A Program Building Win

There are more similarities between politics and athletics than someone who hasn’t been involved in both would realize. A primary objective in both is to win. I believe in an old political axiom that the first obligation of a politician is to win because if you don’t you can’t do yourself, your Party or your cause(s) any good. The old coach in me knows that winning programs are built. Let’s explore the juxtaposition.

Recently I watched a high school soccer coach begin to build a winning program. He took over the team just before the first game last year and understandably had a losing season. This year he had a winning season, finishing second in his conference. I was most impressed with three wins that were what I call program builders. In two he got his deep reserves much more playing time than the score may have warranted and still won. Those kids (all underclassmen) held their own, now know they can do it and are ready when the circumstances put them into a big game tied or up or down a goal. In the third program building game they were down three goals at halftime and came back to win it in overtime. They will never enter a second half overconfident and also know they are capable of a huge comeback. Those games are legends that will be passed down for years and they are part of how you build a winning program.

The Democratic Party did something similar in Virginia Tuesday night. Earlier this week I wrote an article in which I refused to predict a winner in the marquee matchup, the Governor’s race. The Democrat Ralph Northam ended up winning by nine points. That is a huge margin in a purple state! The Democrats also took the two other statewide races, Lt. Governor and Attorney General. (Electorally those are particularly important positions under Virginia election law.) Then they did the seemingly impossible, they flipped the House of Delegates (the lower chamber of Virginia’s legislature.) The Republicans held the chamber 66-34 going into Tuesday night. The exact numbers are undetermined at this writing due to possible recounts, but we know the Democrats will control the next House of Delegates. That is huge! Remember you cannot gerrymander a state but you can gerrymander a district and the Virginia Republicans did. This is like winning a road game where the officials were the other coach’s brothers.

There is no doubt in my mind that a major factor in Tuesday’s results was a repudiation of Donald Trump. In the interest of brevity I won’t go into a detailed analysis of that. However, I did find it interesting that Trump managed to find time to fire off a tweet from South Korea saying it wasn’t his fault. Then he delivered a speech to the South Korean National Assembly a significant part of which was an infomercial for one of his golf courses and a lecture on how great he (Trump) is.

There were two big winners Tuesday night: the people of Virginia and by extension the American people as a whole and the Democratic Party. I firmly believe that Democrats are better for America; full stop and period.

Both major American political parties entered 2017 in disarray. The Republicans are more a coalition of the Tea Party and the post-Reagan GOP than a political party. The Democrats have long paid too much attention to national office at the expense of neglecting state, local and judicial contests. Add to that the conflict between the purely philosophically progressive and more establishment wings. I feel I have one foot firmly planted in each camp. Philosophically I am very much a progressive! Simultaneously I have a very practical side that refuses to impose purity tests and wants to run candidates that can win in the general election. We have to win many more elections before we can even consider “eating our own young”. This is the Party (think: program) that DNC Chair Tom Perez took over in February. He had to change the culture (think: build a winning program) in order to have future success.

It seems that Perez led efforts did a lot of door knocking and phone banking to help candidates for the House of Delegates and in the process the three statewide candidates, (more of a bottom up than top down approach). To utilize another sports analogy: years ago a veteran football coach told me that no matter how sophisticated the game got it still boiled down to blocking and tackling. I do not see the day that we will replace the basics of retail politics like door knocking, phone calls, shaking hands and kissing babies. Augment and target more effectively, yes; eliminate, no. You will also never maintain a winning “varsity” unless you pay attention to your “feeder programs”.

It was a good night; in fact, a very good night. But it all means very little unless we continue to do the right things and build the program.

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