By Salena Zito at The New York Post
Optics are everything, especially in politics.
Which makes the Democrats’ messaging effort — at least the one on display during President Trump’s joint address to Congress — all the more baffling.
What were Democrats trying to say with former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear giving the rebuttal to the president’s speech? The supping folks behind him at the diner looked more like hostages than stage props, let alone ordinary citizens going about their night.
And how is it that Beshear became the voice of a party in disarray? Perhaps that question answers itself. No offense to the former governor, but he’s 72 and out of office. This, for a rebuttal that often goes to an up-and-comer on the party’s bench.
Yes, Beshear’s message on ObamaCare is well-delivered. But “don’t go get rid of health care” is a generic, and far from aspirational, central message. Not to mention the defense of ObamaCare only reinforces the impression that the party’s focused on the past.
Setting Beshear at a diner was also a transparent attempt at appealing to the “real Americans” the Democrats seemed to take for granted in recent cycles. But it was so hamhanded — and, in the event, downright creepy — as to demonstrate, rather than remedy, the party’s sins.
Remember, it’s not just about losing in November. Since Barack Obama was sworn in as president in 2009, Democrats have lost 1,030 down-ballot races for seats in the US House, Senate, governors’ offices and state legislatures.
For a party that insists this White House is in chaos, Democrats need to look within before casting stones.
Yet the evening proved that Democrats in Washington don’t know who they are, don’t know what their mission is, don’t have any aspirational message that can take voters out of the past toward the future.
They remain as fractured as many suspected — perhaps more extensively than most observers realized.
Out of touch and poor optics: Democrat women dress in white for Trump’s speech to the joint session of Congress in support of “women’s suffrage.” Uh, wasn’t that 120 years ago? And last we checked, women have the right to vote.
Trump, meanwhile, used his speech to reinforce the fact that while Democrats were speaking to these voters in the hopes of one day again speaking for them, the fact that he was standing there at the podium was proof that in November, the people had been speaking through him. Unlike Democrats, Trump didn’t need gimmicks.
“In 2016, the earth shifted beneath our feet,” the president said. “The rebellion started as a quiet protest, spoken by families of all colors and creeds — families who just wanted a fair shot for their children, and a fair hearing for their concerns.
“But then the quiet voices became a loud chorus — as thousands of citizens now spoke out together, from cities small and large, all across our country.”
Annie, a 39-year-old Western Pennsylvania Democrat who pulled the lever “sometimes reluctantly” (her words) for every Democrat on the ballot last November, now says that if her party wants to do something and reach people, it needs to start in small towns — and not just for photo ops.
“Start working to get people at all levels elected who share your values — not the national Democrats’ [values], because they don’t know what their values are outside of opposition,” Annie said. “I’m fatigued and exhausted and bored with my party’s reaction, and it’s only been four weeks.”
“Don’t just place someone in a diner and say ‘no’ to dismantling ObamaCare, and be satisfied that that is our message to voters,” she added. “The truth is there are hardworking, resilient people in this country that are suffering, and they aren’t learning anything from the behavior of our so-called leaders.”
Resistance movements tend to have short lifespans. Initially, they create anxiety and doubt among their targets, but unless they can expand interest in their cause, they lose steam.
Annie says she doesn’t think Democratic Party leaders “truly understand the visual contrast they created on Tuesday, because they are viewing it from a bubble, and they seem to forget that Democrat voters, who want to be supportive, live outside the bubble.”
For now, anyway.
Above: Carryn Owens during Trump’s tribute to her late husband, Navy Seal Ryan Owens. Below: more poor optics and shameful behavior by Democrats – former DNC Chair Debbie Blabbermouth-Schultz and current DNC vice-chair, Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison hew the party line during Trump’s tribute to Ryan Owens.
Salena Zito is a national political reporter who has spent her entire career covering presidential and midterm elections from the view point of Main Street. Unlike all too many in the media today who live in a bubble in New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles or San Francisco and parrot the party line, Salena Zito gets out into the small towns and talks to real people, taking the pulse of the country. Zito has interviewed every president since Gerald Ford and vice-president since Al Gore as well as everyone seeking that office, including this 2016’s crop of 22 primary hopefuls, including the eventual nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump. Her reporting appears in The Atlantic, New York Post, The Hill, and The Economist.
… And now, in closing: