Demo­cratic losses, party chaos

OBAMA’S LEGACY

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Democrats al­ways had the White House — un­til two weeks ago.

As their ma­jori­ties in Congress slipped away and they ceded the lead in gov­er­nor­ships over the past six years, Pres­i­dent Obama and his top lieu­tenants com­forted them­selves with the chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics that they said would make it im­pos­si­ble for a Repub­li­can to win the top job.

Don­ald Trump punc­tured that belief in stun­ning fash­ion elec­tion day, send­ing Demo­cratic vot­ers scram­bling to make sense of their losses and ig­nit­ing a new bat­tle for the party’s soul that prom­ises to last for months.

“We have to take the time to fig­ure out what hap­pened,” said Jim Man­ley, a se­nior Demo­cratic strate­gist and di­rec­tor at QGA Pub­lic Af­fairs who said Democrats knew their grip on Congress was ten­u­ous, but were stunned by los­ing the pres­i­dency. “It’s ob­vi­ously much more than cycli­cal. Some­thing went wrong, and we need to fig­ure out what it is and how to stop it.”

In the near term, some Democrats are vow­ing mas­sive resistance to any­thing Mr. Trump pro­poses, say­ing he is an in­cor­ri­gi­ble racist. Oth­ers coun­sel that their path to power is to hold true to lib­eral prin­ci­ples while find­ing places to co­op­er­ate with Mr. Trump.

The bat­tle over strat­egy will play out over the next few weeks as the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee elects a new chair­man.

At least three high-pow­ered can­di­dates are eye­ing the role: Rep. Keith El­li­son of Min­nesota, the first Mus­lim elected to Congress; for­mer Mary­land Gov. Martin O’Mal­ley, who flamed out of this year’s pres­i­den­tial pri­mary race; and for­mer Ver­mont Gov. Howard Dean, who lost the 2004 pres­i­den­tial pri­mary and went on to serve a term as party chair­man.

“We did not mo­ti­vate enough peo­ple to the bal­lot box,” Mr. El­li­son said Mon­day, di­ag­nos­ing Democrats’ dis­ease as he an­nounced his bid. “Let’s put the vot­ers first.”

The other can­di­dates echoed a sim­i­lar mes­sage: The party needs to en­er­gize vot­ers and build a bet­ter or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Mr. Obama, in a press con­fer­ence last week, hinted that the prob­lem was partly op­er­a­tional and partly a re­sult of the can­di­date the party picked — though he didn’t men­tion Hil­lary Clin­ton by name.

“I be­lieve that we have bet­ter ideas. But I also be­lieve that good ideas don’t mat­ter if peo­ple don’t hear them,” he said. “We have to com­pete ev­ery­where. We have to show up ev­ery­where. We have to work at a grass-roots level, some­thing that’s been a run­ning thread in my ca­reer.”

The past sev­eral years un­der Mr. Obama have not been kind to Democrats. When he took of­fice in 2009, Democrats had an ef­fec­tive 58-seat ma­jor­ity in the Senate, had a stag­ger­ing 256 seats in the House and held 28 gov­er­nor­ships.

They lost the House and ceded the ma­jor­ity of gov­er­nor­ships in 2010, held serve in 2012 with Mr. Obama’s re-elec­tion, then lost con­trol of the Senate in 2014 and con­trol of the White House this year. All told, Democrats have shed 63 House seats, 10 Senate seats and 12 gov­er­nor­ships.

Some po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists said Democrats’ losses are in line with the po­lit­i­cal cy­cle.

“Typ­i­cally, the pres­i­dent’s party loses ground in the House and Senate dur­ing that per­son’s time in of­fice. This is par­tic­u­larly true in midterms, where the pres­i­dent’s party usu­ally does poorly,” said Kyle Kondik, man­ag­ing ed­i­tor of Sa­bato’s Crys­tal Ball, the po­lit­i­cal prog­nos­ti­ca­tors at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia.

Even if the losses are cycli­cal, it’s a ma­jor let­down for a party that, a lit­tle more than a decade ago, was bask­ing in pre­dic­tions of an emerg­ing, long-last­ing Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity, based on the party’s abil­ity to build a coali­tion of ex­pand­ing mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tions such as black, His­panic and gay vot­ers, young peo­ple and women.

Mr. Obama said Mon­day that count­ing on de­mo­graph­ics to carry elec­tions is a mis­take.

“I won Iowa not be­cause the de­mo­graph­ics dic­tated that I would win Iowa. It was be­cause I spent 87 days go­ing to ev­ery small town and fair and fish fry and VFW Hall, and there were some coun­ties where I might have lost, but maybe I lost by 20 points in­stead of 50 points,” he said.

“There’s some coun­ties maybe I won, that peo­ple didn’t ex­pect, be­cause peo­ple had a chance to see you and lis­ten to you and get a sense of who you stood for and who you were fight­ing for,” he said.

John B. Judis, one of the po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts who pre­dicted the emerg­ing Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity in the early 2000s, said that worked for a few elec­tions. But he wrote in a Wash­ing­ton Post op-ed last week that the Great Re­ces­sion re­ordered pol­i­tics in 2008 and awak­ened the white work­ing class.

“Democrats can’t win elec­tions sim­ply by ap­peal­ing to the iden­tity groups of the ris­ing Amer­i­can elec­torate,” he wrote.

Richard Eskow, a se­nior fel­low at the Cam­paign for Amer­ica’s Fu­ture, said in his post­mortem piece that Democrats “lost the pres­i­dency on a tech­ni­cal­ity.” He added, though, that some les­sons can be learned, in­clud­ing a need for the party to put more dis­tance be­tween it­self and Wall Street.

In­stead of a war with the left, he said, Democrats need to em­brace those like Sen. Bernard San­ders, the demo­cratic so­cial­ist who gave Mrs. Clin­ton a run in the pres­i­den­tial pri­mary.

“The fu­ture is the left,” he wrote.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Rep. Keith El­li­son of Min­nesota, the first Mus­lim elected to Congress and a con­tender for Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair­man, said of the re­cent elec­tion: “We did not mo­ti­vate enough peo­ple to the bal­lot box.” He said the party needs to put vot­ers first.

For­mer Mary­land Gov. Martin O’Mal­ley, who ran for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, is one of at least three high-pow­ered can­di­dates for the top DNC post.

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