrymandering. This has gotten so bad that a highly cited study of “efficiency gaps” in state redistricting held that, “The severity of today’s gerrymandering is …unprecedented in modern times.” When you listen to our current President go on and on about the breadth of his election victory, remember that most of the key states to his victory were many of the most gerrymandered states in the country (Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Florida, etc.).
- To ensure new immigrants, who traditionally vote for Democrats, were not added to the voting rolls they suggested that GOP legislators oppose, at every opportunity, a pathway to citizenship for any and all illegal aliens residing in the United States. Unfortunately, this also was behind the insistence that immigrants are a danger to the United States that has led to the current mass-deportations despite most reputable studies concluding that immigrants are a net boon to the United States.
The Republicans carried out a coordinated strategic campaign with consistent messaging for almost a decade around these ideas all of which were really about suppressing votes.
The end result? Despite facing long-demographic odds, they won at every level in the 2016 elections.
Strategic vision drives success in politics. It is time for Democrats to put aside the fun checkers and start playing games of strategic chess.
How Democrats Can Win Going Forward
Democrats have massive advantages that were not changed by the 2016 election.
GOP voters are getting older and Democratic voters are getting younger, less and less young people identify with the GOP agenda. The gap between the GOP issue agenda and young and young adult voters will continue to increase. In addition, white people (the core of GOP election victories) are becoming the minority in the United States.
One critical area where the Democratic party has to get back on their game is unions, Democrats cannot win in middle-America without strong union support. Way too many union members voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Way too many union voters sat out when it appeared that the Clinton campaign didn’t even have the time to visit and listen to their concerns.
But what I would really suggest is starting to try to make inroads into the traditional Republican base in the same way the GOP has been depressing the Democratic base over the last decade.
I would start to create spaces where traditional conservatives and fiscal conservatives can feel more comfortable under the Democratic Tent than the increasingly fascist and racist GOP tent.
I would suggest starting to make real outreach to communities of faith who are increasingly uncomfortable with the far-right monopoly on speaking for Christianity.
I would suggest aligning with social libertarians.
I would start to think of new ideas for suppressing GOP voting power. It might be time to start engaging in the same kinds of dirty, but legal trickery, that has turned electoral politics red throughout the middle of the United States.