Total Disaster: A Guide to How Bad the Democratic Party Is Right Now

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Aug 15, 2017 1:00 PM
Total Disaster: A Guide to How Bad the Democratic Party Is Right Now

For years, the media and the Democrats made the claim that the GOP is in a state of civil war. The Tea Party wing vs. the establishment is going to eat the party alive etc., well, that turned out to be overblown. Yes, those divisions remain, at times—they’ve led to nasty policy fights. But in the end—the GOP has been able to win back Congress and the presidency. They’ve dominated the state and local power bases as well. In all, 69/99 state legislatures are under GOP control, as are two-thirds of all the governorships. Along, with the presidency and Congress, the Republican Party is the dominant political force in the country.

For the Democrats, they’re a bi-coastal party. Regional and withdrawn to their urban strongholds, the party has to decide what to do. There is one school of thought says win back Trump voters, millions of whom had voted for Barack Obama in 2012. The other way is to maximize on the diverse coalition of the party (i.e. nonwhite voters). As you could probably guess, it’s the position taken by the respective progressive and establishment wings of the Democratic Party. You can’t win back Congress with just the cities. To make that effort easier, it’s best to win back state legislatures, which ink the congressional maps. That requires retaking parts of rural America, which the progressive wing is not taking too kindly too. Right now, the Democratic Party seems to be inching closer to all-out civil war. Local skirmishes have already erupted in California, which could spill out onto the national stage.

A Brewing Civil War

In the Golden State, the progressive wing of the party is irate that California Democrats shelved a $400 billion state-based single-payer initiative. Death threats were hurled at state lawmakers for tabling the measure, which met a legislative death because it had no funding mechanisms within the bill.  Also, the leadership election to lead the state’s Democratic Party has led to a contested election, where the establishment figure won, but the Bernie Sanders supporting insurgent has failed to concede. Politico noted the first vestiges of this battle back in July:

Long-standing tensions between the Democratic Party’s moderate and liberal wings have ignited in California, where progressive activists are redirecting their anger over Donald Trump and congressional Republicans toward Democratic leaders at home.

Stoked by a contested race for state Democratic Party chair and the failure of a single-payer health care bill, activists are staging protests at the capitol. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon reported receiving death threats after shelving the health care legislation late last month, and security was tightened at the statehouse after activists disrupted a floor session last week.

The rancor, a spillover from the contentious Democratic presidential primary last year, is aggravating divisions in a state regarded nationally as a lodestar for the liberal cause. Establishment Democrats fear the rhetoric and appetite for new spending could go too far, jeopardizing the party’s across-the-board dominance of state politics.

[…]

…progressives who have long agitated for more spending on social services and for stricter environmental and campaign finance rules believed that they might seize the post-Trump moment for other causes, too. Despite victories on a range of issues here in recent years, liberal activists have fallen short in other areas, unsettling progressives across the country who view California as a state in which they should be racking up wins.

Progressives this year have continued to press Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration, unsuccessfully, for a ban on hydraulic fracturing. Lawmakers proposed a “debt-free” college plan, only to settle for more modest measures to reduce the cost of higher education. And many progressives aligned with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders bemoaned the narrow election of an establishment favorite, Eric Bauman, over their preferred candidate in the race for state Democratic Party chair.

Most recently, when Rendon announced that he would not allow a single-payer health care bill to advance through California’s lower house, tempers boiled over.

Now, as we head into the middle of August, those feelings have not tempered, with many worried that this fight will leech into the national scene. For starters, there are some rather ironic statements made by Chairman Bauman against, Kimberley Ellis, the Sanders-supporting challenger mentioned, like saying she can’t accept that she lost the election. It seems even within their own camp, progressives cannot get through their heads that they might lose an election or two (or thirty) (via NYT):

…California Democrats have emerged as something else: a cautionary tale for a national party debating how to rebuild and seize back power. Even at a time of overall success, state Democrats are torn by a bitter fight for the party leadership, revealing the kind of divisions — between insiders and outsiders, liberals and moderates — that unsettled the national party last year and could threaten its success in coming years.

“What we are seeing in California is similar to what we are seeing on the national level,” said Betty T. Yee, the Democratic state controller. “If we don’t do our work to really heal our divide, we are going to miss our chance to motivate Democrats.”

The fight pits Eric C. Bauman, a longtime party leader, against Kimberly Ellis, a Bay Area activist. Mr. Bauman won the election by just over 60 votes out of 3,000 cast at the party convention in May, but Ms. Ellis has refused to concede, claiming voting improprieties, like permitting ineligible people to vote for Mr. Bauman.

The party is expected to issue a final ruling on Ms. Ellis’s allegations by Aug. 20; in an interview, she said she would go to court if the party ruled against her. This has left Mr. Bauman, who encountered a barrage of shouts of “not my chairman” when he delivered his victory speech, struggling to put behind him a contest that has been the subject of recounts even as he seeks to position Democrats for a challenging congressional election in 2018.

 “The truth of the matter is, Kimberly Ellis cannot accept that she lost the election,” Mr. Bauman said. “She’s willing to allow the party to be torn asunder in an effort to prove that she really did win. My attitude about this is, I was elected chair under the rules. I have attempted to be the most open and transparent chair this party has ever seen.”

[…]

For many Democrats, what is particularly worrying is the extent to which the lingering battle illustrates the bitterness between supporters of Mr. Sanders and those of Mrs. Clinton. The California Democratic Party has seen a surge of active members since Election Day, not only in response to Mr. Trump and his policies, but also because of Mr. Sanders’s success in stirring enthusiasm.

The Times added that things could get more volatile when Gov. Jerry Brown steps down in 2018; Brown is considered a “stabilizing” force in the state’s party.

The Collapse of Liberal Small Donors

On top of finding a direction on the political compass concerning where the party should go to win again, we have a money issue. The Democratic Party’s fundraising issues are quite dire. What the hell happened? Well, for starters, Barack Obama is gone and he created a massive small donor army that raked in hundreds of millions of dollars. Sen. Bernie Sanders amassed legions of small donors as well, so did Donald Trump. Well, shocker—it seems those dollars flow in when people think they’re part of something bigger than themselves, to quote the Politico piece, and all three men articulated that effectively. Also, the fact that the Democratic Party has no leader and no direction could also be impacting the marketing problem:

Over the first six months of 2017, the Republican National Committee pulled in $75 million—nearly twice as much money as the Democratic National Committee, which raised $38 million. The predicament isn’t simply that there is a funding gap between the parties; it’s what kind of money they attract. Republicans have quietly taken a decisive edge over Democrats when it comes to small-dollar fundraising.

During that same six-month time span, the RNC raised $33 million in small contributions—money from people who donate $200 or less over an election cycle—while that same class of donors gave the DNC just $21 million.

[…]

In 2016, his campaign raised more than $281 million from grass-roots donors—an amount surpassed only by President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, which pulled in $329 million from small donations. But whereas donors who gave $200 or less comprised roughly 30 percent of the overall amount raised for Obama’s campaigns, small donors provided more than 53 percent of Trump’s campaign money, compared with just 21 percent for Hillary Clinton. Trump’s success here is even more impressive than it might seem at first glance: He didn’t start actively fundraising from grass-roots supporters until June 2016, giving him just five months to establish a small-dollar fundraising machine that went toe-to-toe with those that Obama, Clinton, and Sanders each took at least a year to build.

Most small-dollar contributions for political campaigns come from online fundraising, with money donated in response to fundraising emails making up a near-majority of those totals. On Sanders’ campaign, nearly half of the $218 million we raised online came directly from fundraising emails.

[…]

It’s a simple principle, one that Democratic candidates from Bernie to Elizabeth Warren to Obama understood, but which the institutional Democratic Party now seems incapable of grasping: People are motivated to act when they feel like part of something larger than themselves—and when they understand that their participation in that larger something makes a real difference. The Democratic Party’s woes are basic symptoms of the failure to understand that immutable reality.

You Suck... No—You Suck­

Circling back to the Californian Democratic Party’s civil war setting off the whole show, there are rumblings of that outside of the state, with the Sanders wing ripping the Democratic National Committee. Buzzfeed wrote about former Ohio State Sen. Nina Turner torching the DNC for their “dictatorial” antics:

Dictatorial.” “Arrogant.” “Pompous.” “Superficial.” “Tone-deaf.” “Tone-dead.” “Out of line.” “Insulting” — “absolutely insulting.”

These are the words that Nina Turner, president of the group founded by Bernie Sanders to further his "political revolution," used in an interview to describe the Democratic National Committee. The grievances converge around a recent trip to deliver petitions to the party’s headquarters in Washington, where Turner and other progressives were greeted by barricades, security guards, and an offering of donuts and water, an empty gesture indicative, as she saw it, of an institution that isn't “smart enough, humble enough, to say, 'let’s take a step back and really listen to the people,'" that instead is far too willing to “disregard people,” to “dismiss,” “belittle,” and “shun,” to “push them to the side” — all of which has left Turner with the view, as she puts it, that "the establishment side of the Democratic Party have shown themselves to be dictators" who "want to dictate the terms of unity."

There Is No Bench, Let Alone Benchwarmers

The Obama presidency witnesses, in some areas, the total collapse of the Democratic Party at the state level. There are 1,000 fewer Democrats in office than there were in 2008-2009, when Democrats had a solid standing across the country. This happened because they did have conservative Democrats who were able to win in these rural areas. That’s been washed away, and the Left still doesn’t have a good enough farm system to find quality candidates who can win in these regions.

On Monday, MSNBC had The Washington Post’s Dan Balz, who wrote about the Democratic Party’s hallowing out after the 2014 midterms. He noted how there is no bench in a lot of states where Democrats need to focus to rebuild their brand. On top of that, he noted there’s no message.


The situation became so bad that Hillary Clinton, for a hot second, promised to rebuild some of the decrepit infrastructure in these areas—and it’s not just a southern problem, which is often said by progressives to help them sleep at night.

White working class voters are the demographic Democrats should focus on to mount a comeback, but there are no candidates. Yes, we’ve seen the stories about the people lining up to run in 2018, but if all they can do is yell and say bad things about Trump—Democrats might as well save their money. Also, the message from Democrats in urban areas has not gone unnoticed with these rural voters, which partially buoyed Trump’s campaign. They’re tired of being mocked, denigrated, and ignored by the beltway elites. On issues such as community-police relations and the Second Amendment, there are rural/urban divides that have devolved into nasty exchanges thanks to the Left’s embrace of identity politics and political correctness. Law enforcement is one of the few jobs left where someone with no college degree can get a good paying job with benefits. Yet, recently the Left views police officers as racist murderers. The message is the same to rural America: classism is acceptable, especially when you’re talking about the country bumpkins.

This isn’t permanent. Democrats could change their tune and win these people back. So far, they’ve picked what they think is a decent crop of moderate Democrats in an attempt to rebrand the party in the heartland: Jason Kander, Tom Perriello, and Jon Ossoff. All three ran in Missouri, Virginia, and Georgia, respectively as middle of the road-ish Democrats, not espousing the hardcore left wing agendas from the San Francisco Bay-area. The problem is that they all lost their races, which has emboldened the progressive wing’s desire to keep shunning white voters and bolster their strength with nonwhites, who don’t vote frequently. Moreover, it’s financially well-off white liberals who are animated to protest Trump, not nonwhite voters. You can see how this debate alone could cause consternation about finding a good slate of candidates.


On the state level side, Democrats’ party infrastructure in these areas has eroded to almost nothing. Democrats that are in state-elected office don’t want to sacrifice their seat for a chance to suffer a humiliating defeat or more headaches dealing with Washington politics. Just look at Texas. Democrats don’t even have a single candidate to challenge incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

The states are where the talent pools are created and curated. The Democratic talent pool is running low due to lack of control in state legislatures and other statewide offices (i.e. governors, secretaries of state, etc.).


Another obstacle is these litmus tests that are being considered by Democrats, especially on health care and abortion. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has said there will be no such test for candidates, which infuriated the progressives. Now, they’re saying they won’t work with Democrats for Life. On health care, the far Left is playing the long game, wanting to enact it, while also pushing Democrats to use it as yet another litmus test for future candidates. Yeah, this is a lot of drama. Let’s say you are a Democrat, would you want to jump into this cesspool? The Daily Beast’s Sam Stein warned on Morning Joe Tuesday that no inroads would be made by Democrats (Not necessarily a bad thing) in 2018 if these squabbles continue (via NTK Network):


They are locked in this perpetual internal war among themselves between – and this is an easy way to look at it, but probably not the fair way to look at it – the Sanders wing and Clinton wing,” Stein explained.

Stein cited Democrats fighting over a single payer health care system and whether the party should support candidates who are pro-life as examples of this rift existing.

“These are big, major issues that the party is still grappling with,” Stein concluded. “So long as they’re turned against themselves, I find it difficult to figure out how they can actually make the major inroads they need to do in the 2018 elections.”


So, there are some of the main issues showing how bad Democrats are heading into the 2018 midterms. They have no money, no leader, no message, no solid candidates, and they think nutty left wing positions on abortion and health care will create that crop. Well, some of them do. In the meantime, Republicans shouldn’t get complacent either. They have made promises—cough, Obamacare repeal, cough—that we’re still waiting to see delivered on the Hill.