Because the administration of Trump was a veritable dumpster fire even before the inauguration, the Democrats never had the usual trial by fire and public shaming that the losing party normally gets. There was never an opportunity for the Democratic party to listen to its constituents and perform a full autopsy on just how catastrophic the 2016 election was. Rather, an obstructionist-lite position was adopted, and the Democratic base hasn’t raised much fuss.
Most sane people are able to admit there’s no real way to say definitively that Sanders would have beat Trump in a tête-à-tête, but there was a particular resignation amongst the Democrats who held their nose, pragmatically voting for Hillary Clinton in hopes of keeping Trump out of the White House at all costs. For many, this wasn’t about making the decision to participate in electing the first woman to the presidency, but really about a clash of ideologies. Many Democratic voters were miffed at how little the party’s establishment reached out to Sander’s supporters. Unlike how Obama reached out to Clinton in 2008. While the numbers bear themselves out–Clinton did win the nomination fair and square–once the emails of the DNP were leaked it was clear that throughout the primary, every lever was moved to make sure Clinton secured the nomination.
I would submit that Sanders was Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the hill of the party’s establishment. The fact that Clinton almost didn’t make it out of the primary should have been a testament to just how fractured the Democratic voting base truly was and still is. In a primary race with only three candidates, and quickly two, the Democrats didn’t have an authentic primary. Not in a real sense at least. For a total of eight years, the Democratic party planned for Clinton to succeed Obama. There was no plan B. There was no alternative. For what it’s worth, the decisive way in which the Republicans nixed the establishment candidates early on, such as Jeb Bush, it effectively secured a political base for Trump. That didn’t happen for the Democrats. Clinton’s victory was much more of a split victory. Trump secured 45% of the delegates and the next closest contender was 20-percentage points away. Meanwhile, between Clinton and Sanders, the point spread was only 12-percentage points.
In the Obama era, Democrats grew accustomed not just to his politics, but his actual star power. The celebrity nature of Obama far outweighs the supermarket-checkout-line-tabloid-worthy headlines that the Trump administration seems to make on a near daily basis. And without that positive star power, the Democrats seem to be chasing the wind. Enter Kamala Harris. Anointed by Obama when she was elected attorney general for the state of California, Kamala Harris successfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 2016. Harris was a small bright spot in the dimness that was the Democratic defeat nationwide at both the federal and state level of politics. About the only post-mortem conclusion that the Democratic party arrived at with the piercing clarity was that they cannot pull off a win of any kind without Obama’s name on a ticket and that the Clinton dynasty as we know it was finished. Or so we thought.
This summer, Harris was reported to have met with some party insider’s who are close companions of the Clintons in July and that has fueled rumors about a 2020 presidential run. Fundamentally, this is problematic. The posturing of poaching a candidate who’s a freshman to the Hill this early is putting the cart before the horse. Not only does she need to be focused on the work she was elected to do, the Democrats and the American public are far too out to see who will emerge naturally. Despite conventional wisdom, Clinton did not emerge organically as a candidate, but was forged in the fires of the party establishment. So seeing Harris meet with the same establishment that crafted a Hillary Clinton candidacy is a sure-fire way to turn off those 43% of primary votes whose political ideologies are more closely aligned with that of Sanders.
While the Republicans are fractured publicly, the Democrats need to acknowledge that there are internal fractures amongst themselves too. One of the post-election narratives that emerged was that vast sections of the country were not ready to elect a woman to the presidency. The oft quoted statistic that 53% of white women voted for Donald J. Trump was cited as evidence of this. While I agree with this approach in a meta-sense, as far as national politics are concerned, I have a deep disagreement with those who agree with this line of thinking and use it as a weapon against supporters of Bernie Sanders. I would allege that the men and women who supported Sanders supported him because of his democratic socialist ideology, not because Clinton was a woman.
This line of thinking in and of itself causes some unnecessary divisions because it’s only telling one side of the narrative and not inviting the other side for discussion. To even suggest that Rep. Maxine Waters, another Democrat from California, should run for office is absolutely absurd. The vacuum of leadership vacated by Barack Obama, and more importantly, the Clintons as a unit, meant that the public face of the party became Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California. If Schumer and Pelosi are the faces of the Democratic National Party then, they function as the final death rattles of a political establishment. They’re elder statespersons who tend to be intractable in their approach to politics in the face of a populist candidate who got elected because of the unpredictability of his tweets. In essence, the Democrats showed up to a gun battle with a knife, got shot by the Republicans and are still trying to stab their opponent from fifty feet away because they’re convinced the knife is still a lethal weapon.
The Democrats have been asleep at the wheel for the past eight years, smug over being the party that elected the first black president. Meanwhile, the numbers don’t lie: only 16 out of 50 states have Democratic governors; accounting for Nebraska’s unicameral system, the Democrats only control 31 out 99 state legislative houses, resulting in 17 states with a GOP veto-proof majority in their statehouses. If the Democrats are focusing on the White House and completely ignoring state houses, again, they’re bringing a knife to a gun fight.
Harris may throw her hat in the ring, and she might be the heir apparent by 2020, but in 2017, the Democratic party needs to be going back to African American neighborhoods where turnout returned to pre-Obama levels this last election cycle, and going to rural white American counties and sitting and talking to people and telling them why coal will never come back. In fact they’re trying it and calling it the Better Deal. Obviously hearkening back to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal (something I advocated the Democratic party should have done in 2009), it does lay out a slightly more progressive plan seeming to engage the ideologies of Sanders and even Sen. Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, but it still has the stench of party establishment drenched all over it. It’s ideological teeth lack the bite because it fails to address the concerns levied at the Democrats feet in 2016: mass incarceration combined with police brutality, universal health care and affordable college. The Better Deal is as if the Democrats got together and decided to construct a bigger knife and bring it to the gun fight because a bigger knife will make it more deadly. At this rate, the Democrats are poised to resurrect Walter Mondale from retirement and run him again in 2020.
There are dozens of grassroots organizations that have sprung up in the last six years that publicly demonstrate where liberals and progressives stand on these socially divisive issues. Prominently the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matters awareness campaigns have shown just how popular these ideologies truly are. While I have personal issues with the “too woke to vote” anti-establishment sentiments that seem politically impractical for many of their stated goals, they do symbolize the disenchantment of potential voters. Failing to connect those dots is, again, bringing a mere shank to a gun fight.
I knew something was cataclysmically wrong when Sen. Schumer, in a press conference, seemed overtly self-congratulatory at his ability to add the suffix “-er” to the word MEAN on a red poster board with black letters. It was a direct quote, with his own augmentation, in a way to campaign the ill-effects of the House bill known as the American Care Act of 2017 designed to repeal and replace parts of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. This was the best the Democrats had to offer in response. A 68-year-old man with a magic marker. Aloof and out of touch. He lacked the passion that so many have felt on the ground since the election of Trump. Yet, this was the leadership of the Democratic party.
In order to be a viable party in 2020, the Democrats needs to do old school grassroots mobilization, of which that entails engaging with community organizations already doing the work that they say they support. But, oops, that would require the Democrats to actually have a platform aligned with progressive populism. Which currently, the Better Deal is not. Hypothetically, if the Better Deal did have a clear progressive platform, the mobilization of the policy platform, I would argue, needs to happen on the state and local level. The Democrats need to be flipping state houses at the legislative level and slowly begin eating away at the House of Representatives, and put out a hope and prayer they can gain control of the Senate with 51 members and let the presidential candidate chips fall where they may.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing suggesting that they’re strategizing that way. In the meantime, Democrats needn’t be reminded that Nixon wasn’t impeached until his second term. As far as I’m concerned, as of now, the knife-wielding Democrats are powerless to stop the strong possibility of a second term of the gun-toting Donald J. Trump.