An Autopsy of a Different Kind

It is always smart that a party conducts an after-action report after a tough electoral loss or disappointing election, ascertaining what went wrong and why, and to prevent it from happening again. The most famous of course was the Republican National Committee’s 2013 “Growth and Opportunity Project”—quickly dubbed an “autopsy”—following Mitt Romney’s loss to President Obama the year before. It was a smart report, although the party subsequently ignored virtually all of its recommendations, except those related to raising its digital game, which it did well.

After their underwhelming results last year, Democrats and Democratic-aligned groups have conducted a number of such efforts.

Polling was chief among their concerns. Was the methodology wrong, or did undecided voters simply break against them in a massive way in the closing days of the campaign, and if so, why? Five leading Democratic polling firms released a report with their first cut of went wrong and why.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney commissioned another analysis, which he presented in a 52-page PowerPoint presentation to the House Democratic Caucus last month, though the actual report has never been publicly released. It reportedly argued that attacks on Democrats for advocating a “socialist” agenda and talk of “defunding the police” dragged the Democratic ticket down, and that polling did not sufficiently warn of what was about to happen.

new study conducted jointly for Third Way, the Collective PAC, and the Latino Victory Fund, and first reported by The New York Times on Sunday, issued a half dozen key findings. First, wrote the authors, Democratic strategists Marlon Marshall and Lynda Tran, “voters of color are persuadable voters who need to be convinced.” Second, Republican attempts to brand Democrats as “radicals” worked. Third, “polling was a huge problem—even after 2016 adjustments.” Fourth, “COVID-19 affected everything.” Fifth, “year round organizing worked, as did cross-party collaboration.” Sixth and finally, “our hopes for 2020 were just too high.”

In terms of the minority vote, their point is a very nice way of saying that Democrats took minority voters for granted. Democrats have long won the African American vote by massive margins, so they had almost nowhere to go but down. The point is further complicated by the fact that many African Americans, and for that matter Latinos, are concentrated in states and districts that are not terribly competitive.

Democrats are often guilty of assuming that voters in certain racial and ethnic groups are monolithic, as the report notes, and that their political views are based solely on ethnicity and ancestry, rather than the same mélange of issues that concern other groups.

And while we frequently hear about the frustration and angst among working-class whites that they are working harder and harder but not getting ahead, many working-class Black and Latino voters share those same concerns. Yet Democratic appeals to those communities are more along the line of identity politics rather than day-to-day concerns that may have little to do with race. The report accurately notes that Democrats must appreciate, for example, that Latinos of Mexican ancestry don’t necessarily see politics the same way as those from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, or Cuba.

The subject of Cuba and brings us to the point about socialism. Why, after all, did Joe Biden not go to South Florida and deliver a speech condemning President Trump for being soft on Vladimir Putin and other autocratic or communist leaders? America’s posture toward socialism has a particularly salient importance to those who escaped from South and Central American totalitarian or socialist states, or had family that had. Democrats have an aversion to attacking Republicans from the right, even when it is quite justifiable.

The report further emphasizes that “defunding the police” was just one of many attack lines that sprang from politically inane things spewed by the Left that made the party incredibly vulnerable to attack. Defunding the police became shorthand for a constellation of issues that certain very progressive figures pushed, hurting the party badly with independent and swing voters in key states and districts.

Some Democratic critics of the report point out that it danced around key questions, like why House Democratic candidates ran behind Biden in so many places and why the party and its donors expended considerable energy and resources on races that were probably not winnable.

Blame polling if you must, but the reality is that a lot of Democratic and liberal donors and activists often use their glands more than their brains. Their hatred for Sen. Mitch McConnell pushed them to spend an enormous amount of money in Kentucky on a candidate who was never likely to win. At the end of the day, Kentucky is still Kentucky. Similarly, while Jaime Harrison proved to be a great Senate candidate in South Carolina, it still didn’t change the fact that only South Carolinians would be voting. Harrison could take solace only from beating the proverbial point spread, which is more than Democrats could say in states like Montana and Kansas.

It is a thought-provoking report that is worth a read by campaign junkies on both sides.