Where do Dems go from here?
Well, that wasn’t fun. Fortunately, the Democratic Party, like many other made-in-America organizations, is simply too big to fail, so one tough loss is hardly a death blow. On the contrary, hitting the reset button might be exactly what the party and its downtrotten supporters need. So without further ado, here are some ideas for the Democrats’ next steps between now and 2020.
- Elect a new Democrat National Committee (DNC) chair swiftly so that (s)he can put a plug in the brewing civil war between the activist wing and the establishment wing of the party, and focus on rebuilding the party instead. The good news is that it seems they’re on the eight ball here, and a few well respected names have already been thrown around for the job. The party needs strong leadership now more than ever, and only a united and aggresive Democratic party can apply the necessary pressure on Trump and Congress. Republicans would love nothing more than to watch Democrats bicker back and forth about their future while they quietly reshape the country in their image. It’s possible that they might be able to do that anyway, but Democrats shouldn’t make it easy for them.
- Attack, attack, attack. Progressive-minded citizens need to do whatever it takes over the next four years to hold the White House and Congress accountable. If Trump or the extreme fringes of the GOP push for something reckless or dangerous, it may be up to Democrats in the Senate to convince a few of the more moderate Republicans to flip their vote. This means Democratic Senators must not only stay united, but rally their supporters to put public pressure on Republican Senators to break ranks. With Obamacare likely on the chopping block in 2017, there’s not much time to act.
- Rebuild at the grassroots level by developing new candidates for the 2018 midterms and beyond. For all the talk about how old GOP politicians are, it’s the Dems who are actually short on young stars. Re-taking the Senate will be tough in 2018 as the electoral map favours the GOP, but there appear to be a decent chunk of congressional House seats there for the taking. Building a deep bench of strong, youthful, progressive congress(w0)men would be a good start in terms of bringing about a new era. And if there’s a major Trump backlash, then perhaps the Senate will be there for the taking in 2018 after all.
- Vote in the 2018 midterms and in other off-year elections. Democrats failed to turn out in large numbers this election and the results are self-evident. Democrat supporters are also historically bad at turning out for midterms and off-year races (see the Tea Party takeover of 2010). Democrat voters simply cannot allow this to happen again. Governor and state races in particular are important not only because they obviously determine state-level leadership, but state governments have lawmaking authority that can influence politics at the national level as well. For example, if Democrats were to govern more states it would help them block Republican electoral re-zoning (“gerrymandering”) efforts. New census data is on its way and once it arrives state governments will be responsible for drawing the electoral maps which determine the allocation of congressional seats in the House. Gerrymandering is the art of re-drawing the lines in a way to make it easier for your party to gain more seats. Historically both parties have been guilty of this, but as with everything else these days Republicans have taken this artform to extreme levels. What’s more, the GOP recently reduced the number of voting stations available in certain cities, which tend to be regions favouring Democrats. Unless Democrats gain more control at the state level to stop all this nonsense the GOP will keep drawing the map as they see fit and keep re-taking the House. It’s the least talked about biggest problem the Democratic party faces, by far.
- Still on the Governor/state races, states are also in charge of voter ID and registration laws. Several GOP-controlled states in recent years have passed laws to make it more difficult for potential voters to register. It’s pretty disgraceful that a party in a democratic nation would actively work to make it harder for people to vote, but that’s precisely what the Party of Lincoln does. They know full well that a diproportionate amount of low-income earners and/or minorities do not have government-issued photo documentation, and they know these demographic segments are much more likely to vote Democrat.
- Last thing on the Governor races, the GOP now controls 32 state legislatures, which means that by picking up just two more states in 2018, they would get constitutional amendment authority (via two-thirds majority). If that doesn’t scare people into voting I’m not sure what will. State elections matter. A lot.
- Pump the brakes on deciding what type of candidate to choose for 2020. The the least popular candidate in the Democratic party’s history just ran and still won the popular vote by a rather significant margin. Unlike at the state or congressional level, and contrary to popular opinion at the moment, Dems probably don’t need to make drastic changes to the formula for the Presidential election. After Kerry lost to Bush in 2004 the post-election hot-take was that Democrats need to run a moderate candidate from a red state next time. Flip to 2008 and they ended up going with with an African-American from the south-side of Chicago and he breezed by his GOP opponent. After Romney lost in 2012, the GOP post-mortem analysis was that the party needs to get younger, less white, and less male. Four years later they elected Donald Trump. In Canada, the Liberals argued in 2011 that they should go with a blue-collar type who can connect with western Canadians. They had gone against Stephen Harper in consecutive elections with a typical Ontario/Quebec establishment type and got smacked. Two years later a rich Montrealer and son of a former Prime Minister became Liberal leader, and two years after that won the federal election in a remarkable landslide. All of which to say is, not only is it far too early to be picking candidates for President, but it’s also not a good idea to narrow down the “type” of candidate ahead of time. If there’s a great lesson that the Democratic party of 2016 will hopefully learn, it’s that a candidate should never be picked based solely on the argument that they’ve put in their dues. Let the people decide who’s ready, and let them decide when it’s time to let them decide, not four years earlier.
- Bernie Sanders isn’t running in 2020, he’ll be pushing 80. Neither is Michelle Obama, it’s clear she wants out of DC. Time to move on.
- Finally, everybody needs to get involved in the political process. This applies to people outside the US as well. Put pressure on your elected politicians to hold them accountable and fight for justice. Donate and lend your support to strong, positive, forward-looking community organizations, especially ones under threat (e.g., Planned Parenthood). Pay for news from reputable sources like the New York Times so that they can continue to report and investigate real stories that the public deserves to hear. Encourage friends, whether liberal or conservative, to get engaged. Vote. Get your friends and family to vote. Call out xenophobia when you see it. And whatever you do, don’t turn cynical. Solidarity and renewed energy is the best path forward now.