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Democrats have to learn how to fight if they want to win in 2022

Instead of touting legislative accomplishments most voters don’t see or feel, Democrats need to go for the gut, asking voters if they want more Lauren Boeberts and Marjorie Taylor Greenes — because that’s what they’ll get if the GOP wins in 2022.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- California) speaks at her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 2.
Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS.

Less than a year out from the 2022 midterm elections, in which Democrats could lose their control of Congress, President Biden’s approval numbers are under water.

The party is already facing historical headwinds, given that the controlling party usually suffers in the following midterms. Making matters worse, a number of House Democrats have already announced they will not run again.

Republicans are also trying to make it harder to vote, with at least 250 new laws in 43 states that limit voter access.

Add to that a slew of problems, from rising COVID-19 cases and a new variant to a spotty economic recovery and continued supply chain woes that may not clear up in time for Democrats to declare victory.

All of this, understandably, has Democrats worried. Their proposed strategy to overcome these considerable obstacles and win in 2022? Tout their own legislative accomplishments.

Now, I’ve asked around, and that, apparently, is not a joke, but a serious suggestion.

As Politico recently noted: “Democrats acknowledge they have a big problem. Their proposed antidote: Finish the battles over legislating as quickly as possible, then spend their next few months talking up their infrastructure and coronavirus relief laws, as well as their forthcoming social spending bill.”

If this is the case, Republicans may as well start measuring the drapes in what were once Democrats’ House and Senate offices.

Talk to many Democrats, as I have, and you will hear them, almost to a person, complain that the problem is that they — and the media — haven’t sold their accomplishments effectively enough.

Of course, plenty in the media have done just that, and voters remain unswayed.

It’s not hard to see why. More than a year in, Democrats have spent more time arguing with each other than passing bills.

For another, the effects of much of Biden’s signature legislation, from the proposed Build Back Better bill to a $1 trillion infrastructure bill to COVID relief bills, won’t be felt immediately. In some cases, voters won’t see the results for years, which is why they aren’t moving Biden’s poll numbers yet.

The naivete of the strategy nicely encapsulates why Republicans have been winning the message wars for years: Democrats don’t know how to fight.

It’s long-held conventional wisdom and popular mythology that Republicans fight dirty while Democrats play fair.

There’s obviously some truth to it. From Richard Nixon’s enemies list, to Newt Gingrich’s shake-n’-break style of rebuilding the GOP, Karl Rove’s “dirty tricks” to Steve Bannon’s “Suck on this!” destruction of democratic norms, that just covers the modern era of Republican politics.

Despite the perception, Democrats’ hands are far from clean. The Clintons were among the dirtiest fighters in politics — just ask anyone who dared get in their way. Dems turned mild-mannered Mormon Mitt Romney into a woman-hating, dog-killing monster in the 2012 election, before deciding he’s actually a hero for voting to convict Donald Trump in both of his impeachment trials. Today, the party’s taking a page from Republicans and effectively redistricting opponents out of office.

The real problem is Democrats haven’t figured out the new right-wing playbook — the one the GOP’s been running for more than five years now.

Republicans and Fox News personalities start with a real problem — inflation, rising gas prices, inner-city crime, a border crisis — and exaggerate or even lie about the causes and severity, maligning entire groups of people in the process. Then Democrats respond by dismissing the whole issue or telling voters it’s not that bad. Biden’s chief of staff says inflation is a high-class problem, for example.

By inserting fake bogeymen like Big Bird, critical race theory, Dr. Seuss, and Kyle Rittenhouse into real issues that many voters do care about — like vaccine efficacy, parental rights, political correctness and crime — the right often gets the left to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Instead of telling voters the sky isn’t blue because Fox says it is, Democrats need to acknowledge the truth while exposing the lunacy of the right’s solutions.

While the right’s fighting with Big Bird, the left’s fighting to get more shots in arms.

While Fox is attacking CRT, Democrats are fighting for parents’ rights. No one’s banning Dr. Seuss, but Republicans in Wisconsin are trying to ban all kinds of words from classrooms.

Instead of touting accomplishments most voters don’t see or feel, Democrats need to go for the gut, asking voters if they want more Lauren Boeberts and Marjorie Taylor Greenes, because that’s what they’ll get if the GOP wins in 2022.

Do voters want more taxpayer waste over phony election audits? More of the Trump and Bannon show? More QAnon and conspiracy theories? Do they want another insurrection?

Democrats need to leave la-la-land and remember who they are up against. Turning real issues around on a party with no actual solutions, just grievances, is how Democrats will pull voters back to sanity and reason. Unfortunately, good deeds won’t win the day.

S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.

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