“It’s the economy, stupid.” Those four words, coined by James Carville as the political corollary of the KISS (keep it simple stupid) principle won Bill Clinton the 1992 election. They were so important that Carville had them placed on a large sign that hung in the campaign’s war room, a constant reminder that no matter what issue is dominating the media cycle or what other priorities you are desperate to talk about, the economy is what matters to voters.
Today’s Democrats need more Carville.
The party has largely abandoned anything resembling a cohesive economic agenda, opting instead to focus their energy on issues of importance to the coastal liberal enclaves where the party remains strong. These areas are already mostly affluent, which means that economic basics like jobs, wages, and taxes are only thought of in the abstract, and not in any meaningful way.
They don’t know “everyday” Americans, nor do they understand their hopes or concerns. Heck they don’t know any collar color but white. Indeed, a four year degree is a minimum for inclusion in the leadership of their exclusive social club, and they look down their noses at the dumb “deplorables” that dare to occupy rural America.
But those deplorable vote. And by and large they care about the economy. As Chis Buskirk writes in American Greatness, while Democrats are worried about political correctness, President Trump and Congressional Republicans are laser focused on jobs.
Democrats have abandoned kitchen table issues for identity politics. That’s thin gruel for someone who stopped looking for work during the Obama years because of dismal prospects. Trump is the first Republican in a generation to speak effectively about the issues that matter to middle America. More important, he is acting on his rhetoric.
The most recent jobs report, which showed that the economy created 235,000 new jobs, wages continued to grow, and hopeful Americans were once again entering the workforce, was so important to this narrative. As Jamie Dimon, CEO of the nation’s largest bank argued, Trump has “woken up the animal spirits” that make the economy hum.
Those spirits, best summed up as optimism that manifests itself in economic action, is the result of President Trump’s ability to summarize a powerful economic agenda in two words: America first. It signals that every decision the Republican Party makes – on immigration, infrastructure, taxes, regulation and trade – will be viewed through the lens of what makes Americans more prosperous.
Democrats, on the other hand, have long struggled to come up with anything resembling an economic agenda.
“[Democrats] have not been able to articulate a clear and compelling economic message for nearly a decade now,” pollster Allan Rivlin tells the Prospect. “Most of the time they have been trailing Republicans on the generic measure: “Which party do you trust most to get the economy moving and create jobs?”
“In the three elections we’ve lost out of the last four—2010, 2014, and 2016—we trailed the Republicans on that generic question. After each of those elections, our self-criticism wasn’t that they didn’t get our message. It was that we didn’t have a message,” Rivlin continued.
Unfortunately for Democrats, Rivlin may be minimizing the true problem. You see, it’s not that the party clearly recognizes their lack of an economic message—that would be relatively fixable—it’s that they remain utterly deluded about the source of their political problems. Alex Roarty writes for the Miami Herald:
After losing the 2016 presidential election in dramatic fashion, notching only meager gains in Congress and failing to relax the GOP’s vise-like grip on statehouses across the country, Democrats are promising changes to the way they conduct campaigns. Special elections in 2017 and midterm congressional contests in 2018 will see new messages, and, leaders say, better turnout operations and campaign organization.
Not coming are changes to the party’s policy platform, despite calls from Democrats’ centrist wing.
“The Democratic values are the right values, and they command a majority among the American people when you ask them about the issues,” Pete Buttigieg, a rising star in the Democratic Party, told reporters last month at the DNC meeting. “So the problem clearly has to do with our organizing. Obviously, there are some things we can do with the way we talk about our values.”
But this has nothing to do with how Democrats are talking about their values and everything to do with their inability to talk about jobs. While their party is hung up in deep academic debates about “intersectionality” and its impact on political discourse, Republicans are out there pounding the pavement to talk about jobs and how to create more of them. So long as that’s the case, Republicans should continue their electoral dominance.