Have you seen the ad put out by Valerie Plame, former CIA operative turned Congressional candidate? If not, you probably don’t have a lot of Democratic friends, because, it seems that universally, mine are losing their minds over this commercial. They think it is just awesome. So, if it hasn’t been posted on your social media dozens of times, take a moment to watch it.
If this were an ad for the new Jack Ryan series or the latest “Fast and the Furious” movie, I would be all in. The ad is exciting and viral-worthy. However, it is also an example of everything wrong with the Democratic Party’s campaign strategy. The problem isn’t that this ad is all flash and no substance – which it is – the problem is this ad is endemic of the campaign strategy of the leadership within the Democratic Party. They are not running for anything but against it. In that way, the car driving backwards is a perfect metaphor.
Valerie Plane ends her commercial by saying, “Mr. President, I’ve got a few scores to settle.”
And there’s the rub. That statement is the Democratic platform summed up in one sentence.
While New Mexico is a far way off from Virginia, revenge politics has infected the Democratic campaigns here in our Commonwealth. To watch many campaigns, this election isn’t about 2019 or the issues facing Virginia; it is all a ramp-up to 2020 because Democrats have a score to settle.
While the Republican Party of Virginia has our party creed on the front page of its website, Virginia Democrats have a link to a New York Times article, “Searching for Hints about 2020, All Eyes Turn to A Reshaped Virginia.” In it, Jake Rubenstein, a spokesman for the Virginia Democratic Party says, “Candidates who are aligned with Donald Trump are going to pay for being aligned with Donald Trump.” That is not a policy; that is revenge.
According to recent polling, most Virginians disapprove of the President. The most recent polling puts Trump’s disapproval rating in the state at 53 percent versus 32 percent who approve of him. So, tying Republican candidates to an unpopular president makes sense politically, but what is coming out of the Democratic campaigns goes well beyond political strategy. Going back to Valerie Plame’s ad, they are settling a score and that is a dangerous prospect. Disagreeing on policy is an intellectual exercise; revenge is a purely emotional endeavor.
Republicans should rejoice at this strategy, but instead many are running as if they have been taken hostage and forced to participate in a lost cause. The great fear is that Democrats are going to make this a campaign about Trump, and they are going to tie Republican candidates to him. That is exactly what is going to happen. The Party jumped in that fairy godfather’s pumpkin and rode it all the way to the White House. The thing is that the Democratic strategy assumes in this Cinderella analogy is that it’s 11:59 when it is only 9:45.
The first step in handling the Trump assault is to remind voters that this is 2019 and not 2020. If the Democratic candidates want to run against the President, they should jump into that race. I’m sure that MSNBC would be happy to add a third or even a fourth night of debates to their schedule. Heck, they could even take all the lower-polling candidates, put them in a house Big Brother-style, and let the public vote them off one by one. Ratings gold! However, here in Virginia, it is 2019, and candidates should be talking about the issues facing our state and not the state of the White House.
So, when Democrats come after Republican candidates with a t-shirt cannon filled with Trump mailers, the response should just be, “And your point is what?” Republicans should be running on issues, not on personality. They should be making an intellectual argument and not simply a hysterical, emotional appeal. Furthermore, when the Democratic candidates go down that road, they should refuse to engage and turn it back on them.
The second step is to put some sunlight between our candidates and the President. If candidates are out wearing The Red Hat and hanging the President’s portrait on their office walls, this strategy won’t work. Those candidates might as well hug the President like Trump hugs flags while hoping that the 53 percent of Virginians who disapprove of the President don’t live in their district. However, if that 53 percent (or more, because this is an average) live in a candidate’s district, he or she may want to publicly disagree with the President from time to time.
“But what about the base?” Candidates cannot win with just the base. Republicans should have lost enough elections by now to have learned that lesson. So, if a candidate loses one vote from the dwindling base but picks up two swing voters, that is a net win. Politics is a game of addition. So, if a district is in the 53 percent+ area and the hope is that base is going to pull the campaign across the finish line, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate that math.
Finally, to maintain the majority in the House of Delegates, Republicans are going to need to work together. Democrats move in packs like women going to the restroom. If one stall is out of paper, they are there to spare a square. This is not something that Republicans in Virginia have been very good at. The Party tends to be afraid of being associated with its own members lest they are considered not conservative enough or conversely too much on the fringe.
However, like a game of Red Rover, the only way to keep the Democratic candidates from breaking through the line is to link arms. That means going beyond simply attending each other’s events, but actually sharing resources and strategies. The Party is either going to win together or lose together.
Democratic ads are flashy. They make themselves look very cool. People will probably want to share it on Facebook. But the same could be said for the recent viral video of two toddlers running to hug each other while yelling, “My friend!”  Even though that video’s been shared millions of times, that doesn’t make either of those two cuties qualified for office. Republicans need to lean into substance and policy. A little flash wouldn’t kill us, but our focus should be mostly policy and substance.