Democrats spent Wednesday picking through the rubble, trying to understand how yet another of their congressional candidates had lost to a Republican.
This time it was Jon Ossoff, who lost by four points to Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th District. Ossoff had lots more money than his opponent and didn’t have to defend President Donald Trump.
But the real explanation of the Democrats’ latest setback could be found several hundred miles to the north, where Senate Democrats spent Monday complaining about the coming vote on a GOP health care bill.
“They’re ashamed of their bill,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer claimed.
To which millions of Americans might respond: Where’s your bill, Senator?
The problems with the Affordable Care Act are widespread and widely known, after all. For months, Democrats have insisted those problems can be fixed by increasing insurance company subsidies, perhaps, or by making it easier for states to expand Medicaid.
Instead of spending time drafting such a bill, though, the party decided to engage in largely symbolic protests.
It was a bad idea on practical and political grounds. By all accounts, several moderate Republican senators remain iffy on their party’s secret repeal-and-replace bill. Why didn’t Democrats spend less time on the floor and more time writing an alternative that could attract those GOP votes?
More fundamentally, the politics are bad. Democrats will never win as long as they remain the Party of No.
That seems harsh and unfair. Republicans were the Party of No for most of President Barack Obama’s term, and they recaptured the Congress and the White House as a result. Sounds like a pretty good model.
But blind opposition is the GOP’s brand. Democrats, on the other hand, are the party of government, the party that wants to use government to make lives better.
Instead of spending their time in the minority coming up with new ways to do that, Democrats seem content with mere resistance. That seems like a path to four-point losses everywhere.
Democrats don’t lack a message. They lack an agenda: a realistic, coherent blueprint for repairing the social safety net, creating 21st-century jobs, keeping taxes low and fair and protecting Americans’ safety in the U.S. and overseas.
President Donald Trump lacks such a blueprint, of course. But his popularity has plummeted because of it. He’s far more unpopular today than any modern president at a similar point in office.
Some Democrats are counting on that unpopularity to win back the House in 2018 and perhaps the Senate. But the Georgia results suggest Trump may be a non-factor in those midterm elections — Handel kept herself at arm’s length from the president, and Ossoff soft-pedaled criticism of the White House.
Voters seem willing and able to judge House and Senate candidates differently than they do Trump.
And in 2018, they’ll want congressional candidates to clearly outline goals and policy options, not rehash old arguments and talking points.
The task will be difficult, but not impossible. Moderate Republicans and Democrats in Kansas were explicit in 2016: We’ll repeal Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts, fully fund schools and repair the damage from years of deficits, they promised. They won effective control of the Kansas Legislature as a result.
National Democrats should study that model. Otherwise, they’re in for more rainy nights in Georgia — and everywhere else.