While Democrats are hoping for a blue wave to help take back the House of Representative in the fall, they have decided on a risky strategy that goes against the grain of how previous wave elections have been won. As The New York Times notes, going back more than two decades, wave elections have always had victorious parties adopt a national platform, ranging from the Contract With America in 1994 to the “Six for ’06” in 2006 to the Tea Party agenda in 2010.
In 2018, by contrast, the Democrats have decided that the way to go is to let individual candidates set their own agenda. “Democrats in the House tasked with cobbling together a unifying agenda after the 2016 elections say they studied Contract With America and similar plans in detail,” The Times reports. “But in the end, they settled on a narrow ‘do no harm’ strategy rather than a granular point-by-point agenda punctuated with a high-profile unveiling at the Capitol. Midterm elections are almost always referendums on the president, regardless of the opposing party’s message.”
Foreswearing a bold wish list, “The Democratic platform, For the People, outlines a relatively anodyne agenda — lowering health care and prescription drug costs, increasing worker pay, cleaning up corruption — that Democrats say unites all of their candidates.”
To some degree, this “do no harm” strategy makes sense. After all, the Democratic Party is very heterogenous. In swaths of the Midwest, the party is running candidates that Politico describes as “white, conventional and boring.” But this isn’t true of the whole Midwest, let alone the whole party, which is becoming more diverse (fielding a record number of women and people of color) and, in the safest seats, more ideologically bold (notably with the avowed socialist (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez).
The danger of “do no harm” is that it’ll yield the national floor to the Republicans, who are more than happy to paint all Democrats as extremists beholden to the supposed radical Nancy Pelosi. And if the case-by-case approach succeeds, it’s hard to see how it would translate to Congressional politics: Governing is easier when the members of a party basically agree on platform.