I couldn’t agree more with my friend Kip Malinosky, chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC), from this month’s “Voice” newsletter (bolding added by me for emphasis). Also, congratulations to Kip and ACDC for racking up a huge margin of victory (71,830 votes!) for Clinton/Kaine in Arlington, accounting for “more than a third—33.9 percent for those who seek precision—of Clinton’s statewide margin of victory of 212,030.” Impressive! Now, if we had only had that kind of margin from heavily Dem areas of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton would be announcing her Cabinet picks right now and Republicans would be licking their wounds…
This has been one of the most difficult losses I have ever experienced. The consequences for climate change, health care, raising wages, and our diverse, inclusive country could be devastating. I hope that I am wrong and President Trump is not as bad as his campaign made him seem, but we need to prepare for tough times ahead. Democrats must win as many elections as we can between now and 2020 when we hopefully defeat Trump. How do we do it?
The short answer is honing a better economic message, revitalizing the 50-state strategy and systematic grassroots organizing at the state and local level. This is easy to say and difficult to do, but in Arlington and Virginia we are already putting these strategies into practice. They were crucial to our record turnout and margin for Democrats in Arlington and in Hillary Clinton winning Virginia by a larger margin than President Obama won in 2012. Across the country, however, we fell woefully short.
First, the message that Hillary Clinton was the most qualified candidate ever to run for President and that Donald Trump is dangerously unqualified was great for northern Virginia, and other economically dynamic regions of the country. On the other hand, in large swaths of the country that are struggling with the forces of globalization and automation as well as addiction and suicide, the qualified-candidate message simply didn’t resonate. Trump ran as a racist, xenophobic change-maker, and he found an audience.
There is a vigorous debate as to whether economic anxiety or racist appeals made a greater difference, but what can’t be argued is that our economic message was drowned out in the fusillade of malicious nonsense that were emails, WikiLeaks and whatever outrageous latest thing Trump said. In 2012, we were able to define Romney as part of the problem for so many communities. In 2016, Trump defined Clinton as part of the problem, and, despite winning the popular vote, we lost the Rust Belt and therefore the electoral vote. In 2017, we must ensure all working Virginians know which party is on their side.
Second, President Obama has led a historically accomplished administration of which we can all be proud, but his legacy of party building has left much to be desired. Throughout 2010 and 2012, Organizing for America was focused almost exclusively on the President’s policy agenda and re-election without supporting Democrats up and down the ballot. The successful 50-state strategy was abandoned after 2009. We must bring it back. In every state, we need to be building up state parties. In Virginia, we need a 134- jurisdiction strategy to build up local parties and recruit candidates in every city and county.
Third, we must put the focus on grassroots politics as opposed to heavy spending on television advertising. Once we have a message and we have candidates for every level of government, then we need to make sure people hear it. Door-to-door canvassing is among the best means to do this. It’s no accident that Hillary Clinton won and we picked up seats in Congress in Virginia, Nevada and New Hampshire. These three states have Democratic parties deeply and systematically invested in field offices, organizers and volunteers. Had we been as invested in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, we would be looking at President-elect Clinton.
Now we turn toward 2017, when we will have pivotal electionsfor governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and all 100 House of Delegates members. Arlington must lead the way for Virginia, and Virginia must lead the way for the nation as the resistance to President Trump grows from the bottom up.