Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has a two-pronged strategy for his fellow Democrats to regain power in the age of Trump: Don’t get distracted by the chaos and prioritize the states.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, McAuliffe called on Democrats to simplify their message down to its most fundamental, Clintonian core. For all the talk of Russian connections, disorganization and dubious ethics, McAuliffe argued, voters care most about the economy. Democrats would be wise to explain how President Donald Trump is failing them on that front.
“Don’t chase the shiny objects,” McAuliffe said, advising those running for office. “The public is sick of people picking partisan fights for the sake of fights. I don’t pick fights with Trump for the sake of picking arguments. I am one of his most vocal critics because, as I’ve said, this man is a one-man wrecking crew to my economy.”
A year ago, few would have imagined McAuliffe playing the role of Moses leading Democrats through their desert days. Prohibited from running for re-election himself in 2017, the longtime ally of the Clintons seemed poised to find his way to the White House in some capacity once Hillary Clinton won.
Trump’s victory changed that. So too did the Democratic Party’s paltry showing in governor’s races across the country. Suddenly, McAuliffe was one of just 16 Democrats in a top executive office and one of the few who hailed from a swing state. In the first few months of the Trump administration, he emerged as a party power broker, one of the president’s most assertive critics, and an oft-rumored candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.
For now, McAuliffe said his sights are set on the midterm elections. Twenty-seven of the 38 governorships on the ballot this year and the next are Republican-held. A failure to score gubernatorial wins in 2018, McAuliffe argues, could very well doom the Democratic Party’s future by leaving it with too little power in the redistricting battles of 2021. He has joined the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, alongside former Attorney General Eric Holder and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“We, as a party, if we don’t win a vast majority of these governorships, then we are out of the game. I don’t care what you say,” McAuliffe said. “Our party loves to focus on the federal. We love every four years to come out in the presidential and raise untold amounts of money and then everybody goes away. We have got to focus on those state chambers and on governors.”
Declaring a focus on 2018 is one thing. Building up to win back the House and flip multiple governor’s mansions is another. A former chair of the Democratic National Committee himself, McAuliffe said he didn’t expect the newly elected Tom Perez to be the face of the party’s revival. The chair’s job, he said, was about the “nuts and bolts of our party,” not necessarily being the “chief spokesman.”
Instead, McAuliffe wants Democratic leaders in Congress and the states to speak up. He encouraged them to weave arguments that rest heavily on the idea that Trump has failed in his pledge of economic revival, whether it be in straightforward ways (cutting budgets, failing to prioritize infrastructure) or a roundabout manner (instituting a travel ban that discourages companies from doing business in America, hampering academic and scientific research).
“That train is so far off the track today,” McAuliffe said. “I said early on during the transition that I would work with the president. … Every governor will give you the same speech: ‘We will work with him if he works with us on jobs and infrastructure and health care.’ He hasn’t done any of it. He has shattered that. The glass is gone. It is on the floor shattered.”