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Three ways Democrats might blow the blue wave election

Hillary Clinton speaks during the ninth annual Women in the World Summit last month in New York.
Hillary Clinton speaks during the ninth annual Women in the World Summit last month in New York. Associated Press

The blue wave. It's happening, right? Polls show it. Special elections show it. Conventional wisdom now says that Democrats have a better chance than not of taking the U.S. House — and maybe even the Senate — in November.

Except, maybe, if Democrats remind voters why they voted Republican in the first place. That's happening, too. Maybe not enough to stop the wave, but enough that Democrats should worry. How can the inevitable become less than inevitable? Three steps, already in progress:

1) Purity tests: Most Democrats cheered in March when Democrat Conor Lamb pulled a special election upset in Pennsylvania's conservative 18th Congressional district. But too many progressives thought Lamb was insufficiently liberal to celebrate. Never mind that Lamb was exactly the kind of moderate that Democrats need to turn center-right districts into a House majority. They didn't like that he opposes a ban on assault-style weapons. They especially didn't like that he frowns at single-payer health care.

We're seeing a lot of that rigidity these days in progressive circles — criticism of moderates as Democrats in Name Only, raised eyebrows at anyone who would dare compromise with Republicans.

A good tug between intra-party ideologies is natural — even healthy. It's also natural that when Washington swings so far politically to one extreme, the other extreme plays an important role in rebuilding and rallying its party. But if you want to invite moderates and disaffected conservatives back into your tent, it might not be a good idea to card them at the door.

2) Relive 2016: It's over. Hillary lost. It wasn't James Comey's fault. It wasn't the media, despite what a highly cited and deceptively subjective study said about election coverage. Clinton lost because she was an awful candidate who couldn't take advantage of a horrible candidate. Keeping her in the national conversation only reminds voters what they didn't like about her party. Republicans (hello, Fox News) would like nothing more than for the 2018 election to be about 2016 all over again.

3) Become Donald Trump: In the hours after news broke that Donald Trump, Jr.'s wife, Vanessa, had filed for divorce, social media was filled with restraint and respect for the difficulty this family was surely enduring. LOL. Progressives were gleeful at the news, with memes and jokes and nastiness coming not only from the dark corners of the web, but prominent voices and media members.

It was, sadly, just another day in the muck in America. Used to be that one of the best cases progressives could make about Donald Trump is that he and his supporters have brought a coarseness to public discourse, an ugliness that demeans the presidency and the country.

Instead, when comedienne Michelle Wolf crossed the line with a tasteless bit Sunday at the White House Correspondents Dinner, progressives declared that Donald Trump already destroyed that line and that target Sarah Huckabee Sanders had it coming and — a favorite — that the president is trying to destroy journalism, so if you criticize a voice at a journalism event, you’re helping the president.

The thing is, all of this — the whataboutism, the ugliness, the purity tests — have worked for Republicans. Not only for Trump, but for conservatives who rallied their base and took power in Congress by demonizing Democrats, refusing to compromise and appealing to the worst in voters. It's hard to blame Democrats who want to roll out the same blueprint, even if it risks sending moderates back into the arms of the GOP.

Yes, voters will be weighing substantial policy issues this November. If a Democratic wave happens, a good part of it will come from Americans rejecting the Republican tax plan and efforts to kill Obamacare. But for better or worse, Americans also vote on the kind of people who will represent them, not only candidates but political movements. If you want to persuade voters that you're different than the ones they voted into power, you might not want to offer more of the same.

pstonge@charlotteobserver.com
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