I’ve been criticizing Donald Trump in recent columns, and I suspect that won’t change. Today, though, it’s time to share the love by focusing on the Democrats who, after all, made the rise of Paul LePage and Donald Trump possible.

Yesterday, the Democratic National Committee selected a new chairman and, perhaps, a new direction for the national party. They need it. Democrats have been losing power and seats all across the country since President Barack Obama was first elected in 2008.

Party leaders always blame that trend on some external or internal force beyond their control. And they regularly promise to do “soul searching” after each election, only to stop talking about it a few weeks later.

The problem is that many elections aren’t decided in the final weeks of a campaign; they’re decided in the months after the last election. How well Democrats do in 2018 and in 2020 will be largely set in motion over the next six months.

Sometimes, I wonder if Democratic leaders really understand how much the world is changing. People are working harder to stay afloat. The places where they work are constantly changing and streamlining, or they’re going under. They’re being squeezed from all sides. And they’re worried about their future.

What voters want is not complicated. They want the opportunity to improve their lives. They want a government that works as hard as they do. A government that is on their side, whether they’re taxpayers or someone receiving benefits. And one that doesn’t act as though government is the solution to every problem.

Democrats are losing power and position for three simple reasons.

1. They have no coherent economic message, except to increase spending on government infrastructure and jobs. That’s true, in part, because they have too many people who enter government to champion government programs, and too few who understand, prioritize or even care about the economy.

2. Since LBJ’s Great Society, Democrats have become the party of government and, while leading important change in social areas and the environment, have become the defenders of the status quo, when it comes to government. That has made them tone deaf to what voters have been saying, and driven those voters into the arms of Republicans. Outside of deep blue areas, most people don’t want a bigger government. As Bill Clinton wrote a few years back, they want a smaller, smarter one. 3. The party has been putting forward candidates who are steeped in the party orthodoxy and can reliably recite familiar and comforting messages, but who are not believable change makers. See the last two gubernatorial candidates in Maine, and the most recent presidential candidate for examples, all of whom ran unsuccessfully against transformative change and outsider candidates.

All of that has produced an enthusiasm gap for Democrats. While Republicans have built and energized their grassroots base since 2008, Democratic enthusiasm was significantly lower in the last general election, and that proved to be costly.

The good news for Democrats is that they’ve had two prominent examples of the kind of campaigns that they need more of. Both were driven by compelling change agents who started without money and endorsements. They were also opposed, initially, by the party insiders and mainstream. But both Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders nonetheless mobilized millions of energetic new Democrats.

For Democrats across the county who fear what the election of Donald Trump means for the future, I invite you to closely study what Maine has done over the last six years. We are the laboratory of what happens when you elect a far-right anti-government ideologue to run the government. And we have something important to share. Don’t do what Maine did, when Democrats here nominated two seasoned Democrats who had no answer to the calls for change.

Instead, do this:

• Focus on how to grow the economy more than on how to make the economy more fair. Both are important, but if you skip over the first one you lose critical voters.

• Run for something compelling, rather than running against someone.

• Don’t instinctively line up behind candidates because they have lots of party experience.

• Instead, pay attention to people who can energize voters because of their message, more than their endorsements, money, and databases.

• If you have a choice between nice people and inspiring leaders who have their own ideas, take the latter.

• Take ownership of the changes in government that need to happen and do it right.

If Democrats want to begin to turn the tide, limit the damage that Donald Trump can do, and replace him in four years, they need to start now.

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is the principle of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” (2015) and “Reinventing Maine Government” (2010). He can be reached at: [email protected]

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