The Democratic National Committee has just released its final “Victory Task Force” report—the party’s post-mortem on its 2014 midterm drubbing—and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza is not impressed:
That long-awaited document — all 18 pages of it! — hit the Internet on Tuesday and, boy, is it underwhelming. If you are looking for the Democratic version of the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” the 100-plus page Republican autopsy report issued after the 2012 election, this ain’t it. The Republican autopsy was deeply critical of the GOP and its positioning with voters. The Democratic version is largely a celebration of Democratic principles. Whereas the GOP autopsy suggested that the party totally reconsider its position on immigration reform for example, the thrust of the Democratic one is that the party should do a better job of coordinating its message. Um, no duh.
Cillizza is right. The document reveals a party with full confidence in its platform, convinced that it can start to win if only Americans were hearing its message. “The 2014 midterms made it abundantly clear that…Americans overwhelmingly support the issues and values that the Democratic Party fights for”, the Victory Task Force declares, rather remarkably. However, it continues, “our down-ballot candidates were not connecting with voters and lacked some fundamental infrastructure and support to convey their message.” According to DNC higher-ups, in other words, the principal reason that the party is now weaker (by some measures) than it has been at any time since the New Deal is that it lacks an effective infrastructure to field candidates and broadcast its arguments more loudly. Nothing that can’t be fixed by more fundraising.
The only concrete policy change the document addresses is redistricting. This is appropriate, as the 2010 Republican-drawn Congressional districts certainly have contributed to Republican state-level and Congressional dominance. The problem is that the report doesn’t give any remotely plausible proposals for how Democrats might actually recover state legislatures in 2020 and gerrymander them in their own favor.
In any case, redistricting is not the root of the Democrats’ woes, as convenient as this idea may be for the party’s elites. The party’s fundamental challenge in races for Congress and state legislature is that it has created a coalition of voters that are, to paraphrase Thomas Edsall, inefficiently distributed. Single women, Asians, Hispanics, African Americans, college-educated young people, and other Democratic voting blocs are clustered in urban areas around the country, meaning that many of their votes are “wasted” in landslide local races. This coalition has proven quite effective at delivering the Democrats the White House, but it has been disastrous down the ticket. Based on the report, the Democrats’ working theory seems to be that if they double down on their increasingly assertive liberalism and spend more money, the base will be fired up, the voters will show up, and the party will prevail. There is no need to think about constructing a broader coalition or appealing to more working class whites and independents, as Bill Clinton did in the 1990s and as the Biden shadow campaign was suggesting it might be able to do.
It’s impossible to say whether the strategy articulated in the Victory Task Force report—that is, the 2010, 2012, and 2014 strategy, except more so—will be effective in 2016 and beyond. But we do wonder whether the Democrats are overconfident in the popularity of their current policy agenda and the durability of the coalition they have constructed.