In the wilderness, Democrats can’t chart their way forward
In the fog of breathless media coverage of the Trump White House, scant attention has been paid to the civil war breaking out on the other side of the aisle. Like most minority parties that lose the White House, the Democratic Party is without a national leader. Their legislative caucuses in the House and Senate have elected leadership, but the party itself has several elected officials fighting to lead it into the future, all with an eye toward 2020. And the party’s most visible figures aren’t exactly fresh faces.
Consider: Hillary Clinton is 69, Sen. Bernard Sanders is 75, former Vice President Joe Biden is 74, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is 77, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the baby of the group, turns 68 in June. Not one of these five Democrats were born in the second half of the 20th century. Does this look like the Party of the Future?
Now couple that aging leadership with fissures within the party that have broken out into the open just in the past two weeks.
A “unity tour” featuring new DNC Chairman Tom Perez and Mr. Sanders resulted in: negative headlines, unhappy attendees booing the speakers, Mr. Sanders admitting he still won’t call himself a Democrat, and the bizarre spectacle of Mr. Perez consistently using vulgar language in public. How unifying.
Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, the new DNC vice chair, sharply criticized former President Obama, saying, “Given we lost a lot of statehouse seats, governorships, secretary of states [under Mr. Obama], his true legacy is in danger, and I think he can’t say that he wasn’t part of those losses.”
Mr. Sanders campaigned in Omaha for a mayoral candidate who several years ago supported a pro-life bill in the Nebraska legislature, sparking fierce and unrelenting criticism from the party’s pro-choice left wing. Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Pelosi argue that not all Democratic candidates must support abortion rights, a position Mr. Perez rejected entirely.
A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that only 28 percent of Americans think the Democratic Party is “in touch with the concerns of most people in the U.S.” — 10 percent lower than the comparable finding for President Trump. Back in 2014, the same poll found that 48 percent believed Democrats were “in touch,” a 20-point drop in just three years.
Ms. Warren, a liberal icon, stood out among Democrats in openly opposing Mr. Trump’s popular and proportionate response to the chemical attack in Syria, insisting there was “no compelling strategic justification” for the action.
The result: In the aftermath of one of the most devastating and shocking national election losses in American history, Democrats remain divided on their future. Opposition to President Trump may unify them, but that is not a policy agenda, and should Democrats gain seats in the midterm elections, it will not offer them a mandate.
For now, Democrats appear entirely uninterested in contributing to the public debate, content to offer no new solutions or ideas.
Do they have a tax reform plan? No. How would they propose Congress “fix” Obamacare? Crickets. Do they support stronger border security? Of course not. Incredibly, Democrats appear to believe that Hillary Clinton unthinkably lost this election because she was not liberal enough.
In fact, Mrs. Clinton lost because she ignored the white working class in the Midwest and ran as a status quo candidate in an election year when voters were craving change. The Clinton campaign arrogantly assumed that opposing Mr. Trump would be enough to win the White House. It was not.
Democrats now appear to want to double down on that losing strategy.
While Republicans are working to unleash the power of the economy, repeal and replace Obamacare, reform the tax code, rebuild the military and secure the border, Democrats appear unwilling to partner with them on any of these priorities. Not even the Democrats up for reelection in districts and states that Mr. Trump won have moved in the White House’s direction — yet.
Elected Democrats are deeply frightened of their own base, fearing primary fights from more liberal challengers next year.
The dynamic became evident in the debate over Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, one of the best qualified nominees in recent decades. Democrats chose to pursue the first partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee in history, rather than ask tough questions and begrudgingly support Mr. Trump’s qualified choice.
Will Democrats offer nothing of any substance for the rest of 2017? Perhaps they are trying to forestall messy policy debates that divide their party.
Simple math should tell them to come back to the middle ideologically. But alas, their base demands otherwise.