Heading For The Cliff: Democratic Operatives Deliver Brutal Assessment of Party’s 2018 Hopes

Posted: Sep 13, 2017 4:30 PM

Democrats may be hoping to gain a midterm wave. They may be hoping even more to boot Donald J. Trump from the White House in 2020. The president’s response to the Charlottesville violence, the rolling back of the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals, Russian collusion hysteria, the slow pace of enacting his agenda—all of these things have Democrats grinning, expect that they shouldn’t. The party’s own operatives and data crunchers have run through the numbers based on focus groups, and Democrats are still heading for the electoral ditch. They still have yet to mount an effective attack against the Trump White House. The ones they’ve fired off aren’t working. The Democratic agenda is falling flat with voters outside of their base.

You bring up college-free tuition, something Democrats think is popular, registers poorly with voters, who feel “free” is a cheap selling trick if not an outright lie. They’re right about that. Even single-payer is on shaky ground, with voters being "suspicious" of the policy's actual benefits. 

In all, while Trump’s approval ratings might be in the low 40s by the time the 2018 midterms hit, it’s appallingly naïve for the Left to think a blue wave is coming based on that factor alone. Right now, as one media operative noted, “If that’s the attitude that’s driving the Democratic Party, we’re going to drive right into the ocean.” For some memos to candidates, firms are saying they should drop free college altogether, focusing on making it more affordable, reducing the debt, and push job training. So, even some are suggesting the party’s agenda is just too bi-coastal, too elite, too out-of-touch, which pretty much represents the issues plaguing the Democratic Party (via Politico) [emphasis mine]:

Democrats tried attacking Donald Trump as unfit for the presidency. They’ve made the case that he’s ineffective, pointing to his failure to sign a single major piece of legislation into law after eight months in the job. They’ve argued that Trump is using the presidency to enrich himself and that his campaign was in cahoots with Russia.

None of it is working.

Data from a range of focus groups and internal polls in swing states paint a difficult picture for the Democratic Party heading into the 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential election. It suggests that Democrats are naive if they believe Trump’s historically low approval numbers mean a landslide is coming. The party is defending 10 Senate seats in states that Trump won and needs to flip 24 House seats to take control of that chamber.

The research, conducted by private firms and for Democratic campaign arms, is rarely made public but was described to POLITICO in interviews with a dozen top operatives who’ve been analyzing the results coming in.


Worse news, they worry: Many of the ideas party leaders have latched onto in an attempt to appeal to their lost voters — free college tuition, raising the minimum wage to $15, even Medicare for all — test poorly among voters outside the base. The people in these polls and focus groups tend to see those proposals as empty promises, at best.

Pollsters are shocked by how many voters describe themselves as “exhausted” by the constant chaos surrounding Trump, and they find that there’s strong support for a Congress that provides a check on him rather than voting for his agenda most of the time. But he is still viewed as an outsider shaking up the system, which people in the various surveys say they like, and which Democrats don’t stack up well against.

In focus groups, most participants say they’re still impressed with Trump’s business background and tend to give him credit for the improving economy. The window is closing, but they’re still inclined to give him a chance to succeed.

More than that, no single Democratic attack on the president is sticking — not on his temperament, his lack of accomplishments or the deals he’s touted that have turned out to be less than advertised, like the president’s claim that he would keep Carrier from shutting down its Indianapolis plant and moving production to Mexico.

Voters are also generally unimpressed by claims that Trump exaggerates or lies, and they don’t see the ongoing Russia investigation adding up to much.


Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Gerstein Bocian Agne Strategies conducted online polling of 1,000 Democrats and 1,000 swing voters across 52 swing districts for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Their advice to candidates afterward: Drop the talk of free college. Instead, the firms urged Democrats to emphasize making college more affordable and reducing debt, as well as job skills training, according to an internal DCCC memo.


On immigration and trade, voters remain largely aligned with Trump. Data show that voters believe that the economy is moving in the right direction and resent Democrats attacking its progress.

Democrats will never be a national party unless they can win back the million of Obama voters who flipped for Trump—the white working class bloc that has drifted to the Republicans. The urban professional elites who dominate the party want nothing to do with them. And that feeling with white working class voters concerning Democrats appears to be mutual. If they want to retake Congress, the White House, and a slew of state legislative seats, they have to do this. They’re an increasingly bi-coastal and urban party. That makes it harder to win nationally. As David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report wrote in August, the Democrats seem to be charging head long into their own geographic wall. The costs of which:

Even if Democrats were to win every single 2018 House and Senate race for seats representing places that Hillary Clinton won or that Trump won by less than 3 percentage points — a pretty good midterm by historical standards — they could still fall short of the House majority and lose five Senate seats.

Even in the Senate, Real Clear Politics’ Sean Trende noted that if Trump is able to get into the 40s, the GOP still picks up seats. In June, the left-leaning Third Way think tank delivered the first punch to the gut:

The most important takeaway is that there is no one kind of voter or district that can deliver the House for Democrats in 2018,” said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, the vice president for social policy and politics at Third Way. “There’s been a lot of focus on suburban districts. There’s no doubt that those are important, but there are not enough of them to win the House.”

Hatalsky, who co-authored the report with Ryan Pougiales, emphasized that Democrats still would not win the House even if they could get every single 2016 Clinton voter who backed a Republican House candidate to turn out again in 2018 and cross over.

“You can’t get to a House majority without winning over Trump voters,” she said.

Democrats have a crappy agenda, no leader, no message, and they’re struggling to raise money. And now with Catholic bashing, they could be on their way to lose the Rust Belt again.  

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