Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), accompanied by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 7. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

Politico paints a gloomy picture for Democrats, suggesting they lack a defining message for 2018 or worse are pursuing counterproductive messages. It reports:

Data from a range of focus groups and internal polls in swing states paint a grim picture for the Democratic Party heading into the 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential election. It suggests that Democrats are naive if they believe Trump’s historically low approval numbers mean a landslide is coming. The party is defending 10 Senate seats in states that Trump won and needs to flip 17 House seats to take control of that chamber. …

Many of the ideas party leaders have latched on to in an attempt to appeal to their lost voters — free college tuition, raising the minimum wage to $15, even Medicaid for all — test poorly among voters outside the base. The people in these polls and focus groups tend to see those proposals as empty promises, at best.

Pollsters are shocked by how many voters describe themselves as “exhausted” by the constant chaos surrounding Trump, and they find that there’s strong support for a Congress that provides a check on him instead of voting for his agenda most of the time. But he is still viewed as an outsider shaking up the system, which people in the various surveys say they like, and which Democrats don’t stack up well against.

Whether voters are all that dismissive of Democratic appeals or dismissive of simply all political messages remains to be seen. However, Democrats should be concerned if they don’t see a few basic arguments front and center in the 2018 midterms:

1. Democrats are so afraid of the “I” word — impeachment — that they have failed to indict Republicans for enabling and promoting President Trump’s lawlessness. Republicans don’t care about conflicts of interest (“corruption” is a better term), and they don’t care about big lies (e.g. Trump denying he had anything to do with Russia). They don’t care about requiring him to reveal his taxes. They are flunkies, rubber stamps for an unhinged and unfit president. The American people need dedicated lawmakers who take oversight seriously and think of themselves as Americans and members of Congress first, not partisan hacks.

2. The GOP remains the party of Goldman Sachs. At a time that income inequality is growing and the middle class struggles to keep up with expenses, all Republicans can dream about is tax cuts for the super-rich. The fake populist president and his Republican allies are not looking after middle-class Americans. Republicans have passed not a single piece of legislation to help middle- and lower-income Americans.

3. Trump and the GOP tried to take away health care from tens of millions of Americans and will try again. They came within a few votes of slashing Medicaid to pay for tax cuts for the rich and increasing out-of-pocket costs for a slew of Americans. Republicans’ idea of a “wonderful” health-care system is telling people, “You’re on your own!” What they couldn’t do directly by legislation they are trying to do by sabotage. Unless a bipartisan group of lawmakers is allowed to put forth reasonable fixes for Obamacare and demand that the administration step up outreach efforts to enroll people in Obamacare, Americans will be priced out of the market. So long as the leadership in both houses is Republican, that cannot happen. (As for single payer, that’s a fight for 2020 for Democrats; now it seems an unnecessary distraction from the case against Trump and the GOP.)

4. Trump’s crusade against immigrants is cruel and counterproductive, endangering American prosperity and security. Throwing out 800,000 “dreamers” will shrink the economy and create huge social and economic dislocation. His “sanctuary cities” crusade infringes on local law enforcement’s ability to focus on violent crime and to gain the assistance of minority communities around the country. Congress can legislatively override his rash decisions but not so long as the current crop of GOP leaders remains intent on preventing common-sense bipartisan legislation.

In short, unless the Democrats can make broad, cogent appeals that tie Republican partisans to the excesses and outrages of the Trump administration, they are unlikely to maximize opportunities in 2018. No matter what individual votes Republicans take, the only one that really matters is the vote to give Republican leaders unwilling to challenge Trump control of Congress’s agenda and oversight control. Considering Republicans’ desire to wage war on one another, Democrats should have competent candidates in every race. Otherwise, they risk conceding winnable seats to right-wing extremists who make it through the GOP primaries. The more Democrats get bogged down in micro-issues that do not have broad appeal, the greater the chance that Republicans hold onto their majorities.