New Message Needed 

Democrats search for a new direction and new leaders.

Republicans won the May special election for Montana's congressional seat even after their candidate throttled and body-slammed a reporter. The upcoming special election in Georgia remains close even with a weak Republican candidate.

click to enlarge Juan WIlliams
  • Juan WIlliams

So, what will it take for Democrats to start winning?

First, the Montana fisticuffs showed that Republicans can react volcanically to questions about President Trump's failed effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Their candidate went ballistic when the reporter, Ben Jacobs of The Guardian, asked about the projected higher premiums and fewer people insured under Trump's health-care plan.

Second, last week's poor jobs numbers and Trump's lack of progress on tax reform offer more evidence that the GOP lacks a strong record for its candidates to run on. And, third, the Democratic base is fired up. With Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate deal, the party is unified in its fury at him.

But with the president retaining strong support among his GOP base, are these hopeful signs just mirages similar to the illusions that led Democrats to think Trump could never be elected president? Is there any concrete reason to think that the nation's politics have changed enough to give the Democrats the 24 seats they need to take control of the House and set themselves up to defeat Trump in 2020?

In Montana, the Democratic candidate lost by only six points, while Hillary Clinton, the party's 2016 presidential nominee, lost by 20. That margin narrowed even as the GOP outspent the Democrats. And most people voted long before the Republican, Greg Gianforte, resorted to violence.

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of the Crystal Ball newsletter from the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, says: "Democrats can point to overall special election trends that suggest the opportunity for significant gains next year if they can be replicated on a nationalized scale."

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced last month that it was expanding the targets for GOP-held House seats in 2018 beyond the 23 districts currently represented by a Republican but won by Clinton. They are now aiming at an incredible 79 seats.

Before he withdrew from the climate deal, Trump's approval rating was underwater by 14 points: Gallup reported last week that the president's job performance was approved by 40 percent of the country, while 54 percent disapproved.

And as the FBI, special counsel, and congress continue to probe into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, the GOP policy agenda could be derailed before the 2018 races.

A Politico/Morning Consult poll last week found that 43 percent of voters want impeachment proceedings right now. A Quinnipiac University poll last month found the president with the support of just 29 percent of self-described independents — a group with which he had scored plurality support last November.

But all that is noise inside a political bubble unless there is a winning message from Democrats that goes beyond another dose of fury at Trump.

Last week, a group of Democrats formed the People's House Project to elect left-of-center candidates. The new group's goal is to give Democratic candidates in the Midwest and rural areas a new look, with a jobs-first focus. It is one front in the battle to shape the Democrats' future. That includes the search for an energetic, charismatic leader able to withstand Trump's attacks.

Former Vice President Biden announced last week that he is forming a political action committee to support candidates in the 2018 congressional races. It is also a possible platform for him to run in 2020.

And two senators, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey, also look to be auditioning for the role of leading Democrat. They offer different looks for the anti-Trump brigade.

Warren satisfies Democrats who want to go toe-to-toe with a president they view as illegitimate, corrupt, dangerous, and even treasonous. They want Trump treated by Democrats the way President Obama was treated by Republicans for the last eight years — with contempt and unrelenting opposition.

Meanwhile, Booker wants to offer a contrast to the president by branding himself and Democrats as a force for unifying the nation across political lines. "It's gotta be about love. It's gotta be about the connections we have to each other," he told Vox recently.

The Democrats' search for answers remains a work in progress.

Juan Williams is an author and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.

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