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Democrat's Challenge

Will Rogers once said, "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat." Humorous, but seemingly true today--at least in Florida. How did it happen?

In 1972, the early favorite for the Democratic nomination to take on Republican President Richard Nixon was respected Maine Senator Ed Muskie. He had earned high praise for his campaign in 1968 as Senator Hubert Humphrey's running mate in a close loss to the Nixon-Agnew ticket. But under the withering assault by the conservative press in New Hampshire, Muskie faltered and unknown South Dakota Senator George McGovern began organizing a grass roots campaign. His campaign manager was a brilliant Colorado lawyer named Gary Hart.

To beat back the Democratic establishment of organized labor, the Kennedy wing of the party, and the remnants of the Johnson Administration, Hart came up with an idea of creating multiple sub caucuses' within the party. Each one had it's own primary issue, which was all that mattered to them. In planning for the Democratic convention Hart organized caucuses for the Afro-Americans, gay and lesbians, peace niks, green groups, and intellectuals on college campuses, among many other smaller groups. No groups were organized for the Southern, more moderate Democrats. The simple idea was to divide up the party so that McGovern could then pick off each small group to aggregate into a large whole of the party. It was hard to keep up with all of McGovern's commitments to the wide ranging liberal groups, but without social media then, the national press illuminated McGovern as the future of the Democrats. This is when the large moderate wing of the Party declared, 'My Party left me.'

The '72 Convention in Miami Beach gave McGovern the nomination, but Hart's splintered groups had not been tested together. They could not come together and their total number dwindled, with many unregistered to vote. On the other side, Nixon used the proven rallying cry that those misfits don't stand for America, and won overwhelmingly. The large moderate, middle was now a 'wholly owned subsidiary' of the Republican Party.

The scraps of the Hart strategy are still around today, creating deep divisions like we see among the Democrats in Florida. The Black Legislative Caucus recently felt slighted when the white Chairman of the Party failed to introduce them before a remarks by former Vice President Joe Biden. The other minority caucuses will no doubt also flag the Chairman for slights in the future. The Democrats appear like cannibals, devouring their own.

The lesson for the Democrats: Start over from the bottom up. Craft a thoughtful strategy that emphases the whole, requiring a buy in by all the stake holders. Decide on the composition of your planned tent in the beginning. You would be smart to go back to your roots with room for the large middle, not just the extreme wings of the Party. When you have a consensus on the strategy, begin the arduous task of finding a leadership team. It will take time and money. You may not win at first, but over time, with solid messaging, you could very well win back the majority. It appears the Republicans today have been hijacked by the Trump conservative fringe.

Democrats, what you have now is not working and does not appear that it will work, unless an extraordinary campaigner like Barack Obama comes along. That is very unlikely.

Get to work.


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