WASHINGTON — Democrats decided to change their message blaming congressional Republicans for the rise of Donald Trump a few months ago as they began to focus on reaching out to Republicans and independents, internal emails and speeches show.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, her running mate Tim Kaine and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg all wooed voters outside the Democratic base in speeches at the party’s nominating convention that ended Thursday.
The shift in approach began when the Clinton’s campaign sought to capitalize on Republicans’ unease with Trump after he became their presumptive presidential candidate May 4, and prodded Democrats’ congressional campaigns to follow suit.
At that time, House Democrats called Trump the product of Republican policies and politics, a theme they laid out to reporters a week after Trump effectively won the nomination.
“The Republicans have created an environment of radicalism, fear and exclusion,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the number two House Democrat. “The presumptive nominee is the result of their work, and what they have sowed they are now reaping.”
But on Wednesday night, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told his party’s convention that Republican lawmakers are followers of Trump, putting party above principle, instead of the cause of his rise.
“Ask yourself this: What does that say about their leadership, their character, their values? If they won’t even stand up to Donald Trump, what makes you think they will stand up for you and your family?” Lujan said.
A glimpse behind the scenes in that message switch appears in Democratic National Committee internal emails posted by WikiLeaks a week ago.
A May 16 email exchange between DNC communications director Luis Miranda and DNC CEO Amy Dacey discusses a request by the Clinton campaign, Hillary for America, to make a distinction between House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Trump.
“They basically want to make the case that you either stand with Ryan or with Trump, that Trump is much worse than regular Republicans and they don’t want us to tie Trump to other Republicans because they think it make him look normal,” Miranda wrote Dacey.
Miranda said that would be a problem for Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who directs Senate Democrats strategy, and Lujan, as well as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
“We would basically have to throw out our entire frame that the GOP made Trump through years of divisive and ugly politics,” he wrote. “That strategy would ALSO put us at odds with Schumer, Lujan, Pelosi, Reid, basically all of our Congressional Democrats who have embraced our talking points and have been using them beautifully over the last couple of weeks.”
Dacey said she would take it up with the Clinton campaign. No other leaked emails mention what happened. Miranda, Dacey and the Clinton campaign did not respond to queries.
But no Democrat is calling Ryan a good example compared with Trump, though Democrats have shifted on how they tie Trump to GOP candidates.
Republicans said the internal debate showed “disarray” among Democrats.
“The Democrats should be focusing on getting a cohesive message down and figuring out a way to distract voters from the fact that Hillary is a huge disaster at the top of their ticket,” said Katie Martin, the National Republican Congressional Campaign spokeswoman.
DCCC spokeswoman Meredith Kelly responded to a query by emphasizing the new Democratic message.
“Regardless of how you categorize Donald Trump, it’s clear that House Republicans are falling in line with his dangerous campaign and putting party loyalty over what’s right for our country,” she said in an email.
“Democrats will continue to invite Republicans and independents to vote for Secretary Clinton and Democrats running down-ballot — this only highlights how toxic the Republican Party has become under Donald Trump,” she said.