Government

Ryan Calls Democratic Brand ‘Toxic,’ ‘Worse than Trump’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Fairly or not, Democrats have a tarnished brand, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan said Wednesday as his party struggled to regroup following losses Tuesday night for House seats in two special elections.

Ryan, D-13 Ohio, appeared on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews” and “CNN Tonight with Don Lemon” on CNN. The interviews followed his blistering comment reported earlier by The New York Times in which Ryan said of the Democratic Party, “Our brand is worse than Trump.”

Ryan was in South Carolina Saturday to campaign for one of the Democratic candidates, Archie Parnell. It was one of two campaign stops he made in early voting states that stoked speculation in an online CNN story that the Mahoning Valley congressman could be positioning himself for a 2020 presidential bid.

Yesterday he published a commentary, “Special Elections: I Don’t Believe in Moral Victories,” in which he blamed the party’s brand for Parnell’s and Jon Ossoff’s losses Tuesday. Since Trump’s election, all four special congressional elections have gone to Republicans.

And this morning Ryan appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program, expounding greater length on the Democratic Party’s need for an all encompassing economic message.

“You want to put yourself in the best position to win,” Ryan told Matthews during his “Hardball” segment. That begins with an economic message that focuses on issues job, wages and pensions, “that bread-and-butter stuff that average people were thinking about,” he remarked.

The perception Democrats face is that they are liberals and elitists from the coast, and don’t connect with working-class people, he continued. “I’m not saying that this is fair,” he said.

Republican campaigns to defend the GOP seats in the special elections tied the Democrats to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, from San Francisco, who they view as a symbol of that Democratic elitist, liberal perspective.

“We’ve got to rebrand. If that’s what the brand is [Pelosi]– right, wrong or indifferent, fair or not fair – you need a new brand,” Ryan said.

Asked directly by Matthews who he thought would be a good leader for the party, Ryan suggested Joe Crowley, who represents New York’s 14th district.

“It’s you who wants to take over,” Matthews said, a suggestion Ryan responded to with laughter.

During the segment, he credited Pelosi with helping him “get to where I am today” and said her ability to corral votes within the party caucus is unprecedented.

In his interview with CNN’s Lemon, Ryan said Pelosi has been “pounded” for 10 years in GOP ads. He acknowledged that Pelosi is more unpopular than Trump is in some areas of the country, which is why Republican candidates continue to rely on that as a tactic.

Ryan also told Lemon later that Democrats have “a lot of anger” toward what Trump is doing as president but they need to get their act together and focus on an economic message.

“People in Ohio are not talking about Russia or Michael Flynn,” he said.

Ryan questioned the party’s focus, driven by consultants, to target issues of specific constituencies within the party rather than driving an economic message.

“I’m a progressive” who is “a huge advocate” for voting rights and supports immigration reform, and recently attended a gay pride rally with his wife and their 3-year-old son, he said.

But blacks, Hispanics and members of the LGBTQ community all want jobs as well, and Democrats need to be in office to address their issues, he argued.

“There’s great synergy in a campaign that pulls all of those groups together,” he said. “If Democrats are in office, we are going to create opportunity and protections for all of those people. If we’re in the minority, we can’t do a damn thing.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.