It was back in the 1930s that comedian-commentator (which may be redundant) Will Rogers said: “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.”
What was true then is true now. As the Democrats have demonstrated in four special elections since Donald Trump became president, they are too much in shambles to exploit the contempt that millions of people feel for him. His disapproval is, uh, trumped by their disarray.
Will Rogers also described Congress as “the best that money can buy.” More than 80 years later, that’s even more the reality — but in the case of Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, more than $25 million wasn’t enough for Democrat Jon Ossoff. Republican Karen Handel easily handled Ossoff, as well as the Democrats, who were their usually unhappy hapless selves. On the same night, the Dems also managed to drop the ball in South Carolina’s 5th District. That’s another red one they wanted to turn blue to show how deeply Trump has offended the nation. It’s still red.
In the case of Georgia’s 6th, that’s where they were hoping to make their biggest splash. The district is near Atlanta. It’s gone GOP for 40 years, producing the likes of Newt Gingrich — we all know the many contributions he’s made to this nation (yes, that’s as sarcastic as sarcasm can be) — and Tom Price, whose contribution as Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary will be to gut medical care in this country.
While this district mainly grew out of the hateful white flight that created many suburbs, it has evolved into a more polite form of conservatism. Now, its people are better educated and more socially progressive than in your standard Trump enclave. In other words, Democrats considered it fertile ground to plant a political victory that would grow into congressional control after the 2018 midterm elections. They were hoping they could stop the Trump agenda in its tracks, panicking their Republican opponents with the message that Donald Trump was not about to “Make America Great” for them. It’s not turning out that way.
The GOPs haven’t so much won these special elections, the Dems have lost them with their garbled message. The Democratic Party can’t get together. Its progressive wing and centrist wing are flapping, but they don’t get off the ground. In effect, they want to go in opposite directions.
There are roughly two compound faction fractures. The Bernie Sanders followers, let’s call them the Sandernistas, want to move our society leftward, taking on the advantages of the rich even in essentials areas like health care, nutrition and education. They’d spread the wealth with government takeover of social needs financed by higher taxes on the well-off. The so-called party establishment figures, designated as such because they are long established, let’s call them the Centrististas, agree that there’s a problem with our economic disparity. But many of them have gotten prosperous by playing the game. So they argue that more radical ideas will drive away voters. The Sandernistas charge that there’s little to distinguish the Centrististas from Republicans. The result is a clash of philosophies and egos.
In the case of Ossoff, he refused to play the Trump card, rejecting most attacks on the president and opting to run a civilized, moderate campaign. The immoderates on the left argue that civility is highly overrated, that only attacks on the Trumpsters will get them to the promised land, which is control of the House and/or Senate after 2018.
Relying on Trump to “self-impeach,” as Nancy Pelosi describes it, is an incredibly long shot, even with the Russia collusion investigations hanging over him. And speaking of Pelosi, Republicans have achieved great success by demonizing her. Democrats will need to do something about that.
There are so many ways they need to get their acts together. Or, as our boy Will Rogers observed, the downhill trek will continue: “Last year we said, ‘Things can’t go on like this,’ and they didn’t — they got worse.”
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.