Longtime U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) is one of over 25 Democrat members of House who will not seek reelection in the coming midterm elections.
However, Cooper has decided to issue a dire warning to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the rest of the Democratic Party before he leaves Congress.
In a new interview with The Nashville Scene, Cooper has warned Pelosi and Democrat leadership that the “self-righteous” Party is facing “extinction” in his state:
Q: In the past four years or so, you’ve faced more pressure from the left. Now that the campaign aspect is behind you, how have you felt about that, and has it changed your thinking at all?
A: I’ve been one of the luckiest people in all of Tennessee history, to get elected to Congress repeatedly from two different congressional districts. One entirely rural, the other mostly urban, and to never have anyone come within almost 20 points of me. That’s pretty rare. As I used to tell people when Martha was still alive, we were married 36 years and often she didn’t agree with me, but we were still married for 36 years.
What Tennessee Democrats need is a strategy to win. We’re addicted to telling other people what to think. You can’t really win many elections if you’re that self-righteous.
It’s important to be in communication with your constituents, not to be their boss. You’re their representative. We’ve got to get this formula right. The Democratic Party in Tennessee is basically facing extinction.
We’ve been on a long downhill slide for a long time. Tennessee has fewer statewide elected offices than I think any other state, and now the only path upward will be through Memphis, which is not nearly as successful as Nashville. That fits Republican strategy very well. Their intent is to ghettoize the state Democratic Party.
Q: Did the possibility that you were the only person who could win the new 5th for Democrats affect your thinking at all?
A: I considered all the options, and I chose the only sensible one. It’s much easier for someone without a 32-year voting record and someone who’s not so tied to Nashville in the public’s eyes. You have, what, five or six rural counties out there. And someone who’s not the brother of the mayor of Nashville. That offers a clean slate, a new look, a very exciting new possibility.
I survived redistricting twice before only because the state legislature didn’t know I existed. There are many great candidates out there that the state legislature doesn’t know exist. One or more of those needs to step forward. They can’t be stupid about it. They’ve got to know how to raise money, and big money, and fast. They’ve got to know how to campaign. They’ve got to know how to talk.
There are plenty of people who, with a little bit of fine-tuning, could do a great job.
Q: Do you think there’s any possibility that forcing Democrats in Nashville to think about these other parts of the state in these congressional elections might help them in statewide races?
A: Listen to the verb you just used. Forcing them. That implies it’s against their will. What they have to do is genuinely love their brothers and sisters who live outside of Nashville.
People in Nashville don’t realize how many kindred spirits there are in these rural counties who feel trapped by the Republican representation. We saw last election a 10-point swing against Trump because the more educated folks in rural counties do not find Trump appealing.
What steps have we taken to capitalize on that? What outreach do we have to Republicans and independents? Most of the rhetoric you hear is, “Let’s double down, let’s force it down their throats.” That’s not the way to win votes. You have to have mutual respect and trust. First, that takes familiarity.
Tip O’Neill said that all politics is local. He didn’t say all politics is long-distance.
Q: I’ve heard some Democrats take solace in the possibility that five years down the road, toward the end of this 10-year cycle, there’s a chance that you’ll be competitive in all three of those seats. Do you see that happening?
A: I certainly hope so, but hope is not a strategy. Remind me what the strategy is to change the minds of rural voters.
Q: What would you suggest?
A: You said you’d heard from others. What’s their strategy? Their strategy is blind hope. Many of the folks you’re probably listening to have probably never visited these counties. They’re not kin to these folks.
Their best friends don’t live out there. I had the advantage of being born in Nashville but raised in Shelbyville.
Sometimes the more successful Nashville is, the more Nashville is envied and sometimes hated. Sometimes the better the shopping in Nashville, the more anger from local, rural merchants.
Sometimes when the only affordable housing you can find is out two counties from Nashville, the commute drives you crazy. There are legitimate tension points that people need to understand.
And by the way, who in Nashville is really good at agriculture?
Read the full interview here.