What’s wrong with the Democratic Party, and how do we fix it?
Two fun questions that nobody ever argues about! And who knows, maybe you don’t think we need to. Maybe you feel pretty good about the 43 seats Democrats have flipped in the elections that have been held since 2016. Maybe you’re confident in the seven-point lead Democrats hold in the generic House ballot. Maybe you’re buoyed by the surge in grassroots activism and first-time candidates, and believe the energy we’ve seen from the Women’s March to the March for Our lives will translate into the votes we need to take back Congress, and ultimately the White House.
Are you sure?
I was sure once, right before Democrats lost history’s most winnable election to history’s most unpopular candidate. Republicans now control the presidency, both Houses of Congress, and a record 66 state-legislative chambers and 33 governorships. This wasn’t just a 2016 problem, either: Democrats lost nearly 1,000 of those seats during the Obama years. Even today, the favorable rating of the Democratic Party stands at an all-time low of just 31 percent. One poll found that two-thirds of Americans believe Democrats are out of touch—including nearly half of Democrats themselves. Not great!
In 2012, the Republican National Committee responded to Mitt Romney’s defeat by conducting what became known as an “autopsy”—a 97-page report that was shockingly honest and at times even harsh in its descriptions of the party’s failings, and its hostility to immigrants and people of color. (Funny thing about that: Republicans ignored just about every conclusion and elected a racist clown as president.)
Democrats didn’t even attempt to do an autopsy in the wake of 2016, relegating debates about the party’s future to places like Twitter and cable news, where they have gone perfectly. On Pod Save America, we don’t talk about the party as much as we’d like because the President just keeps obstructing so much justice. But we need to. We need have an honest conversation about how Democrats got lost in the political wilderness, and how we find our way out. The party shouldn’t just hang its hopes on the current wave of anti-Trump sentiment. We have to understand our weaknesses and correct them so that we can build a lasting majority that helps us withstand future Donald Trumps.
One contribution from me will be a new podcast we’re launching this summer—a special series about the history and future of the Democratic Party. Over the last six months, I’ve interviewed dozens of the party’s critics and defenders, organizers and strategists, historians, data nerds, policy wonks, and politicians. I also conducted a couple of focus groups with Democratic voters in Michigan and Texas, because I’m Frank Luntz now. I’ll use all of these interviews to tell a story, documentary-style, about where the party has been and how it might grapple with a number of different challenges: the economy, foreign policy, race, immigration, sexism, the media, the campaigns we build, the candidates we choose, and the message we deliver.
I’ve tried my best to get a diverse array of views that span the left side of the political spectrum—Hillary folks, Bernie fans, Obama alums, and none of the above. I don’t want everyone to re-litigate the past, but to learn from it. And that includes me. I have obvious biases that stem from the politicians and policies I’ve supported. But after 2016, I’m pretty open to having most of my assumptions about politics challenged. I’m not trying to make this series some kind of a roadmap or strategy memo; I’m just hoping it can generate a conversation among Democrats that’s a bit more nuanced and productive than the kind you get in 280 characters or less.
On that note, I’d like to hear from you as well. Over the next few weeks, we’ll have a number you can call to leave a voicemail with profanity-laced tirades and personal insults and opinions that are clearly superior to other people’s opinions. If you have time, I’d also love for you to offer answers to the questions that will be at the heart of this series—answers that just may air in the podcast:
“What’s wrong with the Democratic Party and how do we fix it?”
Alright, let’s hear it! Then let’s build a better party.