Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that in order for his party to win in 2016, his party will have to run on big government, "not run away from it."
During a long, scripted speech at the National Press Club in Washington, the boisterous New Yorker heralded government -- and its programs to aid the middle class -- as what "unites" the party.
"Together, Democrats must embrace government," Schumer said. "In order to win in 2016, Democrats must embrace government, not run away from it."
Schumer's argument was that Democrats must regain the mantle as the party for the middle class by focusing laser-like on populist legislation the benefits a large number of voters and sticks to a coherent, simple message.
This "strategy must become our blueprint. Indeed it should unite Democrats from Elizabeth Warren to Hillary Clinton to Joe Manchin," Schumer argued, noting politicians across the Democratic spectrum.
During a speech that was as much a history lesson as it was guiding vision, Schumer faulted Democrats for, in his opinion, fumbling the mandate they won in 2008 by focusing on the Affordable Care Act -- also known as Obamacare -- at the outset of the Obama administration.
"After passing the stimulus, Democrats should have continued to propose middle class-oriented programs and built on the partial success of the stimulus, but unfortunately Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them," Schumer said. "We took their mandate and put all our focus on the wrong problem - health care reform."
He added, "The focus on Obamacare gave anti-government forces and the Republican Party new vigor and new life, at least temporarily" and led to their wins in 2010.
Schumer told the assembled reporters that the Affordable Care Act was "a good bill" that "should have come later." Instead, Schumer said the reason he opposed pushing health care early in 2009 was that he law did not affect enough of the electorate to be worth the political capital it cost.
"To aim a huge change in mandate at such a small percentage of the electorate made no political sense," Schumer said. "So when Democrats focused on health care, the average middle class person thought, 'the Democrats are not paying enough attention to me.'"
Schumer's remarks come at a turbulent time for Democrats. The 2014 election saw massive Republican wins across the country. Democrats fell deeper into the minority in the House and Republicans took back the Senate.
Republicans, who have argued the nation wants smaller, less involved government -- and point to their 2014 election win -- seized on the senator's speech.
"Schumer's message has an old car stank to it," said Brad Dayspring, strategist with the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "Embracing a dysfunctional government that is 17 trillion in debt is a thumb in the eye to middle class voters and young Americans, but reflects how out of touch Democrats are heading into 2016."