BERRYVILLE, Va. — For more than a year, Democrats have raged against now-President Trump, projecting their opposition as the party’s central message. In so doing, they have maintained their minority status in Congress, sustained the most stunning loss in modern presidential history and left voters with little sense of what they represent.
On Monday, Democratic leaders gathered 70 miles from Washington — in a town of some 4,000, in a district represented by a Republican, in a county carried easily by Mr. Trump — to try something else.
“Too many Americans don’t know what we stand for,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, told a sweat-soaked crowd of about 100 at a park here off Main Street. “Not after today.”
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Such is the battle cry of a party in the wilderness, straining to win support even while staring down a historically unpopular president consumed by Russia-specked scandal. Now Democrats are training their attention elsewhere, unfurling a set of proposals aimed squarely at voters who see a gap between Mr. Trump’s populist campaign message and the reality of his tenure.
Labeled collectively as “A Better Deal,” the policies combine left-leaning doctrine old and new — a $15-an-hour minimum wage, a crusade against monopolies, and efforts to lower prescription drug costs — elevating issues that Democrats expect to animate next year’s midterm elections and supplying an answer to critics who accuse them of offering nothing but obstruction. Not coincidentally, Democrats latched onto two policies that Mr. Trump campaigned on but has done little to combat as president — the power of big-business monopolies and surging drug prices.
And so, one after another, the Democrats stepped into this small-town painting: the Senate firebrand from Massachusetts, two Brooklynites, the House leader from San Francisco, in her dark sunglasses, assembling in front of a swing set and a row of minivans and telling the people why they should listen this time.
“We’re here today because the economy is broken,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the event’s most celebrated draw, revving up as residents snapped to attention for cellphone photographs. “Americans know that this economy is rigged.”
For all the fanfare on Monday, Democrats acknowledged that the message might serve more as a flexible skeleton for their 2018 campaigns than a precise ideological or political road map. The “Better Deal” concept appeared designed to satisfy as many factions of the party as possible — populist liberals, suburban moderates, social justice activists — while attaching the Democratic Party in formal fashion to a few broad economic themes.
But the themes did aim at issues familiar to struggling Americans. Soaring drug prices are cutting into middle-class wallets, and the consolidation of industries, from airlines to cable companies to banks, are raising prices, reducing competition and holding down wages. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour has not been raised since 2009.
David Axelrod, the former chief strategist for President Barack Obama, said the messaging rollout appeared to be an acknowledgment that Democrats had failed to connect with voters’ economic anxiety in the last election.
“The question is: Does it appear to people to be simply a poll-driven document offered by a bunch of Washington politicians, or is there a persistent, disciplined attempt to follow through on these issues?” said Mr. Axelrod, noting that Hillary Clinton’s myriad economic policy prescriptions failed to overcome Mr. Trump’s battering-ram nationalist message. “And do the candidates of the party, running throughout the country, embrace them?”
More optimistic Democrats said they hoped it would allow the party to sidle past some of the messy internal conflicts of the last eight months.
Mr. Trump’s election touched off bitter arguments among Democrats over just how politically combative the party should be, and how much it should seek to compete with Mr. Trump’s hard-edged version of economic populism.
Mr. Schumer suggested, in fact, that Mr. Trump’s success had demonstrated the potency of this kind of economic strategy.
“President Trump campaigned on a populist platform, talking to working people. That’s why he won,” the senator said, adding that Mr. Trump’s choice to often outsource policy making to hard-line conservatives had created a vacuum on economic issues. “We Democrats are going to fill that vacuum. Democrats will show the country we are the party on the side of working people.”
The effort comes as the party confronts a mood of mounting urgency around its messaging, particularly on economic matters. For all of the Clinton campaign’s white papers and round-table discussions last year — proposals, in many cases, that were equivalent to what Democrats embraced on Monday — the candidate’s closing argument registered often as anti-Trump above all else.
The problem has persisted. Lacking a pointed national sales pitch in the first half of this year, Democratic candidates were shut out in a series of special congressional elections in conservative-leaning districts — in Georgia, Montana, South Carolina and Kansas — with each defeat fueling new recriminations and deepening existing disagreements about the party’s future.
Several Democrats were heartened that Monday’s display seemed at least to reflect a consensus that the party needed to be more attentive to voters’ close-to-home concerns, without lurching too precipitously toward the left or the center.
The event was ostensibly hosted by Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, a centrist, business-friendly Democrat who reached the governor’s mansion in 2002 in part by finding unlikely success with the kinds of rural voters who have since gravitated toward Mr. Trump.
“In that way, it’s an important step,” said former Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware, a moderate Democrat and former chairman of the National Governors Association. “I think this really appeals to everybody, from Mark Warner to Elizabeth Warren.”
As with most any political messaging rollout, there were halting moments: ham-fisted baseball banter, time-filling riffs about the weather and — to the delight of Republicans in Washington — a slogan that echoed both a tagline from Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s “A Better Way” agenda and the Papa John’s pizza creed, “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza.”
On Monday, a small group of protesters, who refused to say if they belonged to an organization, held aloft pizza boxes with the face of Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader. “Still Pelosi,” the boxes read.
Yet if Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer were plainly a long way from her home cities on Monday, Democrats were careful to line up other party ambassadors with more down-home appeal.
Representative Cheri Bustos of Illinois, whose district is largely rural, cheered an attendee for wearing a hat for a seed company. “That’s, like, my kind of peeps,” she said.
Others leaned into their urban ZIP codes.
“I’m from a small town up north,” said Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York. “Brooklyn.”
And Mr. Schumer became perhaps the first elected official in Virginia political history to begin an attempt at anecdotal folksiness with, “Last month, I went to a Yankees game.” He spoke of encountering two Trump voters there who worried about the president’s approach so far.
Such pangs rang familiar to some attendees on Monday.
Maria Esparolini, 61, said she had supported Mr. Trump last year after twice voting for Mr. Obama. While she believes Mr. Trump has successfully frightened some of America’s enemies abroad into submission, she appeared unsettled by his tenure.
“Please don’t ask me that,” Ms. Esparolini said with a laugh, when asked to appraise the Trump presidency.
She added, “I’m personally tired of all the twitters and the twotters.”
Kate Petranech, 72, overheard.
“I think,” she said, “you speak for all Americans.”