After GA-6: Where Next for the Resistance?

Nursing a very bad special election hangover after doing way too many shots of Ossoff Reserve (a 30-year old blend that didn’t go down well at all), Democrats convened a reunion of the circular firing squad Wednesday. Party establishment types moved quickly to assure the masses that it’s all okay, under control, nothing to see here. A D-triple-C memo with subject line “The House is in Play – Let’s March into ‘18 Together” sought gamely to make the case for optimism, insisting that GA-6 notwithstanding, “the momentum is real.” The memo offered up this visual capturing the party’s impressive yet deflating close-but-no-cigar festival in special elections this year:

DCCC memo graphic

Dozens of races are more competitive than these, the DCCC memo argues, and “we will take the many lessons learned from Georgia’s 6th District and apply them to the battlefield.” Lesson numero uno, apparently, is to avoid candidates like Ossoff, at least to judge by this passage describing everything that Ossoff was not:

“We need top-tier candidates to fill the remaining holes in our map. Let’s look outside of the traditional mold to keep recruiting local leaders, veterans, business owners, women, job-creators, and health professionals. Let’s take the time to find people who fit their districts, have compelling stories, and work hard to earn support from voters.”

For some perspective beyond the party establishment, I commend to Pithsters two takes on Tuesday’s latest Dem disappointment from reliable liberals with markedly diverging perspectives.

In one corner is TPM‘s venerable Josh Marshall, who writes that over-performance by Democrats in this year’s special elections signals that Democrats are positioned to take the House next year. “By any objective measure,” Marshall talks himself into believing, “these races show a Democratic party resurgent and a GOP on the ropes.” As a result, the biggest risk the Democrats face is self-immolation:

“What Democrats need to resist at all costs is the temperamental inclination to fall into spasms of self-loathing over this defeat – specifically, the idea that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the party because of this loss.”

In the other corner is The Nation‘s D.D. Guttenplan, who who says he’s not sorry Ossoff lost because a win would have been a victory over the left, not of the left. Guttenplan assails the “Panera Bread strategy” that dominates party establishment thinking — a focus on suburban voters in swing districts (eating soup in breadbowls?) instead of expansion of the party’s base.The result is a candidate like Ossoff spewing centrist pablum:

Those messages weren’t aimed at Georgia voters; they were aimed at funders, like the supposed pragmatists at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee who stiffed James Thompson in Kansas and spent a paltry $340,000 on Rob Quist’s race in Montana, but lavished millions on Ossoff’s equally doomed campaign.

In Guttenplan’s view, the Ossoff loss is nothing more than another bit of evidence that “simply being against Donald Trump isn’t enough.”

So which is it? Nothing fundamentally wrong with the party? Or everything fundamentally wrong with the party? The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle, but for my money it resides closer to the ‘everything’ side. There has been no significant disruption of the Democratic party’s leadership or strategy since November, and Republicans are finding they can run against that leadership and strategy head on and notch win after win. With all due respect to Josh Marshall, whose savvy political commentary is always worth a listen, Democrats are still playing slow-pitch softball with an aging lineup in a major league ball park. Does anyone actually think that Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer delivering geriatric outrage at staged press conferences are going to lead the party back into power? Seriously?

A version of this post appears at the Nashville Scene.

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