The Democrats are having a major branding problem. Ever since they were blindsided by Donald Trump and lost the White House, they’ve been flapping around violently like a freshly caught fish on the dock, trying to figure out who’s to blame for their near-terminal state.
Now, the party is at an ideological crossroads, and like many others across the country, I’m not so sure I’m buying what they’re selling anymore. The only message I can actually detect is rage. I really don’t think their platform of “resist everything” will attract many people for any length of time. It’s a little broad.
Plus, it requires too much energy to resist everything. One or two things? Maybe. Everything? Doubtful.
If the last presidential election taught us anything, it’s that the Democrats of tomorrow will look nothing like they do today. There’s a deep fissure between the leadership of the party and its constituents.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton was the wrong candidate at the wrong time. That’s no secret anymore. The younger, millennial voters just couldn’t relate to her. Yet, somehow, they could easily connect with 74-year-old Bernie Sanders, mostly because he was a socialist and told them everything would be free.
Oddly enough, many polls at the time showed Sanders defeating Trump in the general election. I just love the irony here. The Democrats might have had a better chance of beating Trump if they put up a socialist to challenge him. That should have screamed to the Democrats that something is terribly wrong with their brand, their strategy and their leadership.
“When you lose to somebody who is only at 40 percent popularity, you look in the mirror and say, ‘What did we do wrong?’ And the No. 1 thing we did wrong was that voters didn’t know what we stood for. They knew we didn’t like Trump, but they didn’t know what we stood for,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday before party leaders Monday unveiled a new economic plan known as “A Better Deal.”
Our two-party system had proved pretty durable until recently. Both political brands performed as intended. If you were a Democrat, you believed in certain core values about government’s role in making people more equal, and if you were a Republican, you generally believed in smaller government.
Now, the internet and social media have given every single person on the planet a voice. A loud and very angry one, in many cases. And because of that, party unity is breaking down. The older, Democratic Party leaders have lost control of the message and can no longer dictate what they want their constituents to see and hear.
So now, the new Democrats have become the party of few boundaries and parameters. They’ve become the say-and-do-anything Democrats. The resist-everything Democrats. Angry fringe groups have assumed the helm. Environmentalists, pro-choice marchers, gays and lesbians, Black Lives Matter, alt-left ideologues, socialists, globalists, and immigration reformers. In essence, the Democrats are in a social-media-driven, ideological free-for-all without any unifying face to the party.
In the event you’re one of the remaining centrists in the Democratic Party, you’ve got to be feeling somewhat lost and abandoned these days. Now, in full-fledged panic mode, the standard flag bearers for the party, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Schumer, have had an epiphany and are now preaching a return to the ideological center after eight years of Barack Obama’s divisive identity politics, which they both fully supported at the time. They’ve concluded that it would be prudent to put the focus back on the economy, job creation, raising the minimum wage, and health care.
But the problem is few in their party are listening anymore. Because the party has changed. It’s getting younger and more millennial. It’s becoming less baby boomer. Less philosophically centrist.
And most important, Democrats are becoming less tolerant of the party that has failed them in the past.
David Levin is a managing partner with Nexus Capital Markets in New York.