Still reeling from a crushing defeat in November, the most prominent Democrats in the country gathered Monday to present their new “populist” plan to the American people as an alternative to President Donald Trump’s agenda.
“Too many Americans do not know what we stand for; not after today,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced to the small crowd assembled in a congressional swing district in Virginia.
Schumer pinned the blame for this dynamic on Hillary Clinton, telling The Washington Post this past weekend that “people didn’t know what we stood for, just that we were against Trump,” adding ““When you lose to somebody who has 40 percent popularity, you don’t blame other things — Comey, Russia — you blame yourself.”
But beneath the new slogan (“A Better Deal”), the substance of the agenda is very similar to what Clinton proposed in last year’s campaign, suggesting that Democrats are more focused on changing their communications strategy than their policy proposals.
“Everything that Schumer is laying out were things we talked about in the campaign,” Joel Benenson, Clinton’s chief strategist and pollster, told VICE News.
Indeed, most of the policy prescriptions in “A Better Deal” can still be found in similar form on Clinton’s campaign website.
“A Better Deal” proposes the creation of 10 million new jobs through an infrastructure program and tax credits, which is similar to the 10 million jobs Clinton promised in part through a $275 billion infrastructure plan and tax incentives. The new agenda also echoes Clinton’s promises to expand job re-training for displaced workers, provide paid sick and family leave, a renewed scrutiny on potential monopolies, and her late embrace of a $15 minimum wage.
Clinton’s plan to address pharmaceutical drug prices was in some ways even further reaching than the “Better Deal” proposal which focuses on appointing a consumer watchdog and allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. Clinton called for importing drugs from abroad, for instance, something this new agenda does not call for.
There are some differences in implementation between the two agendas. For example, Clinton called for $275 billion over 5 years in infrastructure spending whereas Democrats are now calling for $1 trillion over 10 years, a sign they want to beat Trump to one of his campaign promises to fix America’s roads and bridges
But the Democrats’ latest diagnoses of America’s problems and their proposed solutions are largely the same as Clintons’. With new messengers and sharper rhetoric, Democrats are hoping that will be sufficient to help them win back majorities in Congress in 2018 and the White House in 2020.
“I think what everyone realized coming out of the campaign was that we didn’t make our economic argument as effectively as we needed to,” Benenson admitted. An unrelenting focus on those economic issues is what the Democrats need in order to contrast themselves with Trump, he added.
But even a renewed focus will likely run into similar headwinds that the Clinton campaign did. Former Clinton aides have complained that any discussion of policy during the campaign was quickly eclipsed by the latest Trump tweet or rant. Even if they had been more focused on the economy, they argue, it was difficult if not impossible for any wonky economic message to break through.
That dynamic was on display again Monday when most of the cable news networks covered Jared Kushner’s interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee about Russian interference in last year’s election over the Democrats’ much-hyped policy launch.
Some liberals have argued that no amount of public relations can fix what is inherently a bad product. By this rationale, the only real solution is to move farther left, pointing to Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise strength in the recent U.K. elections.
“We need a Democratic Party which is not the party of the liberal elite but a party of the working class of this country,” Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said earlier this year. Democrats say that every member of their party in Congress is united behind the “Better Deal,” but Sanders has not promoted it and did not appear at Monday’s announcement despite being the most popular sitting politician in the party.
His office said he decided to accept an invitation to speak at the annual NAACP convention instead.