In a New York Times oped well worth reading, a professor and a writer (okay, grain of salt administered right here) criticize Democratic pols and progressive groups for their fundraising and grass roots strategies. I think they’re right on the mark.
In their August 1st article, Lisa Putnam and Micah Sifry argue that:
“National Democratic and progressive groups together burned through the surge of liberal organizing under Mr. Trump, treating impassioned newcomers like cash cows, gig workers and stamp machines to be exploited, not a grass-roots base to be tended. Worse, research by academics and political professionals alike suggests many of the tactics they pushed to engage voters proved ineffective.”
I can attest to this. I get myself on every Democratic candidate’s email list, not because I ever give them any money, but because I want to hear what they’re saying. And what they’re saying is both endless and apocalyptic. I literally get a couple of emails a day from the likes of Tony Evers and Mandela Barnes. My favorites are the ones that allegedly come from the campaign’s finance director on the eve a monthly fundraising report. I could write this for them myself: “I’m just about to meet with Tony to brief him on our goal and I don’t want to tell him we’re coming up $2,312 short. I’d love to be able to tell Tony that you came through for us, Dave. Please rush $15 right now!”
I always wonder who falls for this crap, but apparently somebody does because they just keep doing it. But Putnam and Sifry report that, while these kinds of breathless pleas result in a brief spike of giving, they wear down donors and contribute to an overall sense of despair.
And it’s not just fundraising that’s the problem. What they call the “Beltway Brain” thinking also extends to volunteer activities. They write:
“People who volunteer on campaigns are often nothing like other Americans in their politics. The gulf is particularly wide on the Democratic side, where infrequent and swing voters of all ethnicities, ages and life experiences tend to encounter highly educated, liberal and white volunteers.”
The Democratic strategist David Shor has identified the same issue, talking about the problem of entitled, affluent kids with no real world experience and hyper-left points of view who work in campaigns and Congressional offices.
So, I think that the authors have diagnosed the problem very well, but I’m not completely sold on their solution. They cite a handful of school board races in Pennsylvania where candidates with deep ties and sound reputations in the community were recruited to run and where others with the same kinds of civic capital worked on their behalf.
Well, yeah, of course that’s going to work, but do you have any idea how hard it is to find the right candidate and then convince that person to enter politics? There’s a touch of Catch-22 here. If you’re the kind of sane person we want to run, you’re probably too sane to do it. Lightening does strike now and then. Here in Madison, Laura Simkin won a school board seat last April and she is quite sane, but five of her six colleagues are out to lunch.
Maybe an even more fundamental flaw in this strategy is that school board races are nonpartisan. So, once you find the good candidate for the board she doesn’t have to overcome the “D” next to her name. That wouldn’t be a problem in liberal Madison, but in much of the country the “D” stands for “Dreaded.”
So, while I don’t totally dismiss Putnam and Sifry’s prescriptions, I doubt that they can be scaled up in any meaningful way. It’s generally the passionate, true believers who are motivated to run and to work on campaigns — exactly the kinds of people who turn off most voters. The problem for Democrats and progressives is that they have trashed their own brand. As I’ve pointed out on so many occasions that even I’m getting tired of reading my own stuff, the one-third of hard-left elite Democrats who give money and volunteer in campaigns dominate the party’s image. And people just hate these people.
While weeding and seeding the grass roots as Putnam and Sifry suggest is a fine thing to do, Democrats won’t succeed on a broad scale until the two-thirds of us who are moderate and more in touch with average Americans wrest the party (or create a new one) from the elites.
And on another matter… are we witnessing the sun set on Donald Trump? Recent polls have found: 40% of Republicans now think Trump was at least partially responsible for the Insurrection, up from 33%; 55% of Republicans now think the election was stolen, down from 67%; and 55% of Republicans now don’t want Trump to run again in 2024, up from 49%.