I have never been particularly gifted in athletics. It’s hard to hit a baseball or get a drive to find the fairway. But growing up in an area that pretty much resembled the sticks in the movie Hoosiers, everyone grew up playing basketball. I did through 8th grade. One of my most anxious moments never had anything to do with a game, it was pregame in the layup line. You couldn’t control what happened during the game, but you should be able to make a shot from two feet away in warmups.
That kind of feels how Democrats in Washington are stumbling their way toward the 2018 midterm elections. Pregame, it looks like winning back the House should be a layup. Republicans seem to be imploding, the White House is, well, yeah. But, Republicans run Congress and will be able to go back to their districts and states to defend what they have (or haven’t) accomplished.
For Democrats, the path is much harder to navigate. Bernie Sanders ran extremely left during his presidential primary race last year and introduced a poorly timed universal health care bill during the Obamacare repeal battle earlier this year. Democrats will tell you that a plurality of the country now supports universal health care (free stuff!) until they’re informed how much their taxes would go up. Politifact has a good piece detailing that increasing income taxes on everyone along with existing payroll taxes would still be $600 billion short in covering the cost of the program.
Politically, the problem for Democratic candidates is difficult. Instead of being asked about their position on Obamacare, which is a slam dunk for Democratic voters (as well as independents who don’t want to see health care taken away from those in need), the conversation changes to this multi-trillion dollar government run program that will be controversial among Democrats and will galvanize fiscal conservatives against them.
Meanwhile, liberal activist Tom Steyer has launched a big ad campaign to support a petition (with no real impact of law or constitutionality) to impeach the President. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a supporter of President Trump, but there has been no evidence of criminal activity. Being a jerk on twitter isn’t an impeachable offense. The drive puts Democratic candidates in the position of talking about the legality of impeachment while also trying to show their base how much they oppose the President.
If Democrats want to keep any hope of reclaiming the House next year and making gains in the Senate, they need to find a consistent message that draws voters in. Make it about working people or social security or foreign policy, whatever it may be, they need to get everyone on the same message. That includes guys like Bernie Sanders and Tom Steyer.
Or else, they may just miss a layup next year.
Patrick Pfingsten is an award-winning journalist, political consultant, and PR expert. You can find him on Twitter @pfingsten1 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.