Whenever a political party losses big in an election, there inevitably follows a period of soul-searching and blame-shifting. So it was for the GOP after the last two presidential elections, and so it’s been for Democrats following last November’s mid-term shellacking in which they lost the Senate and more of the House.
Believe it or not, the Democratic National Committee’s review of what went wrong last year, released Saturday at the party’s winter meeting in Washington, includes “Victory” on its cover page (“Democratic Victory Task Force”). Still, the overall message is sobering for party members.
They may have won the White House the last two times out, but it has “suffered devastating losses at all levels of government since 2008,” the report states. That includes 69 US House seats, 13 US Senate seats, 910 state legislative seats, 30 state legislative chambers, and 11 governorships.
“The circumstances that led to the series of devastating electoral losses did not develop overnight,” the task force found. “Instead they have been building over decades as the political system has been irrevocably changed by the passage of McCain-Feingold and the Citizens United decision. Republicans, in many cases, have been quick to respond to these changes and take advantage of this new moneyed and murky environment.”
McCain-Feingold (the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act) and the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 both dealt with campaign financing, and both had the effect of increasing the political power of outside interests.
There are other reasons for Democratic losses, of course – including lack of a “cohesive narrative,” according to the tack force, which in turn “impedes the party’s ability to develop and maintain a lifelong dialogue and partnership with voters.”
"So many people can rattle off easily and succinctly what it means to be a Republican,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida congresswoman who chairs the DNC. “The perception of what it means to be a Democrat has really evolved to be a laundry list of policy statements and disparate ideas.”
The event was a cheer-leading opportunity for President Obama, who bragged about the improving economy under his watch while accusing Republicans of trying to “bamboozle” Americans into believing that the GNP is for the middle class.
“Here’s our program. What’s yours?” Obama said. “Tell us how you’d help middle class families. Because we’ve got an agenda, and we know it’s working.”
Democrats need to forcefully speak up for the administration and the party’s values, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy told the party gathering.
"Whenever we let the other guys talk the way they talk about our president, about our leadership, about our values, we're going to lose,” he said, adding that too many Democrats try to be "Republicans lite."
The report recommends a multiyear effort to prepare for the next round of congressional redistricting after the 2020 elections, wary of Republican clout in statehouses that will determine the new boundaries for members of Congress following the next census.
It calls for more financial support and training for state parties in a return to the principles behind the "50-state strategy" promoted by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who led the DNC from 2005 to 2009.
The DNC task force included elected officials, party professionals, and such business executives as Google chairman Eric Schmidt.
Speaking from experience, the Republican National Committee calls the DNC report something other than a path to victory: An “autopsy.”
"The first step toward fixing a problem is admitting that you have one, but it's clear the DNC isn't willing to come to terms with why their party lost in historic fashion last November,” RNC spokesman Michael Short said in quick response. “The reality is their divisive message doesn't resonate and their liberal policies don't work. And after years of neglect from President Obama, his chosen heir Hillary Clinton will be inheriting a cash-strapped national party teetering on the edge of complete irrelevancy."
Wasserman Schultz acknowledges the GOP’s successful efforts in increasing its political grip at both state and federal levels.
"Look, I'll give the Republicans credit. They spent a lot of time and money working on this for years and it paid off for them," she said. "We've certainly recognized that we have some catching up to do."
This report includes material from the Associated Press.