Democrats Search for a Response After Charlottesville Violence

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WASHINGTON — Democrats, eager to capitalize on President Trump’s unpopular response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va., are pursuing a potpourri of messages and legislative actions, trying to find a comeback that could buoy them ahead of next year’s midterm elections.

On Thursday, the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, published a lengthy opinion article calling on his party to focus on voting rights, and particularly on a legislative push to disband Mr. Trump’s “election integrity” panel, which Mr. Schumer called a “ruse” intended only “to disenfranchise voters.”

The Democratic National Committee is pressing a broad activist campaign to rally supporters under the banner #RiseAndOrganize, but just what they are to rise against is unclear. The committee held more than 200 events this past weekend around the campaign.

Then there is Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who has focused much of his energy on legislation that would remove Confederate statues from the Capitol. And some House Democrats who are demanding a formal censure of the president.

With control of neither the White House nor a chamber of Congress, all of these separate efforts threaten to dilute a unified message and keep Democrats sidelined from the debates sparked by Charlottesville. Some even question why so much attention is being paid to identity politics after Democrats lost an election to a presidential candidate who focused on populist economics.

“I totally understand the passion of those who want to bring those statues down, but Democrats cannot lose focus on the overriding issue of midterm elections, which is building the middle class back up,” said Steve Israel, a recently retired House Democrat who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “The midterm elections need to be a referendum on whether President Trump has delivered to a middle class that has been pummeled.”

Jess O’Connell, the chief executive of the Democratic National Committee, disagreed and said the party must “operate on all levels.”

“If we learned anything over the past few months, we know that silence is not an option,” she said. “We have to hold Republicans accountable, not just President Trump, but Republicans who remain silent.”

Democratic leaders argue that all of their efforts are consistent with the twin goals of civil rights and economic rights, while they work to hold Mr. Trump accountable for saying that there were “some very fine people on both sides” of the unrest in Virginia.

Ms. O’Connell said that the Democratic Party must stand against the Confederate statues and focus on the problems that face voters daily, like health care and jobs.

The Rise and Organize campaign has rallied Democrats to knock on doors and call people to encourage them to participate in electoral politics.

“People are still asking us about health care. They’re asking us about the economy and about how to raise wages,” Ms. O’Connell said. “And those are the things that we are working on as well.”

But so vague is the slogan #RiseAndOrganize that supporters of Robert James Ritchie, better known as Kid Rock, are using it on Twitter to rally conservatives around the Michigan Republican’s possible Senate campaign. On the left, activists have used it for anti-racism programs, for trying to stop the Dakota Access pipeline and for voter registration.

Republicans say all of this only underscores the president’s contention that Democrats have become the party of obstructionism, blocking progress on overhauling the tax code, on building a wall on the southern border and on reviving the nation’s infrastructure.

In his opinion article, Mr. Schumer called for a concentrated focus on Mr. Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, headed by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas’ hard-line conservative secretary of state, Kris Kobach.

“This is how the appalling failure to use the right words and stand up to hate in the aftermath of Charlottesville is made real in the form of policy; they are two edges of the same sword,” Mr. Schumer wrote of racism and the commission. “Under the guise of voter fraud, which experts agree is practically non-existent, conservative forces in the administration, cheered on by white-supremacy-stoking publications like Breitbart News, are reviving the old playbook of disenfranchising minority voters.”

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, said that Ms. Pelosi also wants to see the commission disbanded, but that she is also pushing to have Congress censure the president, hold congressional hearings on white supremacists and make the case to voters that Democrats will do more to help the middle class.

“One can do all of these things,” Mr. Hammill said. “Those things are not mutually exclusive.”

Joseph Pinion III, a Republican strategist, warned that Democrats may get too caught up in fighting “cosmetic” racism and symbols. Mr. Pinion said that, as an African-American, he wants to see Confederate symbols gone and the president’s election commission disbanded. But, he said, Democrats need to look at why they lost the 2016 presidential election.

“The truth is the Democratic Party to this day, in the wake of Hillary Clinton, has gone about absolving itself of any wrongdoing,” he said. “That is the easiest thing to do and also the most dangerous thing to do.”

Until Democrats learn to communicate beyond an activist base to a greater American public, he added, “they are still going to be going nowhere fast.

Source:nytimes.com