Home National Politics Mo Elleithee: “Voters Frustrated With ‘The Establishment'”

Mo Elleithee: “Voters Frustrated With ‘The Establishment'”


Members of the Northern Virginia Democratic Business Council heard Mo Elleithee and Michael Gehrke give an analysis of the recent election at their monthly breakfast at the Fairview Marriott on Friday, 12 November. Mo, known to Virginia Democrats from the gubernatorial campaigns of  Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and now with Hilltop Public Solutions, described the voting on 2 November as a “change election.”  The top issue, he said, was obviously the bad economy, for which voters blamed first Wall Street, second former President Bush, and only third Obama—- but they did blame Obama and the Democrats for not doing enough to fix it. Democrats failed to explain what they and Obama were trying to do. According to Mo, the anti-establishment, anti-Washington sentiment is real; Americans are deeply frustrated with their government, which explains the rise of the Tea Party.  

“Going forward,” he said, the Democrats must focus on jobs and the middle, working classes. The party “lost its way,” especially in the suburbs and ex-urbs (which Obama had carried two years ago), and henceforth must “drown out the noise and concentrate on jobs and the economy.”  

On the other side, Mo foresees some “bloody Republican primaries” where “a battle for the soul of the Republican party” will be fought between the Republican establishment and economic extremists like Palin and de Mint.

Another point is that “candidates still matter.” Senator Reid of Nevada, for example, won by running a “pitch perfect” campaign. That is important since we are a 50-50 nation, and most of the top races were won by only 2 or 3 points one way or the other, with the candidate and the candidate’s campaign usually making the difference. Mo’s final conclusion: All it takes for Democrats to win in 2012 is to “re-connect with the swing voters.”

Michael Gehrke, who did research from an office in the Clinton White House and is now with Benenson Strategy Group, said the Democrats are actually in good shape for 2012. Virginia flipped from 2008 to 2010, but this is not the first time voters have done this; the state follows national trends.  Although independents slid from Democrats to Republicans in 2010, they really do not like Republicans either, and just voted Republican to get rid of Democrats. Turnout in Virginia was down, from 1.9 million for Obama in 2008 to 960,000 in 2010. Virginia Democrats this yeaar in general were down by seven points—- even Jim Moran fell that much. There were some exceptions, like Perriello.

In Mike’s opinion, people’s situations changed dramatically in the two years since Obama’s election, and Democrats must develop solutions for these times. Gerry Connolly, he said, delivered a good message that resonated in his District, by attacking his opponent, Fimian, as being “out of the mainstream.” Rick Boucher was defeated after serving 28 years in Congress by a man whose name, three weeks before the election, was unknown to seventy percent of the voters.  Mike thinks Boucher may well come back in 2012 because it will probably be a “different landscape” then, and a different electorate may show up at the polls.  Perriello, who ran a great campaign in a very Republican district, could even win next time if his baseline group goes up five to six points, as it was in 2008.

Hearing the take of experts was interesting, but I wonder just what exactly Mo and Mike had in mind when they talked about “re-connecting” with swing voters and/or the middle class, and just how they think Obama and the Democrats will do this re-connecting. I do agree that Democrats rather “lost their way,” but I do not think it was because of what they did, but that they did not do enough, or enough that was obviously effective which voters could see and understand. I also agree that Obama did not adequately explain what was going on, but my perception is that, even if the President had shown more political leadership from the beginning (especially with health care), the message would have been muddied and muted by all the concentrated malice of Congressional Republicans and their noise machine.

Looking back, it is clear to me that only an education and communication effort almost equivalent to that of the campaign itself would have been sufficient to offset the GOP’s deliberate obstructionism and propaganda after Obama’s inauguration. Thanks to Karl Rove’s political skills, and the boundless corporate money now available for promoting the agenda of Big Business, we live in a continuous campaign, one which leaves almost no time for governing after an election.  Can elections, therefore, really decide anything, can they really be what Mo called a “change election,” when the campaign for the next election begins maybe five minutes after the polls close on this one?

That raises the question, just what specific policies or solutions to our serious problems can be crafted today that will “re-connect” with the (populist) roots of the Democratic Party?  Mo listed certain “big issues,” like cutting Medicare, cap and trade, stimulus (too small?), cutting taxes, big debt, and so on. In my opinion, these are only issues because Republicans have designated them to be, and Big Business wants everything their way. Where are things like: serious regulation and restructuring of our out-of-control financial institutions? What about a real, in-the-trenches jobs program? Industrial policy? Energy policy (alternate/otherwise)? Unemployment compensation? Resolving the horrendous foreclosure problem and stabilizing the real estate market?  Infrastructure for the 21st century? Education? Scientific research? Climate change? Foreign wars?

Somehow, even Democratic consultants like Mo Elleithee and Michael Gehrke have accepted the Republican framing of the issues, even when they gave a purely Democratic take on the election. They both made good points, and their comments were much appreciated. I know time limitations prevented anything more in depth, but, personally, I suppose I secretly wanted a little more out-of-the-box thinking.

  • Teddy Goodson

    I was a little puzzled by how both Mo and Mike talked about reduced turnout at the same time they said the “swing voter” broke for Republicans by X number of points—- are they sure that it was the same universe of swing voters both times, or was the composition of the swing voters a little different in 2010 from what it was in 2008? After working on this year’s election, I tend to think that: 1) many of the so-called swing voters that voted in 2010 did not vote in 2008, and 2) that, of those who did, they were disappointed not by what the Democrats did, but that what they did was not enough soon enough. There was also that element of anger: why wasn’t more done to punish the greedy, cheating Wall Street banksters?

  • totallynext

    and the attendees was that the Democrats both Nationally and state / locally stink on messaging.

    We all get the high minded policy positions but we continue and continue to get caught up in the minutia and not the message.

    We had good policy and wimpy messaging.  Left BS go unchallenged with the Health care debate – let radicals define the message and win.  The indepedents didn’t swing to the Republicans – the independents and the youth stay home.

    So I would disagree with MO and Mike – after the fact polling is fine – but before the fact messaging is key – we again and I blame the white house and DNC – yes that’s you Kaine..   Quit trying to sell policy and sell why!

    Just that simple.  It should have been none stop ads – Yea I voted for the jobs act (not stimulus) because it gave YOU a tax cut!

    I am getting so tired of simple strategy and marketing failures by the Democrats.

  • Teddy Goodson

    by Mo, but, in my opinion, it was a genuflect to the new Conventional Wisdom in that I did not get any deeper meaning out of his comments…. what I am trying to say is that there seemed to be no back-up and no back-story to the observation. What I was looking for (since I think we all agree that “messaging” is a b.i.g. problem for Democrats) was exactly 1) how were Democrats going to do better in telling their side of the story (i.e., telling the truth as compared to Republican “truthiness”) and 2) just what they were going to say.

    I continue to maintain that responding to Republicans tit for tat but staying within their framing is worse than counter-productive, it is actually harmful. First, the Democrats have to speak from within a different philosophy, from a different viewpoint of the purpose of government and the whole idea of community; then, from that viewpoint deliver their explanation and describe the action. It will raise the question of morality and future vision, and educate the voters all in one fell swoop. It will change the terms of the debate, and Republicans will be on the defensive once the voters look at the Republican proposals/comments in a different light.

  • Teddy Goodson

    with the American people,” as proposed by President Obama and reported in the NYT is an good idea (but be careful who schedules such conversations, and who is included). I note that, during Obama’s recent trip to the Far East, he left his main advisors alone at home to wrestle with what went wrong in the recent election. It would have been nice if those advisors had gotten themselves out of ‘the bubble’ as well. My impression of this administration is that everyone is in that ‘bubble’ contemplating their own navels and listening only to what the Republicans and the incestuous gang of Inside-the-Beltway pundits are saying.

    It would also be a big help if Obama and his advisors listened more to their own grassroots base that got him elected in the first place, instead of dissing the base as ungrateful or ‘professional left.’