What former Democratic Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear showed last night when he delivered the Democratic response to President Trump’s joint address to Congress is that the Democratic Party is in deep trouble. Sure, he comes off as a likable grandfather figure. He spoke about how it is wrong to repeal and replace Obamacare, roll back regulations that make it harder for families to buy homes, and imbrue American values by leading a de facto (and non-existent) war on immigrants.
From the Governor’s speech:
Look, I may be old-fashioned, but I still believe that dignity, compassion, honesty and accountability are basic American values. And as a Democrat, I believe that if you work hard, you deserve the opportunity to realize the American dream, regardless of whether you’re a coal miner in Kentucky, a teacher in Rhode Island, an autoworker in Detroit or a software engineer in San Antonio.Our political system is broken. It’s broken because too many of our leaders think it’s all about them. They need to remember that they work for us and helping us is their work.
Kentucky made real progress while I was governor because we were motivated by one thing: helping families. Democrats are trying to bring that same focus back to Washington, D.C. Americans are a diverse people. And we may disagree on a lot of things, but we’ve always come together when we remember that we are one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
The speech was rather soporific. The setting was weird. And Beshear’s opening remarks went off the rails as well. He said, “I’m a proud Democrat, but first and foremost I’m a proud Republican and Democrat and mostly American.” Come again, governor?
Look, I get why Democrats picked Beshear. He’s from a red state, he’s from a small town, he was elected and re-elected with 55+ percent of the vote in said red state, and he’s far from the Washington Beltway. He also wrote an op-ed about how the Democrats were more or less sucking. Beshear encapsulates the problems that are plaguing Democrats: the need to reclaim lost ground in rural American and winning back enough white working class voters in order to retake Congress, the presidency, and state legislature seats. Yet, let’s not forget he’s a former Democratic governor. Republican Matt Bevin succeeded him, which sort of undercuts the reasons for why Beshear should be delivering this rebuttal. It also highlights the lack of depth among Democrats regarding their candidate bench post-Clinton/Obama. It’s quite dismal.
Oh, and how did Democrats fare in Kentucky under the Beshear-Obama era? Well, not so great. The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) was quick to point out that Democrats collapsed in the state, just like how they crumbled across the board nationally under Obama:
- Flipped the Kentucky House for the first time in 95 years in 2016.
- Defeated the Speaker of the House, Greg Stumbo, who had been in office since 1980.
- Secured a supermajority in the Kentucky House in 2016 with a 64-36 makeup, its largest GOP House majority in state history. When Obama took office, Democrats held a 65-35 supermajority.
- Flipped almost 1,000 state legislative seats from blue to red, including 34 seats picked up across Kentucky’s two chambers.
- Grown its number of trifectas – states with a GOP governor, state House and state Senate majorities – to 25, thanks to Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin’s victory in 2015 and the state House flipping to a GOP majority, joining the state Senate, in 2016. Democrats only have five trifectas.
- Flipped the office of Kentucky governor, lieutenant governor, auditor and treasurer, giving Republicans five of the seven statewide executive offices. Following the 2011 elections, Democrats controlled six of the seven.
Beshear is an old white guy, and Democrats need the old white guy vote to make some headway in the 2018 and 2020 elections. So far, if this is an attempt at outreach to white working class voters who used to be the backbone of the Democratic Party—it was a huge misfire. It’s better to have a sitting governor, representative, senator, etc. who is an ascending star in the party. Yet, the road out of this political wilderness Democrats find themselves in is through people like Beshear. Talk about jobs, the economy, and maybe pension protections and things could get interesting. Again, the question is whether Democrats want to put the issues that the predominantly nonwhite voter base in the cities resonates with on the back burner. There is no guarantee that white working class voters will flock back to the Democrats. It’s a debate for the party to have, one that will probably be messy—but the other route, which essentially is the “wait and die” initiative, will take time. And the Democratic base doesn’t appear to be patient when it comes to taking on the Trump White House, even if their representatives in Congress admit that they lack the resources and the numbers to block the president. The fact that they had to unearth a former governor, who has been out of power, to deliver this speech is a sign that the Democratic talent pool is quite small. This is what happens when the other party controls 69/99 state legislatures, Congress, and two-thirds of the governorships.
Yet, there have been other awkward performances, like Bill Clinton’s 1985 rebuttal to Ronald Reagan. So, don’t feel too bad, Mr. Beshear.