Home International News Why do Democrats suck at messaging?

Why do Democrats suck at messaging?

In my many years working in politics, I’ve attended hundreds, if not thousands, of fundraising events. A fundraising journey is a tour of the twin scourges of economic inequality and money in politics. These events are held in massive brownstones on the Upper East Side, giant technology-funded mansions in Silicon Valley, ancestral estates in the Berkshires, and ocean-view homes in Malibu and the Hamptons. Each of these locations would be worthy of its own episode of Million dollar listing. However, I rarely toured these totems for wealth (inherited and “earned”). At these hoity-toity events at people’s homes, there is usually a space for the politician’s staff. These ‘hold rooms’, often servants’ quarters or pool houses, are being removed from the promotion. In New York City apartments, they are often guest rooms or children’s bedrooms with custom bunk beds. During presidential events, the waiting room would be packed with military aides, doctors and the traveling government-in-waiting, in case a crisis broke out while the president was away from the White House.

At these events, senior campaigners are encouraged to mingle with the guests. There is only a limited portion of the candidate to go around, and the organizers want the donors to feel that they have received their money’s worth. But much to the chagrin of the fundraising staff for the Democratic National Committee and the Obama campaign, I did everything I could to avoid the mix-and-mix obligation. As soon as I arrived with President Barack Obama or the countless other politicians I’ve traveled with over the years, I’d go straight to the waiting room to hide. The main motivation for my self-imposed exile was my aversion to gossip. But I also hid to avoid what I called “the question,” an inevitable feature of any conversation with a group of Democratic donors.

It didn’t matter whether the Democrats won or lost the most recent election. The question comes in many forms, but it always comes down to a version of: Why do Democrats suck at messaging? The question was usually, but not always, asked politely. Sometimes it came with a series of ideas. Politics is one of those activities where everyone thinks they can have an opinion. And the people who are successful enough to write checks large enough to attend these events are generally not the kind of people who doubt themselves.

For much of my time in the White House, I was anonymous in name and face to all but the most attuned political observers. But in a crowd of well-heeled donors, I had all the hallmarks of a staffer: a little too young, a little haggard, with the dark circles imprinted under the eyes after a year working at the White House.

Eventually, while I was standing in a corner hoping the waiter with the pigs in a blanket would come by, someone would always walk up to me and ask, “Are you on the White House staff?”

“I’m.”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m President Obama’s communications director.”

“Oh good. I was hoping to see you. I have some thoughts…”

And we were on our way to the races.

I never had a good answer for them – or at least I never had an answer that they found satisfactory. And their “minds” usually boiled down to pretending that their experience of making a fortune selling mail-order underwear, betting the housing market, or producing a successful sitcom would make them fit to be my to do work.

Political donors are not the only ones obsessed with ‘demand’. Experts and the political press are constantly suing Democrats for their reporting errors. A liberal writer of several well-reviewed presidential histories called me many times during Obama’s first term in office to lecture me as to why Obama didn’t yet have a version of FDR’s New Deal or LBJ’s Great Society. The subtext of these conversations was that great slogans make great presidents. Much of Progressive Twitter is filled with laments about a failure or missed messaging opportunity. There was a joke in the Obama White House that you needed a master’s degree in economics to talk about economic policy and a doctorate in public health to offer ideas for health care, but everyone believed that reading the paper qualified them to give their opinion on messaging strategy.

Aside from my own fragile self-esteem and clumsiness, I hate answering the question. Not only are there no easy answers, it’s the wrong question.

Republicans are winning the messaging war, but not for the reasons these donors, the media, or 90% of the people on Twitter believe. And there are steps we need to take to change these very annoying dynamics.

In this more mature, less defensive phase of my life, I no longer hide from the Question (and the questioners). Instead, I’ve found a more accessible, equally unsatisfactory way of tackling the real problem without absolving the party (or myself) of mistakes and missed opportunities. But before I get to the Democrats, I’m going to use the author’s authority to talk about why Republicans are bad at messaging.

When donors, activists, and media people ask why Democrats are bad at messaging, they’re actually asking why Republicans are so much better at it.

There’s an old saying in Washington, “The only people who believe Republican talking points are Democrats.” This inherent sense that Republicans are better at politics than Democrats has survived for decades as a hallmark of my party’s psychology. Democrats love to imbue our opposition with strategic evil genius. Roger Ailes, Lee Atwater and Karl Rovec are especially famous because Democrats have exaggerated their role to explain away our losses.

There is no doubt that Republicans are winning the messaging war, but are they winning because they are better messengers?

Democrats like to complain about their congressional leadership team’s coverage, but have you seen the Republicans? During each appearance, Kevin McCarthy it looks like he just woke up from a nap and can’t figure out where he is or what he’s doing. Mitch McConnell, one of the worst communicators in modern political history, sounds like he reads The Almanac of American Politics with a mouthful of marbles. And no one exemplifies the adage ‘less is more’ more than… TedCruz, an amalgamation of the five most annoying people you went to high school with. Arkansas senator Tom Cotton makes Jared Kushner look like a magnetic personality. Turn on Fox News and you’ll find a parade of awkward, angry white men giving a bad impression of… Donald Trump. Even Trump, the alleged master media manipulator, has the discipline and strategic thinking of a boiled-up Tasmanian devil. Just look at his Twitter feed from the end of the 2020 campaign. Instead of using his biggest platform to drive home a positive argument for his re-election and a negative message against Joe Biden, Trump engaged in a scattered Festivus-esque broadcast of grievances against members of his own party, the media and random celebrities.

This dynamic is partly why the founders of the Lincoln Project became huge celebrities among the Resistance Twitter/MSNBC crowd. The former political advisers, all Republican Never Trumpers, were able to siphon tens of millions of dollars from willing progressives in hopes of getting a taste of that Republican messaging magic. The Lincoln Project was touted as tougher, faster, and smarter than those ruthless Democratic ad-makers Democrats love to hate. Although, at no point have people asked, “If the Lincoln Project is so good, why did so many of its founders keep losing presidential elections to Democrats?” Nor has anyone questioned whether an ad that appealed to highly engaged, highly online liberals in California or New York would really be effective with disenchanted Republicans in Ohio and Iowa.

RELATED ARTICLES

96MB L3 3D V-Cache designed for gamers

The level of competition in the desktop CPU market has rarely been as intense as it has been in years past. When AMD...

‘They would look disgusting’: Putin responds to G7 leaders mocking him

Russian President Vladimir Putin has responded to G7 leaders who mocked his macho image. G7 leaders joked about his tendency to pose topless...

Suspected Texas truck driver died of migrants from meth, says lawmaker

53 migrants killed in attempted smuggling at US border Suspected driver suspected of human trafficking Driver had meth in his system, lawmaker and US official say SAN...

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

96MB L3 3D V-Cache designed for gamers

The level of competition in the desktop CPU market has rarely been as intense as it has been in years past. When AMD...

‘They would look disgusting’: Putin responds to G7 leaders mocking him

Russian President Vladimir Putin has responded to G7 leaders who mocked his macho image. G7 leaders joked about his tendency to pose topless...

Suspected Texas truck driver died of migrants from meth, says lawmaker

53 migrants killed in attempted smuggling at US border Suspected driver suspected of human trafficking Driver had meth in his system, lawmaker and US official say SAN...

Barcelona raise bid for Lewandowski

The German newspaper “Bild” reported that Barcelona has made an offer of €32 million for Polish Robert Lewandowski, who won the FIFA World Player...