The Democrats’ Narrative of Gloom Won’t Fly in 2020

Telling people their lives suck is no way to win an election.

The chaos of the primaries, the lack of a clear party vision in the last debate—are Democrats a progressive party, a party of moderates, a plaything for billionaires, or just people sniping each other for virtue points? It is time for concern.

Politics is always about the biggest story you tell and how voters see themselves in that story. If the Democrats lose in November, one of the main reasons—and the competition is strong—will be that they’ve gotten trapped inside a set of false narratives. Or they’re, in the words of James Carville, “Losing our damn minds.”

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At the top of the list is the economy. The Democratic narrative is that the economy is bad, with a recession just around the corner (or maybe the corner after that, keep looking). Yet outside the debate hall, 59 percent of Americans say they are better off than they were a year ago. Overall quality of life is satisfactory for a massive 84 percent. Unemployment is at historic lows. Wages are up a bit.

The reality is bad enough for Dems. But the narrative problem is that they’re confusing a strong economy with economic inequality. The economy does benefit everyone, but it benefits a small percentage at the top much more. They have not gotten this message across to an electorate that is happy to have any job, content with some rise in wages, and, for the half of Americans who own some stock, want to see just enough growth in their 401(k) to suggest at least part of retirement won’t be dependent on canned soup being on sale. The Dems are running on a narrative that the economy is failing; Americans believe that if it is failing, it’s failing less than it did before, and that’s good enough.

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