In the mid-1980’s, the national Democratic Party had become so consumed with ideology and interest-group politics it lost touch with the American center.
“We were viewed as left of the mainstream,” recalled veteran political strategist Al From.
The result: The worse series of consecutive presidential election losses in history, in which Demcorats dropped to humiliatingly low electoral vote totals in 1980, 1984 and 1988. Pundits wrote the party’s obituary as a political force, questioning whether it could ever win another national election.
To From, who helped rescue the party, today’s situation looks similar -- only in reverse.
“Memories are too short,” From said in an interview in Tampa recently. “Today people say Republicans are in the wilderness. It’s easy to forget how fast politics can change.”
In 1985, From founded the Democratic Leadership Conference, a group of moderate-to-conservative Democrats, and recruited its initial chairman, then-little known Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, to bring the party back to the center.
Since From’s movement gained ascendancy in the party, Democrats have won four of six presidential elections.
“We helped save progressive government,” he said.
From came to Tampa this week to promote his new book about the era, “The New Democrats and the Return to Power,” at a book signing hosted by one early adherent of his DLC movement, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and new St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.
With a near lock on the nation’s fastest-growing ethic groups, blacks and Hispanics, and a big gender-gap advantage, Democrats today feel confident of winning presidential elections into the indefinite future.
But those demographic advantages won’t last forever, From said -- “only as long as Republicans keep acting stupid.”
For Republicans to make the same kind of comeback Democrats once did, he said, they need three things: “a power center to stand up to the tea party”; “more inclusiveness”; and finally, “ideas.”
Meanwhile, electoral success generates more liberty within the Democratic Party for those who tend to pull it to the left, such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Mayor Bill De Blasio.
To avoid the fate Republicans have suffered recently, From said, Democrats “can’t just run on the issue of inequality. We need to be mindful of the need to grow the economy.”