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The floundering presidency of Donald Trump gives the Democratic Party a golden opportunity to take back a significant number of seats in Congress and State Legislatures, but as the recent special election ass-kicking in Georgia’s 6th District demonstrated, victory doesn’t happen on its own.

The Democratic Party is searching for an identity and a winning message, but what the party needs to do is acknowledge just how badly they’ve done in recent cycles. But who are we kidding? That would make way too much sense.

Here are ten tactics the Democrats must change to retake Congress in the 2018 midterm elections:

1. Progressives Should Adopt the Tactics Used by the Tea Party or Shut Up Already

In 2010, the Tea Party arose seemingly out of nowhere and effectively took control of the Republican establishment. Instead of asking permission, the Tea Party just kicked the door in and refused to leave. As the Tea Party grew and started taking out incumbents in primary elections, incumbents realized that because no Democrat was going to win their seat in a General Election, it was necessary to shift to the right to appease the Tea Party crowd.

Nearly a decade later, the Freedom Caucus in Congress carries the mantle for the Tea Party, and they have enough votes in their pocket to make or break a piece of legislation as they did in efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And oh yeah, they got Donald Trump elected President of the United States.

tea party

Laugh all you want, but this guy is currently fifth in the Presidential Line of Succession

The Tea Party didn’t ask for a seat at the table; they took it by force. For those who bemoan the current centrist wing of the Democratic Party, the only way to achieve viability and power is to knock off a couple of moderate Democrats in a primary election. It will absolutely get the attention of the rest of the party. The progressive wing of the party, or the Bernie Bros or whatever the cool kids are going by these days, need to stop asking for acceptance within the party and just take it. If progressives are not willing to be the cure, then they’re just another part of the problem.

2. Make Candidate Recruitment a Priority

Too often, the quality of a candidate is defined solely by how much money they can raise, which is a really stupid metric. One area where the Republican party excels is candidate recruitment and cultivation. By comparison, Democrats have a propensity for eating their young and maintaining the status quo to benefit specific individuals even though such tactics are toxic for the party itself.

The Democratic Party needs to change its focus and actively seek out candidates for Congress or State Legislatures well in advance to build solid campaigns and “build a bench” so there are always competent candidates in the pipeline.

Solid recruitment isn’t that hard. For example, here’s a suggestion. How about recruiting candidates who live in the fucking district they’re running in? A congressional district has about 700,000 people- are we really saying we can’t find a decent candidate among 700,000 people? Instead of running candidates who don’t live in the district (as in GA-06), why not just tattoo “Out of Touch” on their foreheads?

3. Have Like, You Know, An Actual Policy Agenda (And Don’t Apologize For It)

It seems as though the reason the Democrats are unwilling to embrace a more definite stance on many issues is that one person out there may not like it for some reason. Any edges are so carefully eliminated by consultants and experts, the level of support for the candidate may be a mile wide, but only an inch deep.

Voters want candidates to actually be for things and against things. They want a certain amount of swagger and bravado. They do not mind a candidate who colors outside the lines on occasion if the cause is just. Too often Democrats campaign like they are already governing; they feel the need to be the grown-up in the room at all times.

But who are we kidding? Responsibility? In a member of Congress? That’s so twentieth century. The people want a modern-day Aaron Burr, armed with a Twitter account instead of a dueling pistol. Such an approach may be intellectually dishonest, but you can’t govern if you don’t win.

aaron burr twitter

“I will not hesitate to pop 140 characters in your ass at dawn, Mr. Hamilton” #burn

4. Money Isn’t Everything

Yes, money is important in politics; there’s no denying it. But the amount of money a candidate can raise is often secondary to how the money is spent. A common problem for inexperienced candidates is a lack of understanding about how a campaign should spend their money, which is exacerbated by the flock of consultants and salespeople all looking for a piece of the pie. It can be overwhelming.

The focus needs to turn away from money and back to messaging. What are we going to tell the voters to bring them on board? How are we going to get that message out? In most state legislative districts, knocking on doors is still the most efficient way to beat big money.

5. Respect Your Candidates, Don’t Bail on Them

When it comes to candidate support, Democrats are often too late to the party and leave too soon. The party will cut a candidate loose at the first sign of trouble; by comparison, Republicans circle the wagons to support and protect their candidates through just about anything. It’s much easier to run a winning campaign when you don’t have to spend all of your time focusing on your party turning on you over minutiae.

The Democratic Party treat most of their candidates with very little respect, shoving them in a room and telling them to dial for dollars until their fingers bleed. I’ve seen it happen over and over again. The candidate starts to catch hell from longtime political supporters because they don’t understand how and why the DCCC is running the campaign in such a counterintuitive (translation: dumb ass) way, which leaves the candidate stuck in the middle and ultimately disgusted with the entire process. It makes zero sense.

spaceballs

Rare archival footage of the DCCC War Room circa 2016. (Source: Skroob Presidential Library)

If the Democratic Party wants the voters to respect their candidates on Election Day, the party must respect the candidates more along the way. It’s important on many levels.

6. Focus on Beating Opponents, Not Beating “Performance”

Coming close only matters in horseshoes and hand grenades. With very few exceptions, a narrow defeat is no substitute for a win. For some reason, the Democratic establishment likes to point to races they lose as a positive if they “beat performance,” which means they outperform the polling predictions. With all due respect, worrying about coming close as compared to winning is a loser’s mentality. If you didn’t win, you lost, so make winning the only acceptable outcome as a performance metric.

7. Fully Embrace Digital Messaging

The traditional method of messaging in political campaigns is direct mail, which are those glossy full-sized postcards most people throw away without reading. What you may not realize is how incredibly expensive direct mail is to design, produce and distribute. The time has come to embrace digital messaging with open arms.

With the wealth of data available, there is no reason why a campaign can’t leverage the lower costs and target people online. The Democrats should have a basement full of computer geeks working around the clock to simplify the process and implement it on a mass scale.

I mean, it worked for the Russians, I mean the Republicans, right?

8. Avoid Cookie-Cutter Campaign Messaging Like It’s The Goddamn Bubonic Plague Combined With Shingles

Every political candidate is pro-America, rainbows and apple pie; this is not a controversial platform. Too often the messaging in congressional and state legislative races is bland cookie-cutter content given to all of the candidates to use. Successful campaigns realize all politics are local and find a way to speak to those issues. Sometimes your plans to fix a pothole on a voter’s street are just as important as your fifty-three-step plan for achieving world peace.

In simple English, talk about shit people actually care about in a way they understand and don’t patronize them in the process.

9. Regain Confidence of Stakeholders

Democratic candidates seeking campaign contributions from traditional stakeholders like labor unions have taken on the appearance of Charlie Brown trying to kick a football; despite the best of intentions, it never works out well. In some State Legislatures, the Democrats are so far removed from a realistic majority that the stakeholders start donating to the Republicans in the hopes of minimizing the damage.

Elections are investments for these groups, and sooner or later investments must yield results. The best way to accomplish this goal is for the Democrats to demonstrate a willingness to do whatever it takes to start winning back seats.

10. Force Republicans to Take Position on Trump Early and Often

Maybe you haven’t heard, but President Trump isn’t the most popular guy in America these days. The Democrats are certifiably insane if they don’t find a way to link every single Republican candidate in America to Trump in the 2018 election cycle. “A vote for Joe Republican is a vote for Donald Trump” should be part of a winning message, even in areas where Trump may have won in 2016 but has steadily lost support since then.

A coordinated effort with popular incumbents is incredibly helpful to a campaign; similarly, forcing a candidate to acknowledge an unpopular incumbent can create massive discord and animosity in their own campaign. Donald Trump is a hornet’s nest the Democrats need to hit again and again until the other side gets sufficiently stung.

trump

If you have to photoshop pictures of Republican candidates with this guy in swing districts, do it. You can’t let them have it both ways.

As previously mentioned, when the leader of your party is unpopular with independents and undecided voters, you would be out of your mind not to stick it to every candidate up and down the ballot. It doesn’t matter if you’re running for Congress of Dog Catcher; you make it clear that a vote for the Republican candidate is only going to enable Donald Trump to do more damage.

The Democrats need to get these people on the record early and often and refuse to give them any wiggle room. In higher profile races, that could include following Republican candidates around with trackers, which are campaign staffers who record everything the candidate does. Defend your own political actions and beliefs is one thing, but defending the actions of someone else in an entirely different position who just happens to be in the same party as you are is nearly impossible. It may not be fair, but worrying about what is and isn’t fair is part of the reason the Democrats are in such dire straits.

The Democrats need to flip 14 or 15 seats in the 2018 midterm elections, and the path to success involves recruiting as many quality candidates as possible, enabling them to win rather than lose, actually talking about real issues and in some instances be prepared to salt the earth in order to win.

Author

A passionate communicator, advocate, and opinion maker with executive-level experience in law, public policy, and government. (Don't let the boyish good looks fool you.)

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