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Even with Trump’s troubles, and even with some close finishes, Democrats can’t turn the corner. We came close in Montana, close in Georgia and close even in South Carolina.

But a loss is a loss. And we’re still looking for a W.

Which makes must-reading of an article in this coming Sunday’s New York Times Magazine (“Is North Carolina the Future of American Politics?”).

It’s one of the best analyses I’ve read. Not surprising, because Jason Zengerle is one of the best political reporters in America today. (Plus, he quoted Carter and me.)

Here’s his bottom line:

“The bet that North Carolina Democrats are making — one that national Democrats will undoubtedly be paying attention to before the 2020 presidential race — is that, rather than fight Republican extremism with the Democratic equivalent, the surest way to nudge North Carolina from purple to blue is to make a low-key politician like Cooper, a consensus-seeker even where there’s no consensus to be had, their party’s standard-bearer.”

Zengerle focuses on Governor Cooper. He deftly sums up the Governor’s political challenge:

“It is Cooper’s misfortune to have finally arrived at his apparent destiny — his once-youthful face now wizened, his Lego-like helmet of hair streaked with gray — in a political climate that does not have much use for the sort of cautious, consensus-seeking governor he has spent his life preparing to be.”

As one Democrat said this week, “There’s not a lot of consensus to be found when most Republicans are suicide bombers and most Democrats are just suicidal.”

In the wake of the Georgia Six loss, you see the bitter split opening in the Democratic Party – one that will dominate 2018, 2020 and every day in between.

One chorus says go hard left. Be a populist. Soak the rich. Spread the wealth. Protect the planet. Stand on principle.

This chorus is led by Bernie Sanders and the Rev. William Barber.

They say: Be like UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Look at how he mobilized millennials.

The other chorus says go center-left. Yes, be progressive. But be pro-job, pro-growth and fiscally responsible. Appeal to a broader band of voters, not just urban progressives, millennials and minorities.

The leaders of this chorus are just emerging, like Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, who challenged Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and says the Democratic Party’s brand “is worse than Trump.”

The overseas model here is Emmanual Macron: Be an unapologetic progressive, but unapologetically take good ideas from the right. Be a problem-solver. Above all, be anti-politics-as-usual.

But Democrats shouldn’t believe it’s just about fashioning the right policies or crafting the right message.

As always, it’s about new leaders emerging. Like JFK in 1960, Clinton in 1992 and Obama in 2008 – and, in North Carolina, Terry Sanford in and Jim Hunt.

It’s about a leader with a voice and a vision. A man or woman voters like and believe in. Above all, someone whom Americans sense “gets” them, understands what they’re going through and truly cares about helping them.

A leader like that can rise above party divisions, rewrite the playbook and write a new chapter of history.

Nothing wins like a winner.

 

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