House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that the anti-establishment mood sweeping the country reflects scars caused by government failures that began in the Bush administration and that Democrats needed to do a better job communicating the steps they took to blunting the worst effects of Republican policies.
“If I think we had a shortcoming in any of this, it is that we did not message correctly,” Mrs. Pelosi said at the close of a three-day House Democratic caucus in response to a question about whether Democrats shared any responsibility for the rise of populist candidates.
“What responsibility do we have? For not pointing out more clearly what they were about, in the interest of not inspiring fear, but in trying to instill confidence that we can fight this out. But if they want to take it there — if they want to take it there — we are fully prepared.”
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden hit a similar theme at the retreat, urging Democrats to campaign on the record of the past seven years, citing a boom in car sales, a decline in gasoline prices, and a drop in the unemployment rate to 5% last month from a peak of 10% during the first year of the Obama administration. Mr. Obama wants Democrats to bring an upbeat message to voters, out of a belief that optimism wins elections.
But the political leadership on both sides of the aisle is dealing with a frustrated electorate, marked by impatient voters lining up behind left-of-center presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side and Donald Trump on the Republican side. The quandary is how project optimism without creating a disconnect with the voters who are agitated and see too little improvement in their daily lives.
“We are not fearmongers; we do not have as a national trait to go out there and say you should see how really bad it is,” Mrs. Pelosi said on Friday, complaining that Republicans were running campaigns based on appeals to voters’ fears. “They are up to doing that again.”
Mrs. Pelosi, who hasn’t endorsed in the Democratic presidential race but this week rejected Mr. Sanders’s health care plan, on Friday took pains to praise Mr. Sanders — and the new voters he is drawing to the Democratic party.
“I’m very proud of the way Senator Sanders has expanded the universe — of young people especially — interested in the political process,” Mrs. Pelosi said.