After a day of commentary and hot takes following Karen Handel’s relatively comfortable win in Georgia’s Sixth District, it’s clear that there are a few lessons that Democrats are slow to learn.
First, abortion and socialism aren’t big winners in center-right districts. It’s been stunning to see more than a few folks on the Left declare that one lesson of the loss is that it’s futile to move toward the center. Absent a total collapse in Republican support, a move to the hard Left is only going to help spur Republican turnout. Lots of suburban voters have qualms about Donald Trump, but they hate abortion-on-demand, loathe the idea of single-payer health care, and have no interest in being enlisted in the social justice culture war.
Second, politics is still a subculture. There is an extraordinary gap between regular voters and the obsessive tweeters who spend their days agonizing over every Trump tweet and sputtering with outrage over every Trump scandal. I live in the middle of Trump country, and trust me when I say that the average voter isn’t tracking a tenth of the coverage. It takes time for political trends to bake fully into the cultural cake, and there is yet no “consensus” about the Trump presidency. It’s still early.
Third, aside from hating Trump, hard-core progressivism is the Democrats’ only coherent message. Putting aside the Bernie Bros and the social justice warriors, what is the Democratic Party’s message to America? What does it stand for? And you can’t say “equality,” “diversity,” or “inclusion.” Those are platitudes, not policies. At the least the progressives have a vision. It’s not one that has much hope of winning over center-right voters, but it is a message. Where is the rest of the Democratic Party? Is there a rest of the Democratic Party?
The bottom line is that a party built from the ground up to appeal to single women and minorities is going to struggle locally where those demographics don’t dominate, and it’s going to struggle nationally when those demographics aren’t inspired. They have 16 months to either get a better message or, failing that, pray for a Republican collapse.