Democrats Must Focus on Messaging

There is a passionate debate as to whether Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz should be replaced. This debate focuses on three main points: did Wasserman Schultz show favoritism towards Secretary Clinton, has she been biased against Senator Sanders, and can Wasserman Schultz unify the party? However, neither of the preceding points are the most important criteria for evaluating the Chairwoman’s performance as head of the DNC.

The fairness issue appeared early in the presidential campaign when the Democratic debate schedule was being set. Last summer, when the Democratic debate schedule was initially announced, six debates were announced and four scheduled. Almost immediately Wasserman Schultz was accused wanting to keep the number of debates low to help the Clinton campaign.

The low number of debates was not the best communications tactic for the Democrats regardless of the reason. When a presidential campaign starts, the purpose is to introduce candidates—even well known candidates—and get people comfortable with the candidates and their positions. It was made even worse by having three of the first four debates on Saturday and Sunday nights, some of the worse times for exposure.

The timing and number of debates indicated a strong weakness in the Democratic campaign strategy—communications.

This weakness in communications becomes even more apparent when we look at elections. The Democratic Party has lost more than 1,000 seats in the House, Senate, Governorships, and state legislators since Pres. Obama took office. At the federal level, the Democrats have been walloped in the midterm elections. They lost 63 House seats and six Senate seats in 2010. Wasserman Schultz became the chair of the DNC in 2011, and in 2014 Democrats lost 13 House seats nine Senate seats.

The Democrats played defense in messaging in 2010 and allowed Republicans to control the debate. In 2014 the Democrats again played defense. Wasserman Schultz used the same ineffective communications strategy in 2014 that failed in 2010, and there is no indication that she understands the messaging necessary to wage an effective campaign that will allow Democrats to win down-ballot races.

The Democrats must play offense in their communications and make the Republicans respond to them. Democrats need to provide not only reasons to vote against Republicans, but also reasons to vote for Democrats, and their presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton. Messages and ads that stress Clinton’s trustworthiness and accomplishments should flood the airwaves, while the negatives of Donald Trump and Republicans need to be emphasized.

Forget about whether Wasserman Schultz can unify the party or whether she has been biased in her handling of campaigns. Those are minor issues. The DNC needs a chair who understands how to wage a proactive communications strategy so Democrats can control the debate during the current campaign. The Democrats need to stop playing defense. It is time for the Democrats to play offense. The Democrats need a chair who can make that happen.

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