Matt Yglesias looks at the Georgia special election and concludes that Democrats need an agenda:
Right now on health care and many other issues, Democrats suffer from a cacophony of white papers and a paucity of unity around any kind of vision or story they want to paint of what is wrong with America today and what is the better country they want to build for the future. And until they do, they’re going to struggle to mobilize supporters in the way they need to win tough races.
He notes that Jeremy Corbyn overperformed in the recent U.K. elections by focusing on an agenda:
... running on a bold progressive policy agenda didn’t stop [Corbyn] from picking up support in exactly the kind of upscale precincts that the Democratic establishment has been trying to target. And it did succeed in doing what post-Obama Democrats have failed to do — engage young voters and encourage them to come to the polls.
Yglesias thinks the lack of an agenda created an opening for Handel to run on trivialities:
... [Karen Handel's] campaign and its allies buried Ossoff under a pile of what basically amounts to nonsense — stuff about Kathy Griffin, stuff about Samuel L. Jackson, stuff about his home being just over the district line, stuff about him having raised money from out of state — lumped together under the broad heading that he’s an “outsider.”
But Handel apparently didn't need a bold party agenda in order to win, because to some extent she ran against her party and its agenda:
Karen Handel didn’t argue that the Republican Party’s health care bill is a good idea (it’s very unpopular) or that tax cuts for millionaires should be the country’s top economic priority (another policy that polls dismally).
My conclusion: Republicans have a strong brand. The brand is "Democrats suck," and nearly any Republican in a competitive race can win with it. Republicans don't really need a bold, fresh agenda. Democrats have a brand that's weak among supporters and strong among haters. A bold, fresh agenda would help them, but it's the "strong among haters" part that's killing them. And they have no idea what to do about that -- most Democrats (and most mainstream pundits) don't even recognize that that's their problem.
If anything, there's a belief out there that Democrats have a Nancy Pelosi problem.
But if Republicans weren't demonizing Pelosi, they'd be demonizing some other Democrat -- Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken, Chuck Schumer, Adam Schiff, Kamala Harris. Republicans demonized "Dingy Harry" Reid for years. And there are always the good old Clintons.
Even "nice" Republicans in highly educated districts respond to "Democrats suck." So the GOP doesn't need an agenda. GOP voters don't need to like the Republican president. But plenty of Democrats don't turn out despite displeasure with Republicans. So, yeah, I guess Democrats need an agenda, because even the awfulness of McConnell, Ryan, and Trump isn't motivation enough.
(Oh, and let's not forget that Corbyn fell short, just like Ossoff.)
Originally published at No More Mr. Nice Blog