Why this ‘blue wave’ was not a tsunami

(CNN) — President Donald Trump speaks in fragmented sentences and fractured truths.

He is an adulterer, a hypocrite, politically clumsy and prone to retweeting racist posts. He has pushed well beyond the boundaries of any rational concept of presidential behavior, to say the least.

This is why may politicos thought the 2018 midterm election was going to be a referendum. And it was, in a sense — but not so much on Trump or the Republican Party as it was for a Democratic Party that continues to struggle to compose a message about what it is for as opposed to what it is against.

Yes, the party took the House but the blue wave was not the tsunami party leadership had hoped it would be. This is in large part because the Democratic Party is still searching for its post 2008 identity. It wants to represent the young and diverse, but key leadership roles continue to be held by the old and the white, much like the Republican Party it chastises.

In 2010 and in 2014, Democratic incumbents seeking reelection distanced themselves from President Barack Obama’s policies, not because they disagreed with them but because they weren’t popular. As repulsive as some of Trump’s rhetoric and policies may have been to Republicans over the past two years, you did not see the same level of retreat from them in this election as Obama experienced in his 2010 midterm shellacking. Which is why the Democrats victory was not so resounding.

Say what you will about the “Make America Great Again” slogan, the reality is that it’s effective because it is a clear, proactive message. What exactly was the Democratic Party’s message in 2016? 2018? What will it be in 2020?

Ten years ago, then-Sen. Obama was elected president behind a clear message of hope. Since then it’s been a lot of finger-pointing and name-calling.

Don’t get me wrong, taking the House is an important step for the Democratic Party’s revival. And there were some fairly historic victories worth mentioning as well, such as Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar becoming the first Muslim women elected to Congress, or Jared Polis becoming the first openly gay man to be elected governor.

But if the party is to build momentum from the 2018 midterm, and not just tread water, leadership must spend more time defining what it is about and less time vilifying what it isn’t. After all, people don’t eat steak because it’s not tofu. They eat steak because it’s steak.