Democrats should support grassroots to capitalize on the Bloomberg bankroll
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Motivation and mobilization are more important this year and local organizations need a massive infusion of cash for maximum impact in November.
With the two early states down, many Democrats, anti-Trump independents and a few rogue Republicans are depressed — panicked that none of the candidates can beat Trump, convinced that the Democratic Party isn’t up to the challenge.
Hopefully, they aren’t so paralyzed that they’ll miss a newfound bonanza.
Since Michael Bloomberg has promised to foot a Gotham-sized chunk of the bill for the Democratic general election campaign, no matter who the eventual nominee is, it would be wise for the Democrats to adjust their planning immediately. If they delay or stay the course, they may miss a golden — actually, platinum — opportunity at a moment of political crisis.
Bloomberg’s bankroll should liberate vast resources usually spent on the political-marketing-industrial-complex hired by candidates, party organizations and giant Super PACs, an entrenched repertoire that consists mostly of polling, advertising of all sorts and marshalling paid or out-of-town “grassroots” field workers.
Bloomberg has basically said he’ll bankroll all that.
Swing states, local organizations and Senate races are the keys
So, what should Democrats and anti-Trumpers do?
Three criteria should guide.
First, of course, the ultimate goal of all new activism should be defeating Trump in 2020. That means if you live in an ironclad red or blue state, this year you must find ways to help out in swing states even if you can’t be there.
Second, resources should be directed to truly local organizations that will endure for elections past 2020. If Trump does win, then at least there will be a better Democratic (and democratic) infrastructure to fight the coming, bloody battles.
Third, Bloomberg’s bounty means Democrats can enlarge the map and throw more support to Senate races and presidential states that currently look like a stretch for Democrats.
According to a story in The New York Times, Bloomberg recently told his boosters that he didn’t want their money and they should give it to the D.N.C. and grassroots groups like Swing Left and GALvanize.
The D.N.C. can be dumped from the list; it will have plenty money and it has proven quite capable of squandering it.
But Bloomberg is spot on about the grassroots groups. Supporting them is perhaps the best way Democrats and anti-Trumpers of all stripes can contribute right now.
In the current environment of hardened polarization, there isn’t a huge, silent cadre of wavering voters. Minds are mind up for Trump or against. Motivation and mobilization are more important than persuasion this year. Human contact does that better than TV ads and spam.
How to win 2020 election
Two recent books by academics, "Politics is for Power" by Eitan Hersh and "American Resistance" by Dana Fisher, along with several articles by University of Pittsburgh historian Lara Putnam argue that the Democrats have consistently underinvested in local party and community organizations at a great cost. They also argue that a garden of activist groups that sprang up or ripened after Trump’s 2016 election was instrumental in feeding the movement that gave the Democrats control of the House in 2018. They need a massive infusion of fertilizer as soon as possible for maximum impact in November.
One of the most well-known and active groups is Indivisible which started as a Google Doc how-to manual for resisters soon after the 2016 elections. Other groups include Sister District, Flippable, Women’s March and Swing Left. The Movement Voter Project lists and supports scores of smaller “resistance” field groups in key 2020 states.
Post-Bloomberg bounty Democrats would also be smart to put time and money into key state parties rather than candidates. When candidates lose, their organizations evaporate; that happens with winners, too. State parties have the capacity to build enduring structures that help whole tickets top to bottom in the future, even if they haven’t done very well recently.
As for expanding both the Senate map — and simultaneously the presidential one in a few cases, groups, including Indivisible, are focusing on Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.
For this approach to work, big donors will have to change their tunes and forego the kinds of contributions that buy access to candidates, politicians and fancy events. And they will have to support groups that are more progressive than they like.
People who are obsessed with politics but aren’t actually doing anything will have to wean themselves off the addictive “slacktivism” of Facebook, Twitter and online yodeling and figure out ways to help real activist groups near and far with volunteer time, expertise and/or well-targeted contributions.
Some grassroots groups might have to hold their noses and support nominees that are less progressive than they are.
And some pundits might have to switch from moral persuasion and brilliant analysis to supplying practical, how-to advice.
Despite despondency in the ranks, many Democrats and anti-Trumpers are desperate to do something — anything — to help the cause and to do it right now. We’d better. It’s not looking good.
Dick Meyer is the author of “Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium.” Follow him on Twitter: @DickMeyer_DC