It’s spring training time for major league baseball — and for the Democratic Party. They have more in common than you might think.
Baseball teams and political parties alike soar and fall, rebuild and soar again. Maybe soar is too strong a word; perhaps they restock the farm teams and begin to succeed again.
Take the Atlanta Braves. In the 1990s they won the National League championship all the time, and the World Series once. Then they staggered into irrelevance in championship terms.
Now they have restocked their farm system with young, talented players and appear to be ready for another resurgence into competitive competence.
Democrats were doing well in the 2000s — or so it seemed. President Obama won easily and for a while the House of Representatives stood as a bulwark against anything President George W. Bush proposed before Obama.
Unnoticed until it was too late, neither the Braves nor the Democrats were stocking their farm systems with talented young prospects getting the essential training in the basics of their professions.
Thus the Democrats arrived at the presidential primaries last year in dire need of new talent. They had a badly damaged Hillary Clinton and shouting socialist Bernie Sanders as their only possible nominees.
Unlike in baseball, political parties can’t trade for new players. Democrats needed home-grown luminaries freshly elected to city, county, state and federal offices. They had none. In baseball terms, they had no bench.
Furthermore, they were confused and frustrated that the Democratic Party had no real leader (manager) after Clinton lost to Donald Trump, an outcome that left the Democratic poobahs astonished and angry.
A political website tallied the elections for significant government jobs (commissioners, governors, senators, etc.) and reported that the Democrats have lost about 1,000 races since 2000. Thus the lack of any bench strength.
Perhaps more importantly, the Democrats didn’t field candidates who would expand their base last year. The general belief is that presidential candidates have the long coattails that others can hang onto. On the contrary, a really popular governor or senator can help the presidential candidate by bringing along his supporters.
See Republican Sen. Rob Portman in Ohio. He won reelection easily, probably helping Trump prevail there. Portman won by a much larger margin than Trump.
Convening in Atlanta a week ago, the Democratic Party tried to regroup. But once again the bitterness came through. On the second ballot, Obama era Labor Secretary Tom Perez was elected chairman. Perez supported Clinton in the presidential election.
He prevailed over a Bernie Sanders surrogate, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a Bernie Sanders man.
How, though, does Perez structure a farm system that will supply the fresh young faces and seasoned veterans that would end the losing streak? Can he draft the right players and get them into the right positions to win in the future.
His background would suggest he is an interim manager, not a seasoned old vet that has seen them come and go through the ups and downs of a long campaign.
Of Dominican Republic heritage, he is a graduate of Brown and Harvard. He was a commissioner in a suburban Maryland county, a clerk to a federal judge, a labor advocate and a supporter of higher minimum wages. He managed to settle labor disputes on both coasts.
“We have to get back to talking to rural America, because in Ohio we weren’t making house calls in rural America,” he said in analyzing a path forward for the Democrats.
In Democratic circles, that passes for wisdom these days. In the last presidential race, the party hit home runs on the coasts and batted a measly .180 or so in the middle of the country.
Republicans, meanwhile, were hitting a robust .300 in governor and senate races as well as in state legislative contests. The GOP bench strength got stronger while the Democrats swung at a lot of bad pitches.
If Perez is able to recruit strong players for the midterm elections in 2018, the Democrats might make some gains. His task will be helped by the bitter divisions in the country, seen best by the demonstrations against Trump policies.
Perez’s job is by no means easy. His party is riven still by Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s supporters who would push the Democrats far from being able to talk to rural America, as Perez wants.
But it’s spring training time. The uniforms are still clean. Bases still white. Expectations high on both sides. Throw out the first pitch.