How the Democrats can win back the House and keep the Senate -- in 6 steps
Political analysts often make the mistake of forecasting future elections based on the current political environment, which is kind of like a meteorologist predicting rain in 10 months because it’s cloudy now. To wit: In the immediate wake of the government shutdown in October, serious people started talking seriously about the possibility of Democrats taking over the House in 2014. But then the HealthCare.gov debacle hit and the polls shifted and all of a sudden those projections seemed myopic.
The sensible takeaway from these dramatic polling shifts is not that people are bouncing from one party to another but rather that they are in despair that the entire system isn’t working. (Michael Mathes / AFP/Getty Images)
In their totally over-the-top obstructionism and disorganization, Republicans have done Democrats an enormous favor: Democrats don’t need to make complicated arguments about what government should and shouldn’t do; they just need to argue that government should do anything -- like paving our roads, paying our bills on time and addressing basic middle-class pocketbook issues. (Democratic New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, seen above, makes these suggestions.) It’s not ideological, it’s just doing the work that people expect government to do.
It’s a six-word pledge: “I promise to do my job.” (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
For the last several years, the United States has essentially had three political parties: progressive Democrats, moderate Democrats and extremely conservative Republicans. Even the Republicans who aren’t extremely conservative have to behave like extremists to avoid inflaming their base. By labeling them “extreme conservatives,” Democrats put them in the uncomfortable position of either accepting the “extreme” label or replying that they are not extremely conservative, thereby incurring the wrath of the tea party.
Additionally, with this three-party framing, Democrats in conservative districts can actually run against the president in places where he’s unpopular: “I’m more of a Reagan Democrat than an Obama Democrat; the difference between my opponent and me is that I want to reach across the divide and find solutions instead of trying to blow up the government.”
This loyal opposition approach can work on all kinds of specific issues, including the Affordable Care Act: “The left wants to keep Obamacare the way it is; the right wants to get rid of it altogether. I say let’s keep what’s working and fix what’s not.”
Above: Tea party firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
To make room in the center, President Obama needs to move to his left. He’s tried to be the so-called adult in the room, the sensible moderate voice. But most Americans still think he’s a liberal, and no matter how reasonable he may actually be, the tea party will still compare him to Hitler. So, better to be a little unreasonable. Use the bully pulpit to expand the range of debate, and in so doing give moderate Democrats something from which they can differentiate themselves. Don’t just call for raising the minimum wage to $10; call to raise it even higher so that moderate Democrats can say, “The president wants a $20 minimum wage, the Republicans want no minimum wage, I say split the difference and do $10.” And going to the left would also rally the president’s base, which he will need to donate money and time to the midterm elections. (Susan Walsh / Associated Press)
The president should also take a few positions that are impossible to argue with, for the simple reason that Republicans won’t be able to stop themselves from arguing. I call it the Puppy Punching Principle (or “PPP”). President Obama says, “I believe that we can all come together around the notion that we shouldn’t be punching puppy dogs.” At which point some tea partier will insist that punching puppies is his right as an American, it’s what the Founding Fathers intended, it’s a religious freedom issue, and it should be left to the states.
The president’s establishment of a commission to address on-campus sexual assault is actually a great example of a PPP issue. Nobody in his or her right mind could possibly oppose deterring sexual assault on campus, which is why whatever the commission comes up with, it should have some small, mostly symbolic element for the legislative branch to pass. Best-case scenario, Republicans vote for it unanimously. Worst-case scenario, they have a Todd Akin moment and the president addresses the issue through executive powers.
Similarly, demanding that an updated Voting Rights Act be passed and implemented in time for the 2014 election is another great PPP move. If the Republicans go along with it, great: the American people can vote without hassle. If the Republicans don’t go along with it, great: minority communities will be incensed like they were in 2012 and turn out in greater numbers in key Senate races, such as in Louisiana. (Susan Walsh / Associated Press)
Point out that since the Republicans took over the House, they’ve brought no infrastructure projects to speak of back to their districts (because, again, that would require doing stuff). Pledge that if elected, your job will be to create jobs. And again, you always do your job, unlike the Republicans in the House and Senate who refuse to.
Of course, none of these strategies will guarantee success, but all of them taken together can give the Democrats a fighting chance.
Break a leg. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)