Given their inability to capitalize on moments of triumph, Democrats have embarked on an intriguing expedition to find out why the party failed the ballot so badly as it ousted President Donald Trump from office.
In the mix of explanations this week comes one of the most disastrous and targeted offers: an argument that the party will never regain majority status in the Senate unless it begins to take power. monopoly; mainly, Big Ag.
In a note obtained by The Daily Beast, officials from the Open Markets Institute, an upstart liberal economic think tank, argued that Democrats are doomed in rural communities until they begin to address consolidation. of power among agricultural enterprises.
Democrats have lamented the urban regrouping of their supporters for decades, but time and time again they have overlooked the key to reclaiming rural support: stopping the monopolies in agriculture, food processing and retailing ”, We read in the memo. “Without action now, the problem will only grow in the years to come, making it even more difficult to capture the Senate and solve the fundamental problems in the American economy and society.”
To some extent, the memo reads like other election postmortems: an effort to shape the narrative around major items on a group’s agenda. Open Markets has been at the forefront of warning against the concentration of power in many sectors and industries, and not just in agriculture.
But while other groups and think tanks have used broad brushes to describe why Republicans have managed to win back House seats (when they were supposed to lose them) and likely retain control of the Senate, the synopsis of Open Markets has an undeniable foundation. Trump and the GOP had resounding success in rural America, further improving their remarkable performance in 2016. According to analysis by Decision Desk HQ, voters in less urban counties have voted for Trump by a margin of 35 points this cycle, which was 3 percentage points more than four years ago.
Indeed, the president’s ability to reduce participation in some of the less populated counties nearly won him a second term. And Democrats’ inability to win in rural states threatens to confine the party to long-term minority status in the Senate.
Open Market’s prescription for this is to promote broader competition in a variety of industries – from meat packaging to dairy farms – and to improve workplace safety laws. With the Justice Department using its antitrust division to bring major agribusiness lawsuits, the Federal Trade Commission issuing rules to help small food businesses access key markets and the Department of Agriculture taking various Measures, he says, Democrats could adopt a populist platform that appeals to minority voters (who often take on menial farm jobs) and helps trim the GOP’s advantage among rural white voters.
“Democrats are really, really bad at math,” said Barry Lynn, founder of the Open Markets Institute. “You look at the costs versus the risk. And it’s like, ‘Well, if we are populist on these issues, what are we going to lose? Well we could lose some [campaign] funding [from big Ag]. But not that much. The whole rural apparatus is designed to strengthen the Republican Party at this time. Very little is in the hands of Democrats. So you would attack their machine, weaken their machine and drive their constituents away, and on top of that, you would make the world a better place.
Such a result is, without a doubt, attractive enough for a party that seeks to free the grip of the Republican Party on the Senate. And these elected former Democrats who came from farm states say there’s something about the idea that an anti-monopoly platform could play in those states.
“I think there is a feeling, economically, that they are being ignored, that the policies of monopolization and the growth of big farms and big agriculture are having an impact on the people of rural America,” he said. said Dan Glickman, former Democratic Representative from Kansas and Bill Clinton’s agriculture secretary.
But Glickman and others have also argued that Democrats’ problems are more complicated than just an economic message that’s not populist enough.
Trump certainly had his times when he barked about the concentrations of power in the tech industry and Big Pharma. But his main achievement for farmers was to spend taxpayer funds to bail out those who had been hurt by his trade wars. Instead, everything from guns and religion, gay rights, the abortion issue and cries of impending ‘socialism’ have pushed rural voters towards him and the Republican Party, argued former Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND). And while standing up to Big Ag may gain Democrat support among small family farmers, it would likely fail for the very reason Open Markets notes in its note: these communities no longer exist in large numbers.
“Small family farms were mostly democratic in my state. A very large portion of those have gone out of business and in my state those households have been replaced by energy, oil and gas households because of hydraulic fracturing, ”Conrad said. “If you had a different agricultural policy, would that fundamentally change things? I think it’s unlikely because the audience you would attract has largely disappeared.”
Open Markets is not pollyannaish on the way forward for Democrats in rural America. But it’s also not skeptical of the possibilities. A populist posture, he argues, can be appealing in a number of ways, for example by targeting hospital monopolies that have limited access to healthcare and driving up costs and targeting tech monopolies that have limited availability of health care. broadband. More specifically, the goal is not necessarily to win a majority of rural voters. This is to limit the profuse amount of bleeding that occurs in recent cycles.
“You don’t mean to underestimate and say that [the cultural argument] is not at all salient here, ”said Claire Kelloway, journalist and researcher at the Open Markets Institute. “At the same time, winning in rural America is reducing the amount lost… I don’t think anyone is saying we’re going to make the United States blue as a whole. But the amount the Democrats have lost is shocking and increasing. We have to reduce those margins and it is a combination of talking to people and bringing out those who have not been affected by the party.