For some time, one of the loudest critiques leveled at the Democratic Party is that it really doesn’t stand for anything except opposing Donald Trump. This coming week, the Democrats are doing something to change that. They are rolling out a new economic agenda on Monday called “A Better Deal.”
The new program is due to be formally unveiled on Monday. In a telling sign of the Democrats’ strategy for 2018, the ceremony will take place in the district of the only Republican representing a district in Northern Virginia, Barbara Comstock. Hillary Clinton carried her district by a decisive 52-42 margin. While Democratic leaders have been mum on details, several lawmakers and aides told The Washington Post that there’s going to be a lot to like.
Among other things, “A Better Deal” will focus on job-training programs, lowering prescription drug costs, and renegotiating trade deals. It will also include calls for a $15 minimum wage, as well as a trillion-dollar infrastructure program and greater access to broadband Internet in rural areas.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer teased the new plan on ABC’s “This Week.” Watch here.
Host George Stephanopoulos noted a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll that showed 52 percent of Americans believed Democrats only stood against Trump. Schumer said that part of the problem was that “we didn’t tell people what we stand for.” He said “A Better Deal” had three components–“higher wages, less costs, tools for the 21st century.” It will be focused on working families who believe “the system is rigged against them.” It is designed to appeal to both the Obama coalition and to Democrats who broke ranks and voted for Trump.
In an obvious play to Trump Democrats, Schumer said that Trump billed himself as a populist, only to crawl into bed with “the Koch brother hard right” and dropped any pretense of draining the swamp. To play to the Obama coalition, Schumer said the new agenda will include measures to hold drug companies to account when a Martin Shkreli or Heather Bresch ramps up drug prices to unsustainable levels, as well as changes to how mergers are approved.
A number of critics were skeptical of branding this new plan as “A Better Deal.” They were especially wary of the full slogan–“A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future.” It sounds a lot like the longtime slogan for Papa John’s Pizza. However, Schumer believes this slogan will work. Not only does it harken back to FDR’s “New Deal,” but it trolls Trump’s supposed top qualification for being president–his skills as a dealmaker.
Several Democratic lawmakers who helped craft the plan say that this agenda will help counter one disadvantage the Democrats have had in off-year elections–messaging. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York said that “A Better Deal” will end the days of Republicans speaking in “headlines” and Democrats speaking in “fine print.” He added that voters in his sapphire-blue Brooklyn-based district have been more concerned about “pocketbook issues” and quality-of-life issues.
That matches what Congresswoman Cheri Bustos of Illinois heard in her district, which flipped from a 57-41 win for Obama to a 47-46 win for Trump. Bustos, who co-chaired the House’s work on the new agenda, said that voters on the Illinois side of the Quad Cities never mentioned Russia or impeachment to her. She believes that Democrats need to focus on “heartland messaging” in order to take back the House.
The manner in which this is being rolled out suggests that the Democrats have learned a lot from 2016. The Hillary Clinton campaign had the right idea–expand the map by targeting reddish-purple states like Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina. But in the process, Robby Mook and his staffers relied too much on analytics and forgot they needed to make the case for Hillary in the Rust Belt. That allowed Trump to win Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania despite turnout being down across the board there. This agenda seems tailor-made for those voters–the kind of “heartland messaging,” as Bustos put it, that can bring those Rust Belt voters back home.
And yet, it’s no accident that the plan is being rolled out in a district that voted convincingly for Hillary while reelecting its Republican congresswoman. The message is obvious–the Democrats have finally figured out that you can’t win an election on half a strategy. And with polls suggesting the Democrats have a 10-point bulge in the generic ballot–enough on paper to overcome the most severe gerrymander–this may be the one push the party needs to take the gavel away from Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.
(featured image courtesy Glenn Fawcett, part of public domain)