Democrats are tripping over themselves to cede the midterm messaging battle to the GOP.
As far as things that are wildly not in need of yet another reboot attempt, I’d list the following in no particular order: Batman movies, novelty snack foods, and Democratic messaging about police.
To that last point, consider Wednesday’s laudatory Politico profile of hawkish Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, in which the Virginia congresswoman essentially argues that her party needs to double down on its pro-cop bona fides to head off any “soft on crime” attacks from conservatives in the coming midterm election.
“If your words are ‘defund the police,’ they’re going to think you mean that. And they know the world is on fire,” Spanberger told Politico, after visiting a local police station to test fly their militarized drones and watch their K9 units train. “They know things are upside down. They know they’re afraid, they know there’s a pandemic. So why are you going to just say you want to do something that you actually, maybe, don’t want to do?”
As Politico notes:
Few Democrats expect that crime will be their biggest vulnerability going into November, with the GOP targeting inflation as their top issue. Still, incumbents like Spanberger say it remains a campaign problem and have been intentional about reaching out to law enforcement communities back home.
This, more than anything, gets to a core problem: Hardly anyone thinks this is an issue, and yet Spanberger and her fellow centrist Democrats nevertheless insist that it’s not enough for the party to have overwhelmingly run on a pro-cop (or at least, an anti-“defund”) message, nor is it enough that the president of the United States has repeatedly and explicitly made a point of shouting his pro-cop stance to the world, as he did most notably during his first State of the Union address last month.
Spanberger’s performative embrace of policing — fueled no doubt by her own career-long history of law enforcement work — can then best be thought of as both a sincere faith in a system that has regularly shown itself incapable of living up to its own self-proclaimed standards, as well as a cynical, reactionary attempt to shore up her own conservative bona fides at the expense of the left. Saying “this is a campaign issue that I need to address ahead of GOP attacks” is already ceding the argument to Republicans in the first place.
It’s not just policing, too. As Politico points out, Democrats of Spanberger’s ilk have started tacking rightward on other similar issues, like the longstanding GOP bogeyman of immigration.
“You can ensure terrorists and gang members aren’t getting into the country, but also have a proper path to citizenship,” New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer told Politico. “There’s loud voices on the extremes on both sides that make it like you can’t actually have smart policy. What we need to do is show people there’s a way to do both.”
This too is essentially a capitulation to GOP pressure, rather than staking out a legitimate Democratic position on the issue. “We only want the good people coming into the country” is essentially the same immigration rhetoric that was espoused by former President Donald Trump, but in slightly less jarring, marginally more nuanced terms.
It’s been six years since the now-prophetic “we’ve got to get more racist” tweet, and time and again there has been a class of Democrats eager to fall for the same failed logic that electoral success can only be achieved by following the template laid out by Republicans, rather than by espousing a legitimate policy slate of their own. Claims that Democrats aren’t as pro-cop as they’ve ever been are just admissions that the party is bad at messaging (which is true) rather than good at coming up with ideas that inspire and energize voters. There’s no need for a Democratic reboot on pro-cop rhetoric. What the party needs is a reboot on its actual priorities, instead.