The Dems look lost. Could a mustachioed ironworker from Wisconsin save them?

Paul Ryan Challenger
Randy Bryce, of Caledonia, Wis., with Iron Workers Local 8, reads testimony outside a hearing room in 2005. Now, he plans to challenge Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan for re-election.

It’s a long rebuilding process. Good things are coming — but 2017 is not the year, not yet. Yes, there are some retreads and some has-beens in the starting line-up, but there are some amazing prospects down on the farm. They just need a little more seasoning. Sure, the losses are piling up — but the team is building character. Meanwhile, we just signed the manager and the GM to long-term contracts!

I used to think the pain of being a Philadelphia sports fan was something unique to Philly — until I started mulling the current state of the national Democratic Party. I mean, the Phillies have only been in rebuilding mode since 2013 or so. What can you say about a political party that’s been trying to retool, in one form or another, since 1981…if not longer? In fact, I’m starting to get confused between the agonizing rebuild of my beloved Phillies (feel free to substitute the Eagles/76ers/Flyers/Union) and the muddled state of a political party that — for all its myriad flaws — is the last remaining bulwark against totala-Trumpism. Why didn’t they call up Scott Kingery to run in South Carolina-05? When will Jon Ossoff learn to hit the curve ball? Why did they just reward Nancy Pelosi with a long-term contract?

Let’s be honest, though: The Philadelphia Eagles have won a contest (1/1/17) more recently than the Democratic Party has claimed a victory in a federal election (congressional wins in the 11/08/16 general election). And the Phillies (22-47) have better record in 2017 than the Dems (0-4). Of course, this comparison is blatantly unfair. The four special elections for the U.S. House that have been held this year have all been to replace President Trump’s Cabinet selections from four blood-red Republican districts, in Kansas, Montana, Georgia and South Carolina; if one insists on continuing this over-stretched sports metaphor, this is like a schedule comprising only games against the Golden State Warriors.

Yet excusism would deny the fact that — at least in the case of Georgia-06, one of two House districts with a special election held on Tuesday night — the Democrats raised a ton of money, an army of volunteers and, for better or worse, people’s hopes. Those hopes were dashed when the Dems’ earnest but dull 30-year-old frontman, Jon Ossoff, lost to a tired perennial GOP candidate: Karen Handel, Georgia’s former secretary of state. For all the shouting, Ossoff did no better in the suburban Atlanta district than Hillary Clinton had performed against President Trump last November. If #TheResistance is supposed to be the second coming of the French Revolutions, the munitions inside the Bastille are still locked up and in the king’s possession this evening.

The glass is not empty for the Democrats. Their candidates in the four special elections over-performed the party’s expected norm by about 8 percentage points, and a similar showing in 2018 would — according to the pundits — probably be good enough to re-take the House. Districts that aren’t blood red but reddish purple — like the seats held by GOPers Pat Meehan, Brian Fitzpatrick and Ryan Costello in the Philadelphia suburbs — would be prime candidates for flippage 17 months from now. But the glass isn’t even really half-full…maybe closer to 40 percent full, at best. After all, partisans have been shouting from the mountaintop that Trump is an epically bad president of historical proportions — either inept or a proto-dictator or both — and that the GOP on Capitol Hill will kill you with climate change if losing your health insurance doesn’t strike you dead first. Shouldn’t that produce a political tidal wave? So where is it?

The congressional race in Georgia seemed to hinge on two things. First of all, the base of Republican voters is about as sturdy as a statue of Robert E. Lee, and evidently much, much harder to move. Many rank-and-file Republicans will privately admit that Trump’s tweets are embarrassing, or that he’s achieved next to nothing in the Oval Office, or that it’s ridiculous that their party’s senators are drafting a health care bill in total secrecy. None of that matters in the ballot box. Only one thing matters: Their intense hatred of everything they view as liberal — the media, college professors, Hollywood, and Democrats. These are the people they see as the unhinged ones — not a president who tweets three hours of “Fox and Friends” in his bathrobe — and those feelings have only intensified since November. In suburban Atlanta, Trump’s election and the rise of Ossoff inspired an amazing army of volunteers, heavily comprised of suburban women over the age of 30 who were “non-political” and who got “woke” after 11/8. But these are folks who voted for Hillary in 2016; all their furious door-knocking and phone-banking converted next to zero of their neighbors who’d voted for Trump.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of talk today that the Democrats can’t win if all the party stands for is being against Trump. That’s true — but it’s even worse than that. In Georgia-06, the Dems didn’t even try to do much with the president’s rising disapproval numbers.

Jon Ossoff was a very sincere candidate, and he seems like a nice young man. Running for office in today’s climate is a brave thing. But I listened to an interview that he did with NPR on Tuesday morning, and by the end I practically wanted to gouge my eyes out. It was the some of the most insipid, focus-group-tested-and-consultant-approved meaningless happy talk I’ve ever heard from a Democrat, which is saying a lot. He wanted to bring tech jobs to Atlanta, and cut wasteful spending. Health care needs to be — somehow — “affordable.” Ossoff and the Democrats couldn’t have run a more effective “show about nothing” if Seinfeld’s Larry David had been their show-runner. No wonder voters curbed their enthusiasm.

The Democrats won’t truly emerge from rebuilding mode until they have the courage to stand for something. One role model — sort of — for this emerged from across the pond, in the UK’s recent national election. True, Labour’s fiery leader Jeremy Corbyn — somewhere to the right of Che Guevara (barely) and to the left of Bernie Sanders — didn’t win, but no one expected him and his party to do nearly as well as they did, and, given the shaky status of Tory Theresa May’s government, Corbyn may yet become prime minister sooner rather than later. They achieved this by doing something that would terrify America’s Democrats. They published a manifesto of bold, uncompromising measures that the Labour Party stood for. The party called for eliminating university tuition, raising the minimum wage, boosting spending on infrastructure, and undoing school budget cuts. Britain’s political pundits pontificated that the platform spelled doom for the left-leaning party, but the document instead energized young voters, who turned in droves for Corbyn earlier this month. And I believe a similar-style Democratic Party manifesto here in the U.S. could have the same type of electrifying effect.

I don’t think Corbyn clone would do well here — but America doesn’t need one. We have Randy Bryce. A longtime ironworker with a solid 6-2 frame, an Army vet, with Mexican and Polish ancestry (with a mustache that looks like what you’d see if you stumbled into the wrong 1970s movie house, if you know what I mean), Bryce sent shockwaves this week by announcing his plan to challenge House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose congressional district in southern Wisconsin is not nearly as solid red as one might expect. In comparison to many mealy-mouthed Democrats, listen to what Bryce — @IronStache on his Twitter feed that is exploding with new members — told the Payday Report:

“Being an ironworker, I have seen some things that, unless I have seen them with my own eyes and been part of it, I would say you can’t do that – that’s impossible,” says Bryce. “You know, you are gonna walk up on a two and half inch piece of metal, you are gonna be up three hundred feet in the air and walk across and carry something to get to a place to wield – that’s impossible…When ironworkers hear somebody say, ‘We can’t, it means ‘I won’t.’”

“Let’s trade places,” Bryce quips. “Paul Ryan can come work the iron and I’ll go to D.C.”

Now, watch his ad (and compare it to Ossoff’s spot). This is truly one of the best political commercials that I’ve ever seen — and it casts Bryce as someone who will fight for health care and the rights of workers:

Look, I know what people will say — that Bryce’s challenge is a political death trap, a suicide rap. If the polls show an even remotely close race, the powerful House speaker Ryan will call in every chit with every hedge-fund guru and insurance company CEO that he knows, and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to save his job. (And, yes, Bryce has run for office before, and lost…but not with a killer ad like this). Maybe that’s not the point. The spirit of what this man called @IronStache is doing here — taking a stand on the high ledge of politics, with no fear — is that spirit that the Democratic Party will need in all 435 House districts and a 33 Senate races if Trumpism is to be stopped now rather than later. There’s a reason that voters in suburban Georgia fell for something — and it’s because the Democratic Party didn’t stand for anything.