It seemed after President Trump secured an upset victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016, there was a measure of agreement that his win was wake-up call for Democrats. But as the party gradually configures its strategy in the era of Trump, that lesson appears to have been lost.
Maybe "lost" isn't the right word.
Take the State of the Union response Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., delivered on Tuesday. As the Washington Examiner's Timothy P. Carney pointed out, Kennedy's choice to give the rebuttal in Fall River, Massachusetts, was a nod to the voters Democrats are working to recapture. "A lot of the white people in Fall River are the working-class folks who voted Obama and then Trump," Carney noted. Kennedy was staged in front of an old car with its hood up, in what appeared to be the gymnasium of a technical high school. The picture, at least, was perfect.
But, of course, there's the inescapable reality that Democrats chose a Kennedy – a member of one of the country's most elite political dynasties – to appeal to the working class, and at a time when anti-establishment sentiments are running high on both sides of the aisle and everywhere in between. Clinton learned that particular lesson the hard way.
Over at the Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti did the math, writing, "Kennedy mentioned neither the word 'job' nor the word 'terrorism.' He said the word 'trade' just once."
Here's more from Continetti's incisive column:
What they can't escape is identity politics—the slicing and dicing of the electorate by race, sex, orientation, gender identity, country of origin, dietary preference, what have you. Meanwhile President Trump has run off with the most saleable of the Democrats' old issues and the foundations of their coalition. You'd think they'd notice.
Instead the Democrats are too paralyzed by disgust with Trump to care. They are too in love with their newly created self-image as the vehicle of the Resistance, too possessed by the codes and nostrums of the literary theory courses they took as undergraduates, too beholden to the ludicrous iconography of Hillary Clinton as feminist martyr.
Kennedy's rebuttal to the State of the Union offered an aesthetic appeal to the working class, but on a substantive level sounded more like a speech to Netroots Nation.
In fact, it reminded me of a conversation I had with Democratic House candidate Randy Bryce at Netroots last August. Bryce is the ironworker running to take on House Speaker Paul Ryan for Wisconsin's First District – and he certainly looks the part. His initial campaign ad went viral, giving Democrats hope they could still be competitive in the Rust Belt with the right candidates and the right messaging. But in our interview at Netroots, where the party's hardcore progressive base gathers annually to strategize, Bryce embraced the radical academic theory of "intersectionality" when I asked how he could explain it to working class voters. In his remarks at the conference, Bryce also gave a shout out to Black Lives Matter and boomed, "I’m not going to go build no stupid wall!"
Republicans will take every available opportunity to bog Democrats down in cultural battles, tying them to the coastal elites that working and middle class voters resent.
Republicans' goal of boosting their appeal in urban America won't be achieved easily either. But it's remarkable to watch Democrats cling to their failed approaches so insistently.