The Democrats Who Lost Have Some Ideas on How to Win

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People who just lost elections generally shouldn’t offer a lot of advice on how their party should win, in my opinion, particularly if that advice is not “do not what I did” but instead “do what I did, but it’ll work next time.”

Outgoing Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, who ran a campaign that tacked harder to the right than someone who just noticed a Cheesecake Factory at the next exit, used an interview on CNN to attack Democrats who support Medicare for All:

“We have not made enough of a connection ... that the people of my state understand culturally, we (Democrats) want to make sure you succeed,” he said.

“But when you talk ‘Medicare-for-all’ ...you start losing the people in my state,” Donnelly added. “When we start talking about, ‘Hey, we’re going to work together with the insurance companies to lower premiums,’ that’s what connects.”

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Yes, I’m sure voters will trust that you will in fact lower their insurance premiums when the Democrats’ signature health law produced a market where premiums increased every year even before Trump took office. I am sure that what will get voters running to the polls is only paying $400 a month instead of $600 a month. (There’s also, of course, just very little evidence for this idea that Medicare for All kills Democrats’ chances.)

Donnelly has an interest in promoting the idea that only heading to the center-right will work, since that’s what he did in his campaign. He supported the border wall, criticized the “radical left,” and said “socialized medicine” would pass “over [his] dead body.” Reader, it didn’t work.

Donnelly isn’t alone among his fallen centrist colleagues in voicing grave concern that Democrats might start doing good shit. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who soundly lost her re-election bid in November, trashed Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a CNN interview last week as a “bright and shiny object,” saying she didn’t know “what she’s done yet to generate that kind of enthusiasm.”

These sorts of comments just show how fully bought-in Donnelly and McCaskill are to a Democratic party entirely shaped by fear of how Republicans will paint them. Take this comment from McCaskill, from the same interview with CNN:

“But I hope [Ocasio-Cortez] also realizes that the parts of the country that are rejecting the Democratic Party, like a whole lot of white working class voters, need to hear about how their work is going to be respected, and the dignity of their jobs, and how we can really stick to issues that we can actually accomplish something on.”

And she concluded: “The rhetoric is cheap. Getting results is a lot harder.”

There’s nothing in Ocasio-Cortez’s platform, or the platforms of other lefty Democrats like Bernie Sanders, that is incompatible with respecting the dignity of working class’ people’s jobs. I don’t believe that she’s promised to introduce the Your Job Is Stupid and Sucks Act of 2019. Indeed, she supports a job guarantee, which some leftists argue is too tied to old-fashioned ideas about the “dignity of work.” It is almost like she is full of shit.

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McCaskill’s wing of the Democratic Party is utterly incapable of imagining how the poor and working class would respond to bold, universal programs to reduce poverty, because it’s never proposed them. It also only ever considers the white working class and not the whole working class; black voters support Medicare-for-All at much higher rates than whites, for example. (Curiously, Missouri—while the state has trended to the right in recent years—bucked the GOP’s position on both right to work and the minimum wage last year, winning a (gradual) hike to a $12 minimum wage on the same night that McCaskill lost her re-election bid.)

Really, how the hell does McCaskill—who ranked consistently among the wealthiest senators—know what poor Missouri voters, or California or Illinois or Florida voters, would think about a universal basic income or a jobs guarantee? Just because your state’s voters don’t respond well to We Will Work With Republicans (Who Just Tried to Kill the Law ) to Lower Your Premiums doesn’t mean they won’t respond well to Medicare for All. The alternative is to keep doing the same exact thing that just handed both Donnelly and McCaskill losses in the largest Democratic wave in a generation.

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More than anything, it shows that these two dinosaurs are part of a Democratic Party that needs to die. A Democratic Party that can’t see how universal healthcare and a jobs guarantee might appeal to the working class is one that must be left in 2018. Happy New Year to the outgoing senators; let’s hope we never hear from them again.

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About the author

Libby Watson

Splinter politics writer. libby.watson@splinternews.com