Democrats running for office in the country’s center have a message for their party’s leadership. “You’re not helping with all the Russia talk” is what Democrats in battleground states are telling the Democratic National Committee.
“The DNC is doing a good job of winning New York and California,” David Betras, a county Democratic county party chair in Ohio, told Buzzfeed. “I’m not saying it’s not important — of course it’s important — but do they honestly think that people that were just laid off another shift at the car plant in my home county give a shit about Russia when they don’t have a frickin’ job?”
“I haven’t seen a single piece of data that says voters want Democrats to relitigate 2016,” another strategist said. “The only ones who want to do this are Democratic activists who are already voting Democratic.”
Farmers and workers who voted for Donald Trump are unlikely to be lured back to the Democrats by Russia collusion conspiracy theories, but a core problem is that Democrats do not seem to have found an issue that does resonate with swing voters. The post-Parkland push for gun control and opposition to the tax reform bill seem to have fallen flat. President Trump’s plans for tariffs may provide an opening for the Democratic opposition, but traditional liberal protectionism makes challenging the president on this issue more difficult.
Although Democrats have started to experience some success in special congressional elections, the issue of Russian collusion has been conspicuously absent. In Alabama, Doug Jones’ victory hinged on Roy Moore’s ethical problems, but Jones still distanced himself from the national party. In Pennsylvania, Conor Lamb succeeded when he ran as a moderate who would oppose Nancy Pelosi.
In spite of the success of moderate Democrats, the DNC doubled down on the Russia strategy last week with a lawsuit seeking to overturn the results of the 2016 election. A Democrat strategist in the Midwest told Buzzfeed that the suit was “politically unhelpful.” A spokesman for Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), whose seat is considered a tossup, called the lawsuit “a silly distraction.”
Democrats are committing the same error that Republicans made in the Obama era. In concentrating their efforts in attacks on the president, Democrats are making an assumption that everyone dislikes Donald Trump as much as they do. Similarly blistering attacks on Barack Obama motivated the Republican base, but failed to rally enough support to prevent his reelection.
The Russia line of attack on Republicans is weak for several reasons. The most obvious problem is that it is unproven. At this stage, it seems less and less likely that President Trump will be implicated in an illegal conspiracy to fraudulently affect the election. Collusion conspiracy theories also don’t affect voters personally. President Trump’s tariffs have the potential to kill American jobs and raise prices for American consumers, but Russian collusion is not an issue that impacts American wallets directly. Finally, like many of the Republican charges against Barack Obama, Russian collusion is an abstraction. Voters tend to care more about concrete issues such as taxes and unemployment. Voters are more likely to be more interested in whether Trumponomics will cost them their jobs than in refighting a two-year-old election.
Given President Trump’s low approval rating and a Democrat advantage in the generic congressional ballots that reaches double-digits in some polls, the lack of a positive Democratic agenda won’t save Republicans from losing seats this November, but it might blunt the impact and change a blue tsunami into a smaller wave. The situation could mirror the Obama-era Republicans who won the House in 2010, but had to wait another two election cycles to finally win control of the Senate.
“I wouldn’t have our candidates spending the fall talking about Russia or the suit or anything like that,” said David Pepper, chair of the Ohio Democratic Party. “They should be focused on health care, education, student debt. We shouldn’t divert the message from those topics to talk about Russia.”
The question is whether Democratic candidates will able talk about the topics voters care about while the DNC is making sure that Russian collusion holds the center stage.
Originally published on The Resurgent