Democrats rolling out 2018 midterms message next week

Liz Goodwin
Senior National Affairs Reporter

WASHINGTON — Democrats will begin rolling out their message for the 2018 midterm elections next week, Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., the No. 4 House Democrat, told reporters Wednesday.

“I recognize that waiting for Trump to implode … will not work,” Crowley said. “What will work is Democrats having a message that appeals to the average American.”

Six months into Donald Trump’s presidency, the party has struggled to rally around a simple message, and most Americans say they don’t believe Democrats have one. A recent poll found that a majority of Americans think the party mainly stands for opposing Trump instead of for a particular agenda. Crowley told the Associated Press last week that the message was still “being worked on” and Democrats were having trouble simplifying it.

Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., the vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said Democrats have plenty of policies they stand for, but communicating them effectively is a challenge. She told reporters that Democrats have a tendency to get lost in the nuances.

“We’re not good at giving the headlines. We want to get into the weeds,” she said. “On these issues, we know that we’re fighting for what the majority of Americans want, we just haven’t convinced them of that because we’re too detail-oriented.”

Crowley said that Democrats would put the “meat on the bones” of the message in the coming weeks. “It’s going to be about legislation, it’s going to be about policy that people can really sink their teeth into and get behind,” Crowley said. He stressed that lawmakers could tailor the message to match their particular districts.

Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., at a news conference at the Capitol, Feb. 15, 2017. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A recent Washington Post poll showed that most Americans want Democrats to win seats in the 2018 midterms, but also revealed a lack of enthusiasm among Democratic voters compared to Republicans, even despite Trump’s record-low approval ratings. Republicans currently control 24 more seats in the House than Democrats, and structural factors — ranging from gerrymandering to the geographic distribution of the two parties’ voters — give Democrats an uphill climb to retaking the chamber.

Crowley and Sanchez both said Democrats are not overconfident about their chances in 2018, despite Trump’s unpopularity and stalled agenda.

“I think Democrats have a very guarded view towards what could happen in the future,” Sanchez said.

Many Democratic lawmakers have harnessed their constituents’ anger against Trump, appearing with them at rallies and protests aimed at the president and his policies around the country. But so far, the energy of the so-called resistance hasn’t coalesced into a coherent, positive message for the midterms.

Part of that is the Democrats’ resistance to simple slogans. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez told Yahoo News in February that the party’s message can’t fit on a bumper sticker as easily as the Republicans’ can.

“One of the challenges of the Democratic Party is that our message hasn’t been reduced to a bumper sticker,” he said. “We live in a bumper sticker world. Republicans? Lower taxes, less government. Easy bumper sticker. Democrats? We’re the party of the middle class, the party of opportunity, the party of inclusion. It’s often been difficult for people to distill it to a bumper sticker.”

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., told Yahoo News on Tuesday that that Democrats’ message is “much bigger” than opposing Trump, but that it shouldn’t be distilled into some monosyllabic slogan.

“The issues are not simple, so the message is not going not be simple,” said Harris, who was just elected last November but is viewed as a rising star and potential 2020 presidential contender among Senate Democrats.

“It’s going to be multi-tiered, but essentially it’s about telling the American public we see them,” Harris explained. “All Americans want to know that they are healthy, that their children and their parents are going to have access to health care and dignity. All Americans want to know they can get a job and keep a job. All Americans want to be able to retire with dignity.”