Former senator and, briefly, 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Jim Webb thinks the Democratic Party doesn’t “have a message” and has over the past few years “moved very far to the left.”
In a “Meet the Press” interview last weekend, Webb agreed with host Chuck Todd’s assertion that the political center in American politics has been “hollowed out,” and that President Trump, for all of his many and manifest flaws, represents a repudiation of a political “aristocracy” Webb sees ruling over both major political parties.
With statements like that, it’s easy to see why Webb made no headway whatsoever in the 2016 Democratic presidential contest.
But his point is valid: What do Democrats stand for today?
There are two alternatives competing for Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
On one side is Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who represents, by default, a continuation of the Gov. Terry McAuliffe brand of Democrat: business-friendly and socially progressive.
On the other is former congressman Tom Perriello. He represents the Resistance — to Trump, his ideas, policies and people.
There is a lot of daylight between the two, meaning Virginia Democrats really do have a stark choice on the June primary ballot.
Which message hits closer to where rank-and-file Democrats are these days?
One early indication came from a less-than-likely source: Sen. Tim Kaine.
Two weeks ago, Kaine appeared on the chat show “Morning Joe” to talk about the latest Washington happenings, and he had some rather incredible things to say about what Democrats intended to do in response to the new president.
“We are so excited that the American public is energized to speak out against the abuses of this administration,” Kaine said, adding, “the way [congressional Democrats] get outside the bubble is we take advantage of this tremendous public outcry against the administration.
Kaine said that would mean fighting Trump at every turn.
“What we’ve got to do is fight in Congress, fight in the courts, fight in the streets, fight online, fight at the ballot box,” he said.
“[A]nd now there’s the momentum to be able to do this. And we’re not afraid of the popular outcry, we’re energized by it and that’s going to help us do our job and do it better,” Kaine said.
Did you find something familiar in the senator’s response?
He was channeling Winston Churchill’s famous “we shall fight on the beaches” speech.”
Putting aside a sitting U.S. senator calling for fighting in the streets, Kaine clearly sees the contest between Democrats and Trump (with the rest of the GOP playing bit parts, at best) as a Churchillian struggle between liberal democracy and tyranny.
That’s where Kaine, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, believes he and his colleagues need to lead because the Democratic base demands it.
Overblown? Perhaps. Until we get a look at this brief clip of Perriello, in which he said the election of President Trump was “a little bit, you know, like a political and constitutional September 11th for us.”
That, too, is rather incredible.
But it also shows that the idea of resistance has more allure to Democrats in office and those seeking office than the comparatively staid McAuliffisms that have government Virginia Democrats since 2013.
If this emotionalism holds through the June primary, Northam could face an upset.
Which brings us back to Webb.
“The Democratic Party has got to do some real hard looks at whether or not they are going to expand and get back working people who used to be the core of their party,” Webb said.
It would appear, from the remarks of Kaine and Perriello, Democrats are less interested in recouping what they have lost than in defending what they have left.
Virginia’s gubernatorial race will tell us if this is a winning strategy.