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Commentary: Democrats Need To Drop The Eeyore Act

JD Hancock
Flickr Creative Commons

Everyone knows that the donkey is the mascot and symbol of the Democratic Party, and has been for some time.

All the way back to 1828, in fact, when opponents of the presidential campaign of Andrew Jackson started calling him a jackass. Rather than being offended, Jackson thought it was funny and included the animal in his campaign posters.

But since Donald Trump became president, Jackson's noble donkey has been transformed into Eeyore, the pessimistic but lovable character of the Winnie the Pooh stories.

If it's been a while since you read A.A. Milne's classic, Eeyore is constantly whining about his fate; convinced the world is conspiring against him. Eeyore believes he can't win, no matter how hard he tries.

Just like a lot of Democrats I know.

Believe me, this is not a description that applies to all Democrats, the ones who forge ahead, work hard for their candidates and keep their spirits high, even in their darkest hour.

And, believe me, the election of Donald Trump as the nation's 45th president was their darkest hour. So dark, in fact, that many Democrats to this day can't see a future for their party, even wearing night vision goggles.

Here is a message for the Eeeyores in the Democratic Party who seem unwilling to accept the fact that they could actually win across the board in 2020 – the House, the Senate and, yes, the White House:

Get over it. Take both hands and get a good grip on yourselves. If you keep whining, you will surely lose.

It would help, of course, if you all would quit chasing each other in circles over whether your presidential nominee should be a moderate-type or someone from the progressive camp, and land on somebody everybody can rally around.

You can't beat something with nothing.

It would also help if the Eeyore crowd could bring itself to acknowledge just how far you have come since that dismal day in November 2016 when you all were gob-smacked by something the polls and the pundits told you could never happen – the election of Donald Trump.

It's clear from the results in this year's off-year elections that the Democratic base is growing, while the Republican base shrinks.

Yes, shrinks. As in grows smaller. By the day.

Here in Ohio, GOP leaders will tell you bluntly that suburban women have bid the Republican Party goodbye in the last round of election cycles and that it is going to be a hard trend to reverse.

These women – more highly educated and more affluent than the typical urban Democratic woman – are not particularly partisan; they are simply fed up with a political party that acts as a mass enabler for Trump's sometimes crude and always offense attitude toward women.

They've had enough.

If their local Republican member of Congress, their county commissioner, their township trustees have not denounced the potty-mouthed president, those suburban women don't seem inclined to support them.

You don't support us; we don't support you. Quid pro quo, you might say.

Republican Party leaders at the local, state and national levels are well aware of this problem with suburban women and are mighty concerned about it.

Last week, I made my annual appearance at the Cincinnati Women's Political Caucus post-election post-mortem, something I have been doing for more than 20 years now.

This year, I was part of a panel that included Sharon Coolidge of the Enquirer and Chris Wetterich of the Cincinnati Business Courier.

The Caucus is made up of almost entirely of liberal, pro-choice Democratic women. Back in the early days when I started my post-election speaking at the Caucus, there were pro-choice Republican women involved in the group, but they are long gone. The GOP establishment never approved of them belonging to a pro-choice group, which endorsed mostly liberal Democratic women.

I spoke to them at length about how well women candidates – particularly Democratic woman – had done in the Nov. 5 election, which was mostly about suburban offices and municipal court judgeships, the bottom run of the judicial ladder.

My Exhibit A was the local election in Reynoldsburg, a middle-class suburb of about 36,000 people, 13 miles from downtown Columbus.

Reynoldsburg has been rock-solid Republican for as long as anyone can remember. But on this election, every municipal office up for election – from mayor to city attorney to president of council to four members of council – went from red to blue.

Here in Hamilton County, the city of Wyoming – a dependably red town – had a field race for seven council seats. Nine candidates were on the ballot. The top five vote-getters were Democratic. The other two winners were Republican.

The Democrats picked up local offices in some of the reddest small cities of the state – Coschocton, Archbold, Norwalk and Ironton, among others.

There were major wins for mayor and council seats in the suburbs of most of the state's large urban areas – Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo, Akron and Cleveland.

Now, in the past, I have gone into these Caucus post-mortems and delivered the assembled Democrats a whole lot of bad news.

This time, I came bearing glad tidings of great job for the blue people.

Aside from a few heads nodding affirmatively, I barely got any reaction out of the crowd.

"Hey folks,'' I said, "This is all good news for you. All of this bodes well for 2020. You people ought to be up and dancing on your chairs."

I sensed a fairly strong Eeyore mood in the room – except from those in the audience who are already candidates for office in 2020, such as Kate Schroder (running for Steve Chabot's 1st Congressional District seat) and Connie Pillich, who, the next day, would announce her candidacy for Todd Portune's county commission seat.

I couldn't believe it. This was about as close I ever come in public to pumping up the expectations of a roomful of political people.

And what do I get? Nothing.

David Niven, political science professor at the University of Cincinnati, told WVXU the woe-is-me reaction is sort of like sports fans who are afraid to cheer or they will jinx the team.

"It's like their pitcher is throwing a no-hitter and they are unwilling to talk about it, for fear of making him give up a hit,'' Niven said.

When the Caucus' Q&A session was over, I had several women come up to me to continue the conversation. One of them looked me dead in the eye and said, "Do you really think Donald Trump can be beaten?"

Of course, I do, I said. Absolutely I do. He can also win, but only if the Democrats go to sleep on him or decide that it is more important to fight among each other than to go after Trump.

Here's my suggestion, I said. Maybe you might want to postpone your perennial party-infighting until after next year's election. Then, when your party has won back the White House, you can have a good old Democratic family food fight to beat the band. But it seems like you might want to deal with Trump first!

Even David Pepper, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, has noticed this Eeyore phenomenon as he speaks to Democrats around the state.

"Somehow, some Democrats have convinced themselves that they can't win,'' Pepper told WVXU. "But everything that has happened in the last two election cycles tells us clearly that things are moving in our direction."

We all know that, in 2016, Trump won the presidency despite having lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by about three million voters. But it takes 270 electoral college votes to win and Trump had 304.

And why did he have 304?

Because about 77,000 voters in three states – Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin – flipped sides and voted for Trump.

We would argue that Trump has already lost more votes than that in Pennsylvania alone.

He won Ohio – absolutely mandatory for any Republican running for president – by about 8 percentage points.

Two years later, Democrat Sherrod Brown, the senior senator from Ohio, won re-election by a nearly identical margin – with his votes coming from the same blue-collar regions of the Mahoning Valley, eastern and southern Ohio, where Trump won two years before.

We are not saying that there is no question Trump will be sent back to Mar-a-Lago for good next year.

But Democrats walking around doing their Eeyore impressions is not going to help.

What these people need is a good dose of Tigger's optimism and enthusiasm.


Be like Tigger, people. It's much more fun.

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Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.