The Democrats must learn from the GOP and re­build

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Eu­gene Robin­son Colum­nist Eu­gene Robin­son’s email ad­dress is eu­gen­er­obin­son@ wash­post.com.

The Repub­li­can Party is frac­tured by ide­o­log­i­cal di­vi­sions, led by an in­ex­pe­ri­enced and un­pre­dictable president-elect, and quite pos­si­bly headed for a frat­ri­ci­dal civil war. The Demo­cratic Party should be so lucky.

There is much un­pleas­ant re­al­ity for Democrats to deal with right now, start­ing with this: The GOP con­trols vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing. The two-party sys­tem is, at best, one and a half.

Repub­li­cans won the pres­i­dency. They re­tained con­trol of both houses of Congress. Soon, when Don­ald Trump ap­points a replacement for the late Jus­tice An­tonin Scalia, they will re-es­tab­lish a con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity on the Supreme Court. As far as the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is con­cerned, that’s the whole tri­fecta.

But there’s much more: Af­ter mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant gains last week, Repub­li­cans con­trol both leg­isla­tive chambers in 32 states — and hold the gov­er­nor­ships in 33. Some of the na­tion’s most di­verse and pop­u­lous states, in­clud­ing Texas and Florida, are liv­ing un­der one-party Repub­li­can rule.

Democrats should re­ject the urge to take com­fort in fa­vor­able de­mo­graphic trends. It is true that within a gen­er­a­tion, mi­nori­ties will be in the ma­jor­ity — and that mi­nori­ties tend to vote for Democrats. But what would the coun­try be like af­ter 20 or 30 years of near-to­tal Repub­li­can con­trol? I’m sure most pro­gres­sives would join me in not want­ing to run that dan­ger­ous ex­per­i­ment.

Did Democrats lose the White House be­cause their pres­i­den­tial can­di­date had bag­gage and was not per­fect in ev­ery way? Come on, the Repub­li­cans nom­i­nated Trump, for heaven’s sake, a man who bragged about grab­bing women by the gen­i­tals. I don’t have nearly enough space to list all the ways in which he dis­qual­i­fied him­self. Yet he won.

The Repub­li­can Party is so splin­tered — the es­tab­lish­ment, the tea party wing, the fis­cal tight­wads, the de­fense hawks, the so­cial con­ser­va­tives, the lib­er­tar­i­ans and now the Trump­is­tas — that some­times I think of it as Afghanistan: with each fac­tion hav­ing its own war­lords and griev­ances and goals. Many of the de­mands they make upon Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell will be un­com­pro­mis­ingly ex­treme and mu­tu­ally exclusive. There will be blood (metaphor­i­cally, of course).

Yet if Democrats ex­pect to sit back and watch the GOP self-destruct, I fear they will be dis­ap­pointed. Con­sider this fact: The Repub­li­can Party not only sur­vived the Trump can­di­dacy, but pros­pered. Why would the same not be true of a Trump pres­i­dency?

Democrats have won the pop­u­lar vote in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2008, 2012 and now 2016. That’s six out of the last seven pres­i­den­tial con­tests. Yet the Repub­li­can Party is run­ning the coun­try, or at least most of it.

A Demo­cratic re­bound has to be­gin with the ba­sics: Get­ting peo­ple who agree with you to vote. Less than 60 per­cent of those el­i­gi­ble to cast bal­lots in last week’s elec­tion both­ered to do so. Con­ser­va­tives who say this is “a cen­ter-right na­tion” may be right in terms of who votes, but they’re wrong in terms of who could vote. Polls show that the coun­try fa­vors Demo­cratic over Repub­li­can po­si­tions on most is­sues.

The Demo­cratic Party should put its en­ergy and money into con­nect­ing with po­ten­tial vot­ers at the grass-roots level. Trump made a bunch of pie-inthe-sky prom­ises he can never keep. Democrats need a hope­ful but re­al­is­tic message rec­og­niz­ing that while most big ci­ties pros­per in to­day’s glob­al­ized econ­omy, much of the rest of the coun­try suf­fers.

Democrats will win when theirs is the “big tent” party. Right now, though, the GOP cir­cus is in town.

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