Democrats and the rest of the virulently anti-Trump left got their hopes up again this week, only to have them crushed when the clock struck midnight. The latest example was a failed attempt to get a win for their candidate Jon Ossoff in a special House election in Georgia.
He's now facing a run-off in June with Republican candidate Karen Handel, and she is narrowly favored to beat him, according to polling and data outfit FiveThirtyEight. That has the Democrats feeling more dejected than ever, with Politico summing it up best Wednesday with the headline: "Democrats begin ponder: When do we win?"
Okay, here's the answer: The losing is going to continue unless the Democrats start taking some important advice... from a conservative Republican. Namely me. And it's the same advice I've been giving my liberal Democrat friends for over a year.
But, wait a minute. Why is a conservative Republican like me offering the Democrats this golden advice? No, I'm not switching sides. But I am an American before I identify with party labels, and Americans need more and better choices when it comes to our politics right now. On a more selfish note, I'd like to see a Democratic Party that adopts a few of the policies conservatives support that could resonate with their own constituents. And I think that's possible. So let me boil it down to a top three:
1) Stop making it all about Trump
In the run-up to Tuesday's special election in Georgia, a lot of Democrats and liberals made public statements about how the race was all about "angering President Donald Trump." And had Ossoff won, President Trump probably would have been angry... for a few hours.
But a political party can't make its entire agenda about opposing the nation's elected leader. Not only does it distract the opposition from working on a real set of beliefs and policies to sell to the voters, it also tends to backfire.
Democrats and Republicans in recent American history learned that lesson the hard way, and they just seem to keep forgetting it. In the 1980s, the Democrats made opposing and demonizing Ronald Reagan their obsession and the result was they lost three landslide presidential elections in a row and even dropped control of Congress for six years.
In the 1990s, the Republicans obsessed over Bill Clinton and even successfully impeached him. But they couldn't remove him from office that way or at the ballot box in 1996 when they suffered their worst presidential election defeat in decades.
The establishment GOP flubbed again by focusing so much on President Obama over the last eight years that they couldn't defeat him in 2012. As a result, they even lost control of their own party to the Trump insurgency last year.
So Democrats need to stop making everything they say and do all about President Trump. Unless they want to lose again in 2018, 2020 and beyond.
2) Go back to your winning formula, but with a slightly more bipartisan twist
Democrats really have the inside track in every election because whether they deserve it or not, a majority of Americans are convinced that they are the party that represents the "little guy." And no matter how strong the U.S. economy is at any given time, there are enough people who associate with being the relative little guy in society's grand equation.
That winning formula was what fueled Senator Bernie Sanders' unlikely and impressive run for the White House last year. His campaign was very simply a return to the party's roots.
The problem is that the Democrats won't do more than energize their base with the same old economic equality kind of messaging. Class warfare pits voters against each other, and that's a bad move.
To win over enough swing voters, they have to re-jigger the message to make it more of an attack on corporatism and crony capitalism than the rich or upper middle class.
A lot of conservatives and moderates hate crony capitalism and the government's sacrifice of our freedoms to please favored corporate interests. Illegal immigration is a great example of this. What so many liberals don't understand about the Trump voters' anger over illegal immigration is that it isn't about hating outsiders. It's about people feeling betrayed by a government that they believe is relaxing enforcement of the law just to give big employers a steady access to cheaper labor.
So instead of railing about "the 1 percent" or focusing too much on raising personal income taxes, the Democrats can win by focusing on corporate misdeeds committed with government involvement or approval. That would include recent outrages like the United Airlines passenger dragging fiasco or Mylan Laboratories jacking up the price of its EpiPen products. These incidents unite the public in outrage and they make for a very natural platform for Democrats.
And the beauty part is, the political capital comes from simply calling out these companies on a case by case basis. The Democrats don't even have to propose, let alone enact, any new laws or regulations. Remember how Sen. Elizabeth Warren scored points bashing Wells Fargo for ripping off its customers? Just playing the role of public watchdog gets the voters' attention and often scares the wrongdoing corporations into reversing their policies right away.
3) Start grooming some presidential candidates
The Democrats were wise in 2004 to give then-Senate candidate Barack Obama such a prominent spot at their national convention. Not only did he speak well, but his youth and the fact that he was such a fresh face were major pluses. Last summer, they gave Senator Warren the same keynote slot and she wasn't as memorable in her delivery, nor did she provide any image contrast at all to their nominee Hillary Clinton. Warren is a powerhouse in the Senate for the Democrats, but not a viable presidential candidate as she showed during that generally forgettable speech.
Mr. Obama proved that the Democrats don't need a bevvy of state governors or senior U.S. Senators to choose from to find a really strong new candidate for the White House. The Republicans had plenty of those in the last three presidential elections and the only time they won was with a business man who had never run for office before in his life. There have to be some decent Democratic candidates in the state legislatures all across the country right now.
But all we're hearing is anti-Trump messaging from Democrats who can't or won't be running for president, like new DNC chair Tom Perez. The Democrat's base is already angry. What they and potential swing voters need now is a reason and person to get them excited.
Oh, and they need to stay away from anything that looks like favoritism or cronyism in this endeavor. For example, the recent efforts to raise Chelsea Clinton's image with magazine covers and other media profiles is a serious mistake. Remember the lesson of point #2; the Democrats win when they present themselves as the party of the little guy, not some kind of hereditary political dynasty.
Again, none of the above three pieces of advice will necessarily make solid Republicans or rabid Trump supporters change their minds and vote for the Democrats right away. But significant gains among swing voters are possible.
More importantly, a Democratic Party that tones down its alarmist rhetoric, goes back to its roots, and finds new candidates to drain its own swamp will serve the very common purpose of moving America a bit further away from the cultural civil war we seem to be rushing toward right now. And since competitors tend to play up to their level of competition, it's very likely that an improved Democratic Party will make the GOP a lot better too.
Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.
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