Democrats just aren't good at this.
Congressional Democrats got pounded over the weekend for the federal shutdown. Hashtags pushed by President Donald Trump targeting Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, took off on social media. GOP messaging remained on-point and consistent throughout the shutdown.
As for Democrats, well, just glance over at how two Quad-Cities' members of Congress justified their votes Monday to reopen the government.
“Today I voted for the Senate’s bipartisan compromise to immediately fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program and hopefully put us on a path toward addressing the key issues at the root of this shutdown," reads, in part, Rep. Cheri Bustos' statement.
Bustos railed against the pitfalls of stopgap budgeting. So, too, does Rep. Dave Loebsack. They talk about the CHIP program, which Republicans held hostage for months. The military is, of course, prominently referenced.
But the formative sentence in Bustos' statement, "key issues at the root of this shutdown," again show just how poor Democrats are at winning an argument. They won't even defend themselves.
The shutdown wasn't about the troops. It wasn't about CHIP. It wasn't about the admittedly poor practice of short-term budgeting.
The shutdown hinged on the future of more than 700,000 so-called "dreamers," young, illegal immigrants raised in the U.S., who had been protected under President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA.
Reading statements from Bustos and Loebsack, one would think uttering "DACA" was some kind of pagan curse.
Senate Democrats had a strategy and their peers in the House followed along. Leverage the Senate's 60-vote rule to force a compromise on DACA. If no deal was made, hold fast until one comes. DACA enjoys widespread support across the political spectrum, they reasoned. A large compliment of Republicans have expressed a desire to fix the program, which Trump last year killed through executive order. Even Trump, himself, had expressed a desire to deal with the DACA problem.
And yet, for weeks, the White House constantly moved the goal posts. House Republicans were fractured over the issue. GOP Senate leadership, unsure of where the president stood, couldn't cobble something together. Surely, Democrats reasoned, the American people would blame the ruling GOP.
Now, those very same Democrats are full retreat.
Yes, Senate Democrats shutdown the government. But Republican inability to function — while holding all the levers of government — was a significant contributing factor.
Yet coming out of the shutdown, it's Democrats, such as Bustos and Loebsack, left explaining their votes last week to shutter the government and this week's change of tune. It's a messaging nightmare for radical centrists like Bustos. Bustos is loath to debate any social issue. She considers them divisive political losers. And, make no mistake, DACA is very much a social issue now.
So backbench Democrats find themselves on the defensive. They followed the tribe into a shutdown. They did so in defense of a program that a vast majority of Americans support. They lost the messaging game during the shutdown. And now, some members refuse to even discuss the primary reason they died on that hill in the first place, instead falling back to patriotic platitudes.
Make no mistake, Republicans, amid all the party's dysfunction, will remain on message. They'll deftly sidestep their massive role in the entire fiasco. And they'll do so even as the president actively torpedoes the very DACA negotiations Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised in order to end the shutdown.
Meanwhile, many Democrats lack the courage to build the argument. And Democrats wonder why they don't win many elections.