A perception that’s long haunted Democrats—that they’re antipolice and weak on law-and-order—hurt them in 2020 and is likely to inflict even more damage on their electoral prospects in 2022.
Take Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D., N.Y.), who’s charged with protecting his party’s House majority as Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman. That’s a difficult job for any party in possession of the White House; since World War II, the average loss in the House for a president’s party in his first midterm has been about 28 seats. If that happens next year, Republicans will have 241 seats to the Democrats’ 194 and Nancy Pelosi will be out as Speaker.
But Mr. Maloney made his task more difficult during a recent interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” The host, a former GOP congressman who spends most of his airtime attacking Republicans, lobbed a softball. How would the DCCC chair “counteract” Republican charges that Democrats favor “defunding the police, cancel culture, socialism” and “packing the court”?
Mr. Maloney offered a three-word response: “lies and demagoguery.” He then veered off into hammering the need to emphasize racial justice, before calling Republican accusations “cheap political points” aimed at “whipping up white resentment.” The New Yorker finished off by decrying “racist voting laws” and saying we can’t go “back to the Jim Crow era.”
Mr. Scarborough was taken aback by Mr. Maloney’s inartful reply and asked again, “What do you say” to Republican arguments, for example, that “Democrats wanted to defund the police?” The congressman repeated that Democrats are “fighting for racial justice” while GOP favors what he termed “racist voting laws.” He triumphantly declared that Republicans “got their butt kicked in November,” and followed up with a diatribe about “the ugliest racism and Jim Crow era laws.” Mr. Maloney then demanded: “What the hell is the Republican Party doing?”
When Mr. Scarborough asked a third time how Democrats would respond to GOP claims, Mr. Maloney accused him of “repeating a Republican talking point for reasons I don’t know.”
Here’s the question: What in Mr. Maloney’s rant would convince a single swing voter to support Democrats in 2022? And that wasn’t the end of the Democrats shooting their own feet.
Last week, Michigan Democrat Rep. Rashida Tlaib tweeted: “Policing in our country is inherently and intentionally racist. . . . No more policing, incarceration, and militarization.” The police chief in Ms. Tlaib’s hometown, Detroit, called for her resignation, but the representative’s fellow Democrats only mumbled. All Speaker Pelosi could manage was to assert that not all police can be painted “with the same brush,” while White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Ms. Tlaib’s tweet was “not the president’s view.” Which do you think swing voters will recall more readily: Ms. Tlaib’s screed or the milquetoast reactions of the speaker and White House?
Then on Saturday, Rep. Maxine Waters (D., Calif.) told protesters that if Derek Chauvin wasn’t found guilty, “we got to not only stay in the street, but we have got to fight for justice. . . . We’ve got to get more confrontational” so “they know that we mean business.”
Mrs. Pelosi defended Ms. Waters, saying the Californian didn’t need to apologize, as her call for confrontation was “in the manner of the civil-rights movement.” The second-ranking House Democrat, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, said “I don’t think she meant violence.” That won’t fly with swing district voters, especially if Republican candidates denounce all violent protests.
Even President Biden and his White House seem tone-deaf in ways that’ll drag his party down in the midterms. After Mr. Biden in a postgolf gaggle with reporters Saturday used the word “crisis” to describe the southern border, he was corrected Monday by his press secretary. Ms. Psaki said Mr. Biden wasn’t referring to “children coming to our border” when he used the forbidden word “crisis,” but to conditions in Central America, where the “influx of migrants” was coming from.
Most Americans see what’s happening on our border even through the Democrats’ disingenuous spin. A sophisticated criminal enterprise is reaping millions of dollars from hundreds of thousands of desperate people seeking to make their way into the U.S. illegally. It’s overwhelming border security, but the Biden administration is afraid to call it a crisis, not wanting to give offense to the left.
But progressives can’t carry the party through the midterms. A campaign dominated by statements such as Ms. Waters and Ms. Tlaib’s will be a twofer, driving GOP turnout and shifting swing voters to the right. Republicans must do more to win, starting with offering their own agenda. But so far Democrats are making it easy to portray their party as too extreme for everyone right of Marx.