Can busing Bernie Sanders to red states really help solve Democrats' problems?


After losing a presidential election they thought they had in the bag, Democrats are trying something different: focusing on building the party in all 50 states, not just states they think they can win.  

To that end, two leaders of its sometimes-sparring factions — Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez (the establishment figure) and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. (the liberal leader) — are on a bus this week to visit eight not-necessarily-Democratic states: Maine, Kentucky, Florida, Texas, Nebraska, Utah, Arizona and Nevada.  

Last month we spoke to former senator Mark Begich, D-Alaska, about the party's need to reach out to red-state Democrats to grow in the Trump era. We called Begich back to see if he thinks this bus tour does that. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.  

Q. Is this a step in the right direction?  

Begich: I think it's good. I think it's important that the party kind of get over the 2016 election. And that means we're a big tent. It's saying to the base: Look. We're all together now, the election's over, let's figure out where we can win, and let's do it together.  

Q. Is Sanders the best spokesman for that outreach to red states?  

A. Taking Bernie to those states only reassures the progressive base.  

We can't win with a solid, 100 percent progressive message. That's important, but that's not going to win by itself. And when we talk about the economy, it's not about Wall Street only. It's about: What are you going to do to build momentum and opportunity?  

His statements about corporate America — I understand what he's saying. But I think we want to make sure that, as the chairman of the DNC and Sanders go around the country, that it's not just always against things, it's for things.  

To grow the party in those states you need to continue to work with those Democrats that care about security, care about jobs and economic growth.  

Q. There's a risk that, in the Trump era, Democrats are perceived as just against things. Do you think that's playing out in Congress, where Democrats drew a red line on negotiating on health care (no repeal of Obamacare) and are drawing another on taxes (Trump must release his tax returns first)?  

A. Democrats knew there had to be amendments to the health-care bill. Instead they fought it. This fall, we'll see what that will be about. There will be rate increases, and they're not going away.  

I look at tax reform. Mom-and-pop businesses need relief, and Democrats should be advocating for that. They should be motivated to do that and not be against it. Does that mean there are some issues Democrats may not like in a tax reform bill? Maybe. But we should do what we can to help these small businesses move forward.  

[Some Democrats] will say: They know what we're for.  

Well, not really. Because if that was the case, the majority of issues people care about align with Democrats. But they didn't vote for us in 2016. You can argue all you want about what people think, but the reality is somehow that didn't come across.  

Q. That sounds a lot like what some Republicans argued their party should message when Obama was president: Don't just be the party of "no."  

A. I think you'll always have this minority party tug-of-war between pushing against what exists vs. making the case that here's the future.  

That's a hard thing to do when you're in the minority party, because your base wants you to be strong, which you can be. But you should also be for something.  

I think it's important to talk about the progressive issues, but it's somewhat more important to talk, in these red states, about the economy, growing opportunities for these people, and making sure people feel safe and secure, not only in their homes and neighborhoods, but in the country.  

Those are the things we need to hear more about. We're going to have an infrastructure bill — what does that mean? Is it going to be good-paying jobs for Americans? When we talk about tax reform, are we just going to complain about the wealthy?  

Q. To sum up: You think this bus tour is helpful but not a panacea for Democrats' electoral struggles?  

A. It's better and moving in the right direction, but they have to also show a very strong effort with red and rural states. We need to have as much a focus on red states as we do on blue states. Red-state Democrats are an important part of the future of the Democratic Party. They have been an important part of the past, and they offer an important part of the future.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

PolitiFact: Why Chick-fil-A shutdown on Facebook wasn’t fully cooked
PolitiFact: Why Chick-fil-A shutdown on Facebook wasn’t fully cooked

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, fresh from questioning Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at a hearing, asserted that Facebook inappropriately killed an appreciation day for Chick-fil-A, the fast-food restaurant. Was he correct? Cruz’s April 11 commentary on the Fox News website centered on what the Texas Republican described as Facebook’s suppression...
Sessions declines to recuse himself from probe into Trump lawyer
Sessions declines to recuse himself from probe into Trump lawyer

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has decided against recusing himself from the investigation into President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, but will consider stepping back from specific questions tied to the probe, according to a person familiar with the matter.  By contrast, Sessions recused himself from the investigation into Russian...
Amazon’s critics get new life with Trump’s attacks on the company
Amazon’s critics get new life with Trump’s attacks on the company

One of Amazon’s antagonists seized the moment last month with an unusual newspaper advertisement addressed to President Donald Trump. The ad, from a nonprofit that advocates less government, attacked a Defense Department technology contract that Amazon intends to bid on, calling it a lucrative handout for the company.  A top think tank critic...
Democrats fear Grassley special counsel bill amendment will let GOP tip off Trump about Mueller probe
Democrats fear Grassley special counsel bill amendment will let GOP tip off Trump about Mueller probe

Democrats are warning that the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman's proposed changes to a bill to protect special counsels from undue firing would give the GOP the ability to tip off President Donald Trump about developments in Robert Mueller's probe of him — the latest flash point on the legislation's rocky road to a committee vote, expected...
After Parkland shooting, NRA posts biggest fundraising haul in nearly 20 years
After Parkland shooting, NRA posts biggest fundraising haul in nearly 20 years

The National Rifle Association's Political Victory Fund raised $2.4 million in donations in March, setting a 21st-century fundraising record for the group in the month after a gunman killed 17 students and educators at a high school in Parkland, Florida.  The unprecedented fundraising haul came as gun control advocates, led by student survivors...
More Stories