Populism Versus the Consulting Class

Progressives and establishment Democrats are blaming one another for the party’s congressional underperformance last week.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images


The circular firing squad over the Democrats’ underperformance in congressional races has already begun. Party leaders are blaming left-wing figures for their talk of “defunding the police.” Meanwhile, progressives blame the establishment for refusing to adopt a more ambitious platform. Chuck Rocha, the head of Solidarity Strategies, and Jonathan Smucker, founder of Pennsylvania Stands Up, join Ryan Grim to discuss the debate.

[Musical interlude.]

Ryan Grim: When all the votes are counted, Joe Biden may wind up winning the White House by as many as five or six million votes. But everywhere else, the performance of Democrats was abysmal. Republicans will control at least 50 Senate seats — pending a pair of runoffs in GA — and have made gains in the House of Representatives. And as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez found out quickly, Democratic leaders have already found the culprit: It was the left, they argue, that scared voters with talk of socialism.

AOC responded on CNN:

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: We have a slimmer Democratic majority. It’s going to be more important than ever for us to work together, and not fight each other. And so when we kind of come out swinging, not 48 hours after Tuesday, we don’t even have solid data yet point fingers, and telling each other what to do. It deepens the division in the Party, and it’s irresponsible.

RG: I’m Ryan Grim, and in this episode of Deconstructed we’re going to take a deep look at that argument. Now, there are a few different ways to do that, and one is to look at each race, look at what each specific candidate ran on, look at what attacks they faced, and how they fared.

We’ll do a little of that, but it’s more important to zoom way out if you want to see what’s going on. Too much election analysis suffers from a focus on tactics and the most immediate news cycle, so that analysts miss the big, sweeping realignments underway until it’s way too late.

We’ll talk to Pennsylvania organizer Jonathan Smucker to get a sense of that.

Jonathan Smucker: I think you have an insurgency in both parties, but the one in the Republican side got a head start. It started in early 2009 with the Tea Party, and you have a version of this on the Democratic side, but it got a much later start, right? I mean, Occupy Wall Street you could say is the beginning. That happened three years after the Tea Party.

RG: We arrived at this populist moment thanks to 30 or 40 years of wage stagnation, a period in which the assets of the American middle class were essentially stripped and sold overseas, with the rewards flowing to the very top.

This was a bipartisan project and both voters and non-voters have punished political leaders either by disengaging from the political process or backing people who challenged the status quo.

In this cycle, one party fully tapped into the fear, anger, and resentment of the public. The other argued for a return to normalcy — which we could achieve by rejecting Trump. The result was a Trump loss up top and Republican wins down below.

And so in this populist moment, one of the parties went into the campaign with a candidate at the top of the ticket who was first elected to the Senate in 1972. Democrats ran on basically two themes: one, Trump is bad and must go; and two, we’ll protect your health care by keeping down drug prices and protecting people with preexisting conditions.

Now, voters were indeed fed up with Trump. They did indeed prefer lower drug prices to higher drug prices. And yes, they agreed that people shouldn’t be condemned to die for having a preexisting medical condition: so far, so good. But those issues resonated most with strong Democrats and people who leaned Democratic. The problem was that they offered nothing to really inspire an independent voter, or a soft Republican, or somebody who hadn’t voted before.

Here’s how Mike Siegel, who we interviewed on Deconstructed last week, explained it:

Mike Siegel: Bernie Sanders would’ve helped us make that populist case. If we’re really talking about rural jobs programs, things that really affect their lives, I mean, as a Congressional candidate, I was talking about these things, but it’s hard to really break through.

RG: If you haven’t listened to last week’s episode, it’s worth pausing and going back. But if you did, what’s interesting is that Republican strategists I spoke to this week mostly agreed with Siegel, even if they might think that he’s a raging commie. The problem was that Democrats didn’t have anything convincing to offer people when it came to the issue so many cared about most: jobs and the economy.

When you think about the Republican message on the economy, whether you agree with it or not, you know what it is: Cut taxes, get rid of regulations, get the government out of the way and the economy will grow. That’s their message, and so when the economy is growing under a Republican, voters are quick to give Republicans credit for it, even if that laissez-faire approach really just makes the economy unstable while producing frequent crashes and mass inequality. That’s all beside the point; their message is clear.

What’s the Democratic message on the economy? The first thing that comes to mind is that Democrats believe the economy is unfair — the rich get richer, and everybody else falls behind. Now, that happens to be true, and under Trump the rich have gotten quite a bit richer. But wages have also gone up! Retirement accounts have gone up. And so Trump won handily among voters whose top concern was the economy, and that was the top issue for many voters.

Republicans I spoke with said the most effective argument they landed on was that Democrats will raise your taxes and Republicans will keep you safe — which is more or less the message they’ve been running on, without fail, since the 1960s. Democratic leaders, meanwhile, are convinced that the slogan “Defund the Police” did them in.

Rep. Jim Clyburn: Defund the police is killing our party, and we’ve gotta stop it. We’ve gotta stop it.

RG: What you always have to remember about politics is that it’s happening on different levels for different people.

In Washington and among political junkies, and for most of the people listening to this podcast, we experience politics as a contest of factions and ideas. Candidates and voters, meanwhile, experience it as an unrelenting flood of negative TV advertising, and it’s important to remember that when hearing somebody like Clyburn lash out. This is the kind of thing they’ve been marinating in for the last year.

Ad Voiceover: Max Rose protests at a local precinct, shouts of “defund the police!” He marched there with cop-haters bearing slogans like: “blue lives murder”; “all cops are bastards.”

Ad Voiceover: Vilem has taken thousands from liberal extremist groups that want to defund the police.

Ad Voiceover: Who is there to protect us if the left-wing groups backing Diane Mitsch Bush pass their agenda. Her allies are demanding “defund the police.”

Ad Voiceover: My security system is knowing that I can pick up the phone and a police officer will be there within a moment’s notice if I need them. And Christina Canello’s crazy, radical supporters are dead-set on taking that away from me.

Ad Voiceover: Jaime Harrison is part of this liberal culture. They want to defund the police!

AOC: Make sure that overfunded police departments are defunded.

Ad Voiceover: But it doesn’t stop there. The radical left wants to dismantle America.

Rep. Ilhan Omar: We must begin the work of dismantling the whole system.

RG: And while AOC and Ilhan Omar showed up in ads, so, too, did Nancy Pelosi:

Ad Voiceover: Abigail Spanberger tried to hide her radical agenda. Spanberger actually voted with Nancy Pelosi over 90 percent of the time.

RG: Like I said, the Democratic message was squarely about health care. Here’s a good example from Hillary Scholten, an impressive Democratic challenger trying to unseat incumbent Republican Peter Meijer in Michigan:

Hillary Scholten: High costs are crushing Michigan families. That’s why, in Congress, my priority will be making health care more affordable — and protecting coverage, too, especially for pre-existing conditions.

RG: Now, Republicans told me that while the phrase “defund the police” was helpful, and deployed it in a lot of different ads, they were more broadly running against protests generally, using unrest to stoke fears of riots, chaos, and crime.

Here’s how they used that theme to hit Scholten:

Ad Voiceover: What do we know about Hillary Scholten? She stands with radical liberal groups that want to defund the police, and wanted rioters in Grand Rapids to get away with crimes.

RG: In some races, Democrats argued that Trump had broken with all that was good about the Republican Party, and that therefore good Republicans in the suburbs ought to vote Democratic this time.

Ad Voiceover: I’ve been a Republican all my life, even convinced my wife to name our son after President Reagan. But this year, I’m voting for Hillary Scholten —

RG: The problem with ads this bland is that there’s nothing stopping Republicans from matching them note for note, arguing that the Democrats’ alleged radicalism makes them unacceptable in much the same way. Republicans claimed that Democrats would do away with your private insurance, hike your taxes, and tank your 401k. If you’re trying to win over voters in well-to-do suburbs, that punch can land.

Here’s how Kara Eastman got hit with it in Omaha:

Ad Voiceover: It’s January 4, 2021; socialist Kara Eastman is sworn into Congress. Her first vote makes Pelosi Speaker. Months later, Pelosi passes the $4 crillion tax hike by one vote: Eastman’s. The market crashes. By May 3, your 401k’s dropping like a rock. You wake up — there’s still time to stop Kara Eastman from turning your nightmare into a dreadful reality.

RG: Eastman lost by nearly 5 points in a district that Biden carried.

Don Bacon, the incumbent Republican there, is well liked locally, and he had the support of the area’s former Democratic congressman, Brad Ashford, who Eastman beat in a 2018 primary. If the Democratic theory of the case was that Trump is bad while some Republicans are good, voters in Omaha made the rational choice: throw out Trump, but keep the good Republican. I mean hey, even the Democratic congressman liked him, and he’s not gonna raise your taxes like that socialist.

For somebody like Kara Eastman to be able to beat a popular Republican, Democrats would have to persuade voters that the Republican, however nice he might be, is part of a corrupt, out-of-touch party in the pocket of special interests that needs to be repudiated top to bottom. And they’d have to convince them that not only is Kara Eastman the opposite, but so is the entire Democratic Party.

We know what Republicans are capable of: They can drive out their base and juice turnout, and they can smear even the most moderate Democrat in the suburbs as a wildeyed radical. There’s not much Democrats can do to change that; all they can do is counter it — both with better messaging, but, importantly, by actually governing and delivering for people.

Next week, we’ll zero in on the governing part, and take a close look at what Democrats can actually do to make people’s lives better, even if they don’t win the Senate in Georgia. But for now, let’s look back at the campaign.

What ties together the Republican messaging together isn’t just its consistency: it’s the emotional wallop it packs. You can hate the substance of those ads, but they do what they set out to do. The Democratic ads, meanwhile, leave you just kind of… meh.

To answer the question of why that is, we have to follow the money. For a generation, the lucrative world of Democratic messaging has been controlled by just a handful of people who rose to prominence during the 2006 Democratic Blue Wave, for which Rahm Emanuel and his lieutenants were given credit. To learn about that cloistered world of high-priced Democratic consulting, we’re guided today by Chuck Rocha, the head of Solidarity Strategies.

Chuck welcome to Deconstructed.

Chuck Rocha: Thanks for having me.

RG: So, Chuck, can you tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are?

CR: Well, that’s a long and complicated story. And it’s not even PG-rated in most instances.

But, I guess the elevator PG pitch would be: I grew up in East Texas. I am not the typical political consultant, I am not the typical operative, because I grew up really poor in a place in East Texas where political operatives don’t come from. My mama was 15 when I was born, my sister came along three years later, my momma liked to say that she was divorced and had two kids and wasn’t old enough to get into that club.

So my mom worked a lot of jobs. I grew up in a trailer house on a working farm. My dad left — he was Mexican — when I was young, so for all of you listening, I’m a really big, bald-headed brown Mexican, but I do sound like an old white man when I speak, because I was raised by my white grandfather on a working farm.

I went to work in a factory where I joined the union when I was 19 years old, because that’s what most kids did where I lived. There wasn’t a lot of Latinos where I grew up. My family was the largest Latino family within 100 miles of where I was — mainly African American and white rednecks. And I grew up like every other kid in that neighborhood, which was way out in the country.

But joining the union changed my life, because I wasn’t an activist, I wasn’t born an activist, but it kind of taught me about politics, and I learned what Democrats were and Republicans and I became an organizer and a union steward and a chief steward. And over many years of doing that work in the factory, being actually a union steward, I got active and got to move around the country doing campaigns for the union, and then became the national political director of the Steel Workers Union when I was just 28 years old.

And keep in mind, I’d never been to college, I’d never really seen the world, I was uneducated, nobody in my family had ever done politics. But I was this organizer that had knocked on doors and put up signs, and then became the political director, and one of the last working with my tools of rank-and-file to become political director of a union. Did that job for 11 years in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Then 10 years ago, almost 11 now, I left the union and started Solidarity Strategies, because I felt like in all of the times that I was working for Dick Gephardt, and John Edwards, and the AFL-CIO, there was never any black people, any brown people and, back then, very few women actually in the room where the decisions were being made. And so I wanted to create a firm, a consulting firm, that was part consulting firm, part incubator that would help young brown and black kids who come to DC have a place to learn about politics, progressive values, how to do campaigns on the ground — and that’s why I started my firm.

And I’m really proud to say that as of today, my firm has had over 104 young, black and brown kids come through my firm that have mentored under me and my staff who are now working all over the country.

RG: Right. And so in 2015, your career kind of takes a turn, or something rather interesting happens, and that involves tío Bernie. You know, how did you get connected with the first Bernie Sanders campaign?

CR: Well, it was interesting, because I had known Bernie, because I’ve come up in the labor movement. So Bernie was always a hero of mine, because he was always right. The first time I ever went to DC to lobby against something, it was fast track authority, these trade agreements that were sending jobs, the factory that I had worked in was a tire factory. So I’d always known of Bernie Sanders as somebody who we never had to lobby because he was always right on these issues.

And then, as a political director of the union, my president and I went to meet Senator Bernie Sanders when I was still working for the union at this little Chinese restaurant on Capitol Hill that he used to like to hang out in. And it was the first time I’d ever met Bernie. And Bernie asked me a bunch of questions. And you know how he is — he’s very direct, to the point, and I had a great conversation with him.

And we became, you know, I guess friends — acquaintances, you know, I’ve never been to his house to have dinner or nothing. But when he kicked off his campaign in ’15, Scott Goodstein, who he had hired to kind of do some digital organizing for him, build a website, so Scott and Tim Tagaris [00:14:56] and the guys that were there the very first time, Scott called me and he said: “Will you translate a website to Spanish for us? I’m going to work for Bernie to help him, you know, get this thing kicked off. You know, it probably won’t go nowhere, we’re not gonna raise no money, we’re just doing it because we love Bernie.

RG: Right. [Laughs.]

CR: And so that’s how it all started. And I’d like to tell young kids now that are starting a business that, for that instance in time I was the Mexican that you hired to translate your website into Spanish. And I remember, it was over a holiday weekend, and I charged Scott like $500, which was a lot of money for me at the time.

Who would know that five years after that point in time, I would look back on that $500 turning into changing my firm forever, you know, being able to bill millions of dollars of work to Bernie, get to do work that we were super proud of, that was within our value set. And Bernie, at the end, and if you read my book “Tío Bernie,” you’ll learn that we were a part of the team that put the whole thing together. And that don’t happen very often in this town. So he changed my life. He changed my firm. And I’ll always be indebted to Bernie Sanders.

RG: Right. So in 2020, one of the things you were charged with in his campaign, was winning the Latino vote. And so, how did you set about, you know, differentiating Bernie from the rest of the crowd?

CR: I think we start with learning the lessons that we learned in ’15 and ’16, when the campaign caught fire so late, and we were trying to build the airplane while the airplane was in the air going — and, all the time, we would do that, we would notice that we would outperform expectations when it came to Latinos. We discovered almost by happenstance that there was this love for Bernie in the community. And we really didn’t maximize it back then, because we didn’t have the infrastructure to do it the right way.

So I was very intentional in 2020 in building that out, that we would do things differently. And I would try to make history by doing things in a campaign that Bernie would trust me to do but that had never been done before — which was hire a whole bunch of Latinos to be on staff. Yeah, people had hired Latinos before, but we didn’t have a Latino department. Because I was one of a handful of people in charge of doing all the hiring and building out the campaign, I intentionally put Latinos and women of color in positions of power throughout the campaign, so when we started this outreach, it would be done opposite of how I had always seen it done, in my opinion, incorrectly.

So it would start very early, because I was also in charge of lots of budgets and strategy, and how the campaigns would run in the States. And so I made sure that that was a part of the key pieces of what we would be doing early and often. And just lucky for us that Bernie Sanders is just so good on the issues that Latinos care about. So when we make the initial introduction of Bernie to the community, we can then do a second and third discussion around minimum wage, Medicare for all, Green New Deal, which Latinos just flocked to. So it was kind of like the perfect storm.

RG: And so I think a lot of people know how this part of the story ends. You know, in Nevada, you guys were in there very early, despite the hostility of the leadership of the culinary union, you end up dominating among not just the Latino vote, but in general in the Nevada caucuses, which then, you know, kind of catapults you into this three- or four-day period where everybody thinks: Wow, tío Bernie might actually be the nominee.

We also know how that part of the story ends — that that didn’t happen. Biden wins the nomination instead. What was his approach to the Hispanic vote? And did he reach out to you or anybody else who would organize for this successful effort on the Sanders campaign? Because it wasn’t just that you guys won Nevada. National polls had consistently shown that you were crushing it with the Latino vote relative to the rest of the field.

CR: He did not.

I will tell you that one of his staffers, Cristobal Alex, had called me afterwards and we had been in constant contact just because he was a dear friend and had run Latino Victory, so I had done consulting work for them. But never really: Will you come over? Or: Will you take a job here?

And then Julie Chavez Rodriguez, who is the daughter of the famous farm worker, had reached out to me when she had went over, and we had done a long debrief about what was some of the strategies that compelled us to these victories, Ryan, that you outlined. But at no point was there a: Will you come to work for us?

And then about a month later, we got an RFP from the firm for Spanish-language mail for the Biden campaign. And so we filled out an RFP. At that point, we had built a wall in the farm and for those of you at home, I have created an independent expenditure that I’m sure we’ll talk about — so I was, at that point, walled off, happened to be on the IE side, so a dreamer and DACA activist who is my business partner, Luis, who had worked for Bernie as the paid communications director, filled out the RFP and applied. He did an interview with the senior staff there, but they decided to go with another firm.

RG: Right.

So what — what about any of the other Washington entities? The DCCC which, you know, runs House races or the DSCC, which runs Senate races, or any of the super PACS that are kind of aligned with them?

CR: When the Bernie Sanders campaign was over, I was in a unique predicament because I would have had spent the last year and a half, Ryan — and you know this, because you’re a political animal — that you spend most of your off-years pitching business that comes to pay off to get maybe half or a quarter of that when the actual races happen. But you meet with lots of nonprofits and super PACs and candidates, you know, showing them your products and hoping that they will hire you to help orchestrate their campaigns.

Well, I had not had any chance to do any of that, because I had been running Bernie’s campaign, like 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And let me be clear: It wasn’t me by myself. It was Faiz. It was Jeff. It was Ariana. It was Ari. It was all of us. But I was there every day!

So when the primary is over, I go and meet with the DSCC, the House Majority PAC, the Senate Majority PAC. I meet with everybody saying, “Look, I’ve got time on my hands. I just proved that we know how to do this.”

I had done some work for the DCCC under Chairman Ben Ray Lu Han, so I felt like I had maybe an opportunity to do some work there. And they actually had me do some general phone work for them in this cycle. But that was pretty much the only interactions that I had with any of the Party committees or super PACs.

RG: And so when you wound up in these rooms with some of these high-end consultants, you know, that do work with Senate Democrats, House Democrats, what were their politics like? Like what struck you as the way that they approached their game?

CR: I think that you have to put them in different segments.

I think most of them are just business people who are good Democrats, as ways they define a Democrat, which is somebody who has a Democrat by their name. They’re not as purist as many of us are. Like, I don’t think I could work, you know, for a Democrat that’s doing work for Walmart, or Exxon, I just never have.

But if you think about these folks, most of them are just working for the highest bidder. And there’s just an elite class of these folks who do all of that work for all of these super PACs. They all have one thing in common: they’re owned by white women and white men. I don’t say that to say that any of them have a racist bone in their body, none of them who I’ve ever met are in any way, form, or fashion are racist. But they’ve created a power structure within an apparatus, which is the Party infrastructure that really doesn’t allow for a young black or brown operative, who started a firm, who may have great new creative ideas, to break into that system.

RG: Right. And so right you, I’ve heard them called consultant factories before, the DCCC, DSCC that you’ll see you come through there, you run the DCCC then you go out and you set up your own firm, and then the new head of the DCCC kind of rewards you by sending all of the ad money back through your firm. And it winds up creating this very kind of insular community.

And into that kind of came this weird torpedo this cycle called The Lincoln Project. What was your take on The Lincoln Project generally, and what it says about the Democratic consulting class?

CR: I think the first thing that makes me laugh about The Lincoln Project is that, and these are not bad things. But it’s an interesting take that you saw these Democratic donors and MSNBC go crazy over these ads that they were making.

And so people like me who are a practitioner, like I make ads for a living, and I just didn’t start last week, I’ve been doing — this in my 31st year. I don’t say that to say I’m better than anybody else who’s done this for a shorter amount of time, let’s just say that I have messed up a lot. And that’s my biggest, my biggest thing. I’m like, “Look, I’ve done this and it didn’t work. Maybe we shouldn’t do that.”

But I noticed that if you watch Democratic ads that are made by whoever, like the House, the Senate, the governors, the presidents, they all kind of look the same. And if you watch this year we all were talking about pre existing conditions and health care, which the polling, which all of us now has proven is not always right, is the issue that was supposedly going to move these white persuadable voters, which in actuality is all that the party cares about, for the most part, of this huge swath of white persuadable voters.

Now, I’ve got nothing against white people. And that’s a great strategy, you should go persuade them to vote for a Democrat. I’m all about that. But the point I’m making is The Lincoln Project brings a new product to the front. And the new product is this shock-and-awe advertisement. Now you can debate whether that ad is actually going to move a persuadable voter or if they were making ads that were just going to make Donald Trump mad, or just ads that MSNBC would fall over themselves on, and run them nonstop on TV. But regardless, it got them $60 million — and you can debate whether that money was used effectively or not. But I thought the biggest thing there is they brought something to the table that because of our closed system within the consultant class, we had never really seen before, which is these shocking ads that grab you even though they may not have been the most persuadable ads for some targeted universe in some targeted state. And then you can debate if those boys want to make a bunch of money for themselves too — I don’t blame anybody for wanting to make some money. I just want to see an opportunity for more black and brown and Asian and gay and women to be able to make some money as well.

So I think that they exposed how limited we have been with our ad creative for a long time, because the same 10 firms have been making all the ads.

RG: Right. And you made an interesting point on Twitter recently that I wanted you to unpack a little bit that I think is tied to this, and it’s tied to the debate that’s going on inside the House now about why the Democrats underperformed what their expectations are. You pointed out that in half, or possibly more than half, of the races that Democrats lost, there were at least 30 percent, and sometimes majority minority districts, that these are districts with heavy concentrations of black and brown people — what do you draw from that observation? And how did you figure that out? Where’d you come across that data?

CR: I was so upset the night after the Election, I dug into some research on my own to figure out what went on in those elections, because A, many of those members who last are literally my good friends, and I’ve written personal checks, and I ain’t got a lot of wealth. I just told y’all where I come from, but I wrote checks to almost every one of those people that lost and I consider them my friend. Half of them — three quarters of them — I’ve got their cell phone numbers, and had worked for them at some level doing something.

But it made me think about our last question, and let me go back to that, just for a second, on The Lincoln Project. I think there’s one thing that I didn’t know anybody at The Lincoln Project, except for their Latino guy named Mike Madrid, and I give that guy credit, he reached out to me, he was nice to me, I liked working with Mike. And he would say to me, “Look, we’re gonna do these ads to Republicans that are Cuban in Miami.” And I was like, absolutely, that’s what you should be doing! Like, you are a Republican brown man; you should know how to go talk to those folks, go get them to go vote for somebody, because that ain’t my jam.

I’m this liberal Mexican redneck from East Texas, and then I’ll take the Puerto Ricans and do I4 quarter. So that’s an instance where no matter — I’m not going to speak bad of The Lincoln Project in that sense, because that Mike reached out to me, he showed me respect, he had a strategic vision, and he put money there. So like, that’s where I think that The Lincoln Project can be used for good.

Thinking about the people in those two areas in Miami, to your point now, Ryan, is that there’s two congressional seats we lost in Miami-Dade, both 80 percent Latino. There’s a race in Texas 23, New Mexico 2, California 21. I can keep going. But all of these races that we lost in the house on Election night all have between 35 and 70 percent people of color — black, brown, and Asian.

And so I went and started digging into how could we have lost these races, knowing that A, I give everybody credit who’s a student of this game, that they are marginal seats, that means that they’re 45 to 55 percent DER. They’re one of the last bastions, Ryan, of what we know is a dying thing, which is a competitive congressional seat. But then they’re all competitive.

RG: Mmhmm.

CR: But what I found in looking is I started with the Senate. And I looked at the hierarchy of the Senate races and looked at every campaign manager for every Senate race and literally made my staff find their names and then go image search their picture so we could determine, almost ourselves, old school, if they were black, if they were Brown, if they were women, if they were Asian, if they were Southeast Asian.

And we found that every single senator or Senate candidate was a white woman or a white man managing the race, except for the Alabama race: Doug Jones had a black male manager and I give him full credit. But all of the media consultants, male consultants, and digital consultants for every Senate race was a white woman or white male on firm, and then the top 30 congressional seats, including the ones I just mentioned, that we lost, were all run by white male and white female managers. And then 98 percent of all of the consulting done on all of the levels of it was done from the campaigns with white-owned consulting firms.

Now the exceptions are like Debbie Mucarsel-Powel in Miami-Dade, who had a good Latino firm I know that’s based in Miami doing work for them, Colin Rojerro. But that’s the exception. That’s the one firm I found that wasn’t white. Again, nothing against white people. My mama is white. I’m just raising the point that the Democrats want to speak about Black Lives Matter and immigrants matter and felon rights matter and all this stuff that’s important to us. But none of those demographics are reflected in the management or the running or the power structure of the actual campaigns.

RG: And do you think it was then reflected in the message that these campaigns brought, and then reflected in the erosion of support from Black and brown voters in those districts?

CR: I think it’s a state-by-state scenario, but the one thing that I’ve been saying is that I feel like the overall way that we run campaigns these days are just broke. And it starts fundamentally impacting you at the lowest scale of income. Because people are more transient. We’re more mobile-phone dominant. We get less information because we’re working two or three jobs — and guess what those people normally are. They’re normally Black, they’re normally brown. They’re normally poor white people. And so they’re not — I just think that we can’t deliver the same message that I see tested online with our TV consultants to the same white, computer-based, upper-income white woman who they really, really are focused in on and they should, because she swings back and forth every election. But you can’t use the same model for testing that ad and say, OK, let’s reproduce this for the brown people; let’s reproduce this and put a black person in the ad, because you’re just not reaching the nuances of what we call cultural competency.

You know, you can look at the rural counties of South Texas in the border and how they so underperformed with Latinos, but then look in Dallas, in the same kind of precincts. And then they voted 30 percent more for Democrats, they’re in the same state. They’re the same type of Latinos, they’re both Mexicans. But they acted totally different. Except in all of these campaigns, Ryan, we’re still running the same cookie-cutter campaign in a box that somebody says we have to run this particular way.

RG: What about Arizona and New Mexico? Those are two states that have have swung towards Democrats: New Mexico has been swinging towards Democrats; Arizona this cycle, finally, after Kyrsten Sinema won in 2018, you know, in 2020, Biden wins it, Mark Kelly wins it, and they won it on the backs of, you know, surging Hispanic turnout as well as white suburban turnout. What do you think Democrats should learn from that relative to their underperformance elsewhere in the country?

CR: The first thing I want to say is that the reason that I think we lost a lot of these House and Senate races is every state party and every campaign thought that the Joe Biden boat would lift all boats, because Joe Biden, as far as Black and brown outreach was spending tens of millions of dollars, right? So he’s the one who is literally spending in Spanish, right? We can talk about the lack of spending with the super PACs in a moment. So let’s just set that right there. Because I’m going to explain to you in Arizona, how you need three key components, which they had to run a very, very successful operation targeted to people of color, especially Latinos in Arizona, and overall campaigning.

So first, you start with a candidate who makes a commitment to spend early money in the community. This is how Bernie Sanders dominated California, Nevada. and Iowa with Latinos. They start running — they being Biden — Spanish-language communications in July, in Phoenix and Tucson, and they never come down from the point they go up. So that’s a good thing. You got a commitment from the candidate to do that. The problem early on, you should know, just for y’alls records is that Donald Trump started it four weeks before Joe Biden and it hurt him in the beginning in Arizona. But Biden catches up quick.

The second thing you need is you need a validator for an old white man running for president in a state that you want brown people to vote for you. So I created Nuestro PAC, I spent $3 million in Arizona in Spanish, and I spent most of that money early before Joe Biden went up with ads with brown people in it saying Joe Biden is who we should be voting for — we were with Bernie, now we’re with Biden, we need everybody to get on board, we’ve got to beat it.

So now you have a validator at the national level in the state, spending money at a high rate. So now you have a validator, you have a candidate, and here’s the key and the biggest part: is community-based groups on the ground who are doing year-round organizing, who are giving enough money and resources, who take their C3 canvass, they may be doing driver’s license for immigrants, doing health care, signups, and then they roll that into doing voter registration and then to GOT-TV and voter persuasion, then you have the perfect scenario of exactly how Bernie Sanders won in the primary. And then what happened in Arizona in the General, you’ve got groups like LUCHA on the ground, and Mi Familia Vota and other great groups on the ground, but LUCHA never leaves. You have this national air cover of Nuestro PAC in the Biden campaign pumping money into mail and digital and phones and all the things. But the key component is none of that works if you can’t connect it to a ground operation who’s literally from the ground. But that was one of the few states you saw that happened at every level.

RG: And Aida Chávez wrote an interesting piece for The Intercept about how a lot of it goes back to the fight against Sheriff Joe Arpaio that, you know, the Latino community there organized against him, succeeded in pushing him out, and when you organize a political constituency, and it sees material success, that builds on itself, you know, that that teaches that community that political action is actually worth it, organizing is worth it.

As you were working in Arizona, did you see the shadow of Arpaio throughout the election?

RG: Yeah, I mean, again, I’ve been doing this work for a long time. So I know the activists on the ground, right?

So like, I know, Erica Andiola, who’s from Arizona, who’s part of that immigrant rights community, who we hired for Bernie in ’15 and ’16, who went back home and created her own group with a group of activists who were on the ground working. Benavides, another activist on the ground there who worked for Bernie Sanders as our Spanish press secretary, went back home and is there. So you have these kids — I shouldn’t say kids — these young people there who have come of age, you know, fighting Arpaio, but then also fighting Jan Brewer and the “show me your papers” law and fighting these other local fights. So again, they have created this momentum of activism where they’ve seen the growth because it’s not as big a state as Texas so you can kind of bite off a big enough chunk to where you can see some immediate reactions to that with successes. And I think that’s the formula we’re talking about here. That community organizing on the ground is great — if it had just been organizers on the ground, but it’s still not enough.

But if you have organizers on the ground busting their butt and doing this and they have people at the national throwing money at TV and radio and digital that are creating a narrative that is coming from the people on the ground, that is where you get pure gold.

RG: Right. And the upside is, along the way, you might actually win a few fights.

CR: I worked in Arizona this cycle, not only with Nuestro PAC, but I was honored to work on Prop 207 which was marijuana legalization, called Safe and Smart Arizona. And the organizer they had hired to run that for the field part of it was Alejandro Chavez. He is the grandson, or maybe the great grandson, of Cesar Chavez like this kid — this kid — this man knows how to organize. His grandfather is literally Cesar Chavez.

And Alejandro wasn’t in charge of all the outreach for Latinos, he was in charge of all the outreach, and he just happened to be Latino. And he brings me and my team in and we do text messages and phone calls, and we’re talking to Latinos and white people. And guess what the number one vote getter in the entire state of Arizona was? Legalization of marijuana. So this is where you start getting more repercussions when you’re getting more and more people involved at the grassroots level.

RG: Well, Chuck, thank you so much for joining us.

CR: Thank you.

[Musical interlude.]

RG: That was Chuck Rocha. His take on the insularity of the consulting class is important context for our next conversation, with Jonathan Smucker, an organizer and author in Pennsylvania, and the cofounder first of the group Lancaster Stands Up in late 2016, and more recently, Pennsylvania Stands Up.

Jonathan, welcome to Deconstructed

JS: Hey, good to be talking with you, Ryan.

RG: So one of the things that you’ve been talking a lot about is the kind of populist moment that you feel like we’re in. Can you talk a little bit about how each party got here and how that has kind of influenced the way that people that you talk to on the doors and around the community are reacting to each political party?

JS: Yeah, sure. Let’s start with the second part of that.

We’ve been knocking doors all across Pennsylvania for four years and really building up the capacity for that, and not just in the places that Democrats have been engaging, but in places that have been neglected and really abandoned and smaller cities like Lancaster, Allentown, Reading. York, Harrisburg, Coatesville, and in the surrounding rural areas.

And really, the kind of modal response that we get at the door is usually some version of disaffection, some version of: Politics isn’t for me; I don’t like either party; nobody cares about people like me. And maybe they don’t like the Republicans worse than the Democrats, but they’re not very pleased with the Democrats either.

And so we have, we can get back to [it] later, how we’ve engaged with voters like that, and what the move is. I’ll give you a hint, though. It’s not, you know, just being a cheerleader for like, the Democrats. It’s not being like: No, the Democrats are great! That doesn’t land, you have to meet people’s understandable disaffection and feeling — and it’s grounded, it has a basis.

And that gets to the what you called the populist moment, I think, that we’re in. And I think that in some ways, I think that liberals, and mainstream Democrats, and a lot of leftists share in common, really not understanding the populace terrain that we’re on right now — either populism as a terrain or as a tool.

And here’s what I mean. I mean, populism is a term that is contested. People mean it for lots of different things. Some people just mean right-wing populism by it. I don’t. I see populism kind of like Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, political theorists. And, and that is, in some ways, it’s a rhetorical form that is, you know, distilled into the people versus the elites of the corrupt establishment.

Now Trump uses a version of this that ends up punching down at immigrants and Muslims, but also punches apparently up more at the kind of cultural elites in the country, right? But not at the economic power at the very top, right? So Trump taps into class rage, people’s feeling of being left behind by economic and political elites. But he channels it toward institutions like the media, Hollywood, academia, people who occupy the kind of top 10 percent of the economic spectrum, not the tippy top.

RG: Right.

JS: And that’s one form of this kind of populist rhetoric.

RG: Another form is that of Bernie Sanders or AOC. And that is actually naming the power at the very tippy top, the culprits that are responsible for wrecking the economy, for, you know, functionally putting a halt to, you know, the upward mobility arrangement that there was in the United States for a good long run, and just gutting, you know, the social safety protections and, you know, basically working to reverse the New Deal compromise between labor and capital.

So, let me get into politics with that more concretely. What happened in this country is that the top 10 percent of this country became insulated from the bottom 80 to 90 percent of the country, and the political leadership of the country is in that top 10 percent when it’s not just in the top 1 percent.

And you had, before the past 10 years, you had a period of about 30 years where both political parties went more and more into a game of going for reliable, more affluent voters, and competing over this slim margin of reliable voters who oscillate between voting Republican and voting Democratic, and taking for granted that there’s all these poor and working class Americans who just don’t vote, just taking that for granted as that number got greater and greater over time, slowly, as the Democratic Party in particular was bleeding out its working class base. And by bleeding out its working class base, I don’t mean that as a euphemism for white people — I mean, white black Brown, people, not necessarily switching over, but staying home.

RG: Right. Some switching, some staying home.

JS: Exactly.

And so I think that we’ve been in a crisis of authority in this country for at least 12 years, at least since 2008. I think it went before then. It started kicking in, you know, in the second half of the George W. Bush administration with the failure of the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, crumbling infrastructure.

And so you have this massive rebellion against the establishment leadership of both political parties. And unorganized, that rebellion has taken the form of abstentionism, of staying home. And organized, it takes the form of political action through voting and through involvement. And I think you have an insurgency in both parties, but the one in the Republican side got a head start. It started in early 2009, with the Tea Party, and it was electoralized immediately. It started delivering. It took out Eric Cantor, and it culminated in the presidential run and then the presidency of Donald Trump.

And you have a version of this on the Democratic side with the Squad, with Bernie Sanders, and it’s growing and increasing. But it got a much later start, right? I mean, Occupy Wall Street, you could say is the beginning, that happened three years after the Tea Party, and even that it was allergic to electoral power at first. And you didn’t really have it until late 2015 with Bernie’s run. And then really, it doesn’t take off until 2017 with the Squad. So we’re really getting started.

And so what you have now, and I think the big story of the 2020 Election, is you have one side that has consolidated that rebellion that had been abstentionism into political action, because the presidential campaign, the presidency of Donald Trump, scaled up that rebellious energy and really channeled it and has consolidated it, where on the Democratic side, it’s still piecemeal, that rebellion, in terms of electoral venues, right? Bernie didn’t win either in 2016 or 2020. And then we’ve got House races here and there; we don’t have the same scale. And so the Democratic Party is still struggling at this deep level with abstentionism among the working class and base and poor people, that should be their base if they would choose for them to be their base.

RG: Right. And so you explain, that way, the surge in Trump turnout. You know, his entire strategy from 2016 to 2020 was to tap into as many white, working class, disaffected voters as as possible, knowing that there was practically an endless number of them in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and elsewhere, that were eligible to vote in 2016, but didn’t come out to vote for him. And, the kind of Steve Bannon theory was like that there would be a way to get them out.

So the Democrats, on the flip side, just sort of seemed to us, you know, negative partisanship, hatred of Trump to generate the counter-turnout, the counter-enthusiasm, but that seemed to really only manifest itself in the suburbs. Why do you think that is when working class black and brown people are, in many ways, the kind of targets of right-wing populism?

JS: Well, for one, I mean, I think we have to look at Trump’s numbers in the margins, that he’s been slicing off, because it unfortunately, isn’t just the white working class voters, right? The turnout, at least from the exit polls, we have to comb over the data more, he won more Latinos, more African Americans. And of course, those constituencies are still coming out overwhelmingly Democratic. But we should not be losing those numbers, right?

And the reason we are, I think speaks to what I’m saying is that — and the reason that some of those voters still did come out, the reason that we won, and it worked is because a lot of people’s organizations have started over the past four years, or have strengthened over the past four years. And we did the hard work of going to those doors, and talking to people, and you know, spelling out, yeah, Trump is an existential threat to the interests of working people, he’s been a disaster for working people, we’ve got to defeat him. Even if we don’t love the Democratic Party, we still have to defeat Trump, and then we’re going to keep electing more champions like AOC. And in Pennsylvania, our champions swept in the primary, so we could talk about that.

And that was persuasive to a lot of people. And, you know, I mean, Pennsylvania Stands Up, we were one of many organizations here, but in these areas that still went red, right, we really cut into Trump’s margin in the areas we organized, and we estimate that we moved about 54,000 votes, which is over the margin of Trump’s victory.

And so it works. And we have, I mean there’s so many lessons here. One is that Biden/ the Democratic Party has to invest in down ballot races, and they really did not. And it was, it showed — and organizations like ours really had to pick up the slack. And we did our best. And we delivered right? But fundamentally, I can tell you the difference between — I mean, you covered the Jess King race here in 2018. Jess King, we had a working —

RG: That was a congressional race in 2018.

JS: A working mom, who did everything in the way that the Democratic Party told us not to do, which was to actually fight for substantive issues like Medicare for all. And we got screwed with redistricting, we went from an R+6 District, which we would have won to an R+14 District, which was pretty impossible to win. But we made up ground in every single precinct in Lancaster County, did better than any Democrat in the history of Lancaster County, because we ran this kind of campaign with a working mom, who picked fights with the powerful who called out the pharmaceutical industry and the health insurance industry, and who refused to take a dime from corporations — called out money and politics.

I can tell you the difference between talking to working class people about a candidate like Jess is so much easier than talking to them with them about a candidate like Joe Biden. I mean, this is uneven, right?

RG: Right. How does that express itself? What’s a conversation? How does a conversation like that go and what would it look like if you had a different kind of candidate?

JS: I mean, part of how it goes is you know, I said at the beginning of this conversation, the modal response, we get at the door: Politics isn’t for me. There’s a lot of cynicism. There’s a lot of like: These folks aren’t fighting for us. And when you can say to folks: “Look, this candidate is not taking a dime from corporate super PACs.” Right? Refused it completely, is taking on these industries. This is what they said about billionaires. This is what they said about the health insurance industry, right? Those arguments — and then you say, and she’s a working mom. Right? She’s new to politics. Right? Those types of arguments are really persuasive. They move people. They get people to think twice, because it is not what they’ve heard about politics in recent years; it is an exception. And when you don’t have those things, that story to tell, it’s a lot harder. And we can do it. And we’ve done it. But I’ll just tell you the experience at the door, it is tremendously harder, when the choices the whole Democratic Party is making from its messages to the candidates that it’s choosing to run are aimed at affluent suburban voters. Right?

RG: You said that some on the left also are missing the populist moment or don’t quite understand the populist terrain. What do you mean by that? What are they missing?

JS: Well, I mean, some of it is just basic rhetorical choices, right? I mean, I would never say Biden needs to deliver for the left, right? That’s a foil. Right? In some ways, that’s what The Lincoln Project and the third way Democrats want us to be arguing is that Biden should deliver for the left, because the left has been framed, you know like Reagan’s special interest framing, like as a special interest.

I think too often, we’re presenting ourselves, accidentally, as a small “we” as the left. I mean, I’ll tell you, I really don’t give a damn about a “left” except to the extent that we’re talking about organizations of working people that can deliver for working people. So we need to be talking about the bigger “we” of working people, working class people across race, rural and urban, who have been left behind and have been screwed by policies that have been aimed at benefiting billionaires, right?

And so there’s a certain populist rhetoric that is available to us that often, you know, it’s like, it’s like we’re being pitched, you know, something that we could be hitting a home run for — instead, we’re bunting. And, you know, so there’s a lot more I could say about that. But some of this is just kind of technique, some of this is campaigning skills, some of this is rhetoric, but it’s important, right?

I think too often, the left, where I feel more of a political home, is confusing in analysis, like a class analysis or a race analysis, with our public-facing rhetoric. And our public facing rhetoric has to be meeting people where they are and has to be tapping into the anger that people feel in a popular way. And if we’re not doing that, I mean, the thing is Trump, the fundamental thing is, it’s not just that we fail to understand populism as a terrain and as a tool, it’s that we fail to understand it and Trump and Bannon do understand it. In fact, that is the thing that they are good at .Trump is not good at governing, he’s a bumbling fool in so many ways. But he does intuitively and I think theoretically, too — I don’t know why the left is so bent on underestimating his intelligence when he is such a formidable opponent, we shouldn’t be underestimating our opponents, does understand how to tap into popular anger at the top and channel it effectively in a way that doesn’t actually challenge power at the top, but gives Donald Trump power.

RG: You talked about how democrats catering to suburban voters makes it more difficult to persuade, and motivate working class voters. In your experience talking to suburban voters, what’s a message that Democrats could use with them, an agenda that they could bring to them, that would also motivate working class voters?

JS: Well that’s —

RG: Because it does appear that this is the coalition that Democrats have, at least for the foreseeable future.

JS: I’m glad you asked that, because that’s what makes the approach of the establishment Democrats all the more insane, is because that message that I said that we used, of picking populist fights, talking about how unaffordable basic staples have become, from health care to childcare to higher education, and how lower wages are — how hardworking people can’t get ahead. Talking about those things, right?

We have the same message in Lancaster County, in the city, which is, which is majority people of color, as we had in more working class towns and in more affluent areas too, like part of Lititz in the county, right?

And we did well with that message everywhere. So, you know, except for really, really rich places, a lot of these bases of affluent people are still — some of these messages are working. And some of them aren’t right. You know, I think we always need to do more than just throw around terms like Medicare for all or Green New Deal or defund the police. We actually have to go through a process where we are working to persuade people and reaching people and values to get them to the policy places where we want them to go. But actually picking fights — and, I mean, most people in these places also agree that money in politics, that corporations have too much power, right? So some of these messages aren’t just working with the working class; they’re working elsewhere, too.

RG: One of the things that when you talk to Republican strategists who managed campaigns against Democrats this cycle, they’ll tell you that Democrats really never had a message on the economy — that they don’t have one generally and they didn’t have one this cycle, or at least they don’t have a message about how they’re going to grow the economy. The Democratic message on the economy, as voters kind of understand it, is: The economy’s OK, but the problem is the way that the gains are distributed. And it’s unfair and corporations need to be kept in check. Do you agree with that Republican kind of criticism of democratic campaigns that they’re not talking to people where they are on the question of wages, jobs, and the economy?

JS: Yeah. I mean, I think that people like Bernie Sanders did a good job. And I think that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez does a great job. I think that Charles Booker and Cori Bush do a good job. I think there are people in the Democratic Party who are doing a really good job on this.

But yes, I think the establishment Democratic Party has done a terrible job. And [laughs] I mean, I’ll be a little psychological here, I think that one of the most fundamental reasons they’re doing a bad job is because we’re at a period where the political class is profoundly class insular, right? They are not in touch.

I actually think this is one of the things that Biden is better at than most people in his cohort in the Democratic Party. I think he is more in tune generally, dispositionally, with working class people. Rhetorically he is, he did some things pretty well in the campaign, you know, some of his criticisms of Trump and being like: I dealt with people like this who thought that they were better than everybody else. That was really effective.

But I think that this thing about messaging on the economy is really important. And, you know, look, I have learned a lot from people like George Lakoff, or Drew Weston, right? And they’re political messaging gurus for the Democratic Party. And they do these interventions, which are basically like Democrats are bad at messaging; Republicans are good at it. Democrats are bad at it, because they lean more toward rational arguments, and Republicans are good at it, because they’re more authoritarian and disciplined. I think there’s points to be made there. They’re not wrong in those things. But I think the fundamental thing that neither of those theorists name is the reason Democrats are so bad at messaging — “messaging” — whether it’s the economy or something else, is because they can’t decide whether their base is their traditional base of working class people, multiracial working class, or if it’s the donor class and Wall Street, and there is no message that works for both of those things. So they’re paralyzed by their inability to decide who their base is, and to go in strongly for that base. I think that’s fundamentally what’s happening here and why they should have gone for home runs with messaging with this economy. And they’re just sitting there like a deer in headlights.

RG: And what’s your read on why Biden was able to win Pennsylvania, but otherwise Republicans kind of swept the state, at least at the state legislative and some of the other statewide levels?

JS: Well, I’m still combing over the data, so I don’t want to get too far out in theories. But there’s a couple factors that come immediately to mind. The one is that one of the things that Governor Wolf gave away in this compromise of procedural changes is straight ticket voting. And so this is the first election where voters can’t just put the Democratic box and that I think, was probably devastating in down-ballot races.

RG: Yeah.

JS: I think Democrats picked up some things — including some things with mail-in voting, later registration, etc., but that was a huge, huge loss. And if you move from that, and you don’t have a whole bunch of voter education about down-ballot races, then you’re doubly screwed.

And my understanding is that the Biden campaign and the Democratic Party did very, very little for down-ballot races in Pennsylvania; it was organizations like ours, Pennsylvania Stands Up that made up a lot of background on a select number of candidates. But there was a real failure to ID and do voter education in their voter engagement with down-ballot candidates. Now, I don’t know all the details of that. But I think that’s an important avenue for exploration.

But then, I think that the third factor that I would say is a tremendous number of people, working class people, and this is probably true for the affluent suburbs as well, and young people turned out to defeat Trump, not because they love the Democratic Party. And so that is really important. Because, you know, that means that Biden and Democrats in Congress really have a window in which they better deliver, especially with the long-term trajectory of winning over young people, right? You’ve got a generation that’s the most progressive generation in the history of the country, most racially diverse generation history of the country, it should be there for the plucking for the Democratic Party. You know, and nobody can look at this generation and think: Oh, they just want a return to the previous status quo. I mean, this is an economically ecologically precarious generation; they want bold action. And if the Democratic Party wants to win over the loyalty of this generational cohort, it had better act right now and in a pretty big way. Because in 2022, people aren’t going to turn out to vote against Trump. They’re only going to turn out to vote for Democrats if the Democrats have delivered in a big way.

RG: Oh, boy, I don’t know if they can do it. But, you know, on the one hand, I could see Biden getting lucky in, you know, if there actually is a vaccine that is effective, you just might have the timing lineup, that the economy starts to significantly recover in 2022. But beyond that, it’s hard to see. What do you think?

JS: I mean, the Senate, of course, is a huge factor. But there’s a lot that they can do with executive orders, including debt forgiveness, college-loan debt forgiveness. I mean, hell, if you want to deliver for young people, wipe out the first $50,000 or all student debt. They can do that; there’s reason to think that they’re seriously considering that, and I really hope they do it.

I mean, there’s indications that are hopeful. Look, after 2016, I mean I thought Trump was gonna win in 2016 and I wrote about it. And after 2016, I mistakenly thought that there would be more Democrats in the establishment, not out of any kind of goodwill or moral sense, but because they’re political animals, who would see the writing on the wall, and would understand that the Democratic Party really actually had to start fighting for working people. That really didn’t happen.

There’s some indications that some more people get that now, including Chuck Schumer, which is surprising, but you know, anon’s article, last Friday in the New York Times, and the quotes that Schumer has, which are along the lines of: Look, if Democrats don’t deliver big in the first little while here, the next Trump is going to be even worse. So seeing that Chuck Schumer gets that — and I’m sure the threat of a primary from AOC in 2022 doesn’t hurt with him suddenly getting that — but that he gets that that’s hopeful. There’s reason to think that Biden has the disposition of believing that you need to deliver big things at the beginning of an administration. So there’s some signs that even the establishment readership that we’ve been up against, that key people might be understanding that, and especially with the crisis. So you know, we shall see.

And then on our side, you know, things have changed. Right? We have a lot more organization than we had when Obama came into power. You’ve got organizations like Sunrise Movement that helped to elect a whole slate of candidates who are pledged to a Green New Deal, and who have a plan to work to accomplish that. They’ve totally changed the narrative. You’ve got all sorts of organizations. We have a lot more power to leverage than before, and we’re gonna need to do it.

Because even if, you know, Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden have the orientation to go big, which, who knows how much that is the extent — you know, they’re also the political establishment. They’re surrounded by a lot of powerful people who have benefited from the system and we’re going to need to, no matter how you slice it, we’re going to need to create a popular mandate through popular demands from the outside.

RG: Well, we’ll see. Jonathan Smucker, thanks so much for joining us on Deconstructed.

JS: Yeah, good talking with you, Ryan. We’ll see what happens.

[Musical interlude.]

RG: That was Jonathan Smucker. And speaking of Chuck Schumer, some Democrats might think that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the Republicans’ favorite bogeyman, but down in Georgia, they’ve found a new one.

Sen. Chuck Schumer: Now we take Georgia, and then we change America!

Newscaster: That’s Democrat leader Chuck Schumer. You heard him — they plan to take Georgia, and change America. Their change: reduce funding for police.

RG: In the face of Republican attacks like this, Democrats can either fight back or they can fight each other. As a Philadelphia politician once put, “We must all hang together, or surely, we’ll all hang separately.”

That was Benjamin Franklin, and that’s our show.

Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Ryan Grim, D.C. bureau chief of The Intercept. For more on the background of today’s Democratic consultant class — the Rahm Emanuel generation — check out my book, “We’ve Got People.” If you’d like to support The Intercept, please go to theintercept.com/give — your donation, no matter what the amount, makes a real difference.

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