As was the case for much of the primary season, Bernie Sanders did not beat around the bush and called it as he saw it. He saw exactly what everyone outside of the Democratic establishment saw unfold on November 8th. He saw that it wasn’t racism or sexism that proved to be the final nail in Hillary Clinton’s coffin. He saw what we saw. He saw a deeply flawed candidate pay dearly for ignoring the middle of the country. You would think that such a catastrophic meltdown in an election that was predicted to be a slam dunk win for Hillary Clinton would make those in charge of the Democratic Party perhaps take a step back for some self-reflection and maybe reconsider their strategy. Well, you’d be wrong.
In his Washington Post piece titled “Democrats’ long road back to hope and change,” Joe Scarborough described the situation for Democrats nearly flawlessly, saying “progressive road rage is getting in the way of Democratic leaders pulling themselves out of a ditch.” With a highly unfavorable Senate map for 2018, the Democrats should be taking this time to pull themselves together and stop the bleeding. They should be reflecting on how and why they lost the white working-class voters in the Rust Belt. Instead, they have decided to circle the wagons and continue banging the drum that racism, Comey, and the Russians are the only fathomable reasons that they could have lost. While all three of those certainly played a role in Hillary’s defeat, to suggest that they were the primary cause, as people like Bill Clinton, Harry Reid, and Elizabeth Warren seem to believe, would be absurd. Hillary lost because of a toxic mix of incompetence and arrogance.
Detailing Hillary Clinton’s missteps on the campaign trail could be an article all its own. From ignoring Wisconsin to her infamous “basket of deplorables” rant, it’s almost like she wanted Trump to win. In her 2008 campaign, it seemed like she believed that it was her divine right to be the nominee of the Democratic Party and pummel whatever poor sap the Republicans picked to answer for eight years of George W. Bush. This arrogance ultimately paved the way for Barack Obama becoming the nominee and later president. Just like Bill, Hillary has trouble learning from her mistakes because in 2016 we saw this arrogance make a comeback. She assumed that rust belt states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, which had been Democrat staples for more than two decades as well as having voted for Obama twice, were in her back pocket so she didn’t really need to do much more than give the impression that the next four years would be a continuation of Obama’s presidency. What she didn’t understand is that working people in those states were seeing their jobs leave for Mexico and Central America. She failed to understand that offering no palpable change for these peoples’ prospects would ultimately seal her defeat. Regardless of whether or not he will fulfill his promises to these people, Donald Trump offered them hope. He made them believe that he will make their lives better through changing the course we’ve been on for eight years. He is the opposite of Barack Obama in nearly every way, but in this respect, they’re far more similar than either set of supporters would admit.
Another key Democratic strategy took a hit in this election. The old “everyone who disagrees with me is racist/sexist/xenophobic/Islamophobic” trick hurt them in more ways than one. The most obvious example of this strategy would obviously be Hillary’s infamous “basket of deplorables” debacle. It showed that Hillary, and by extension the Democratic Party, took this insufferable, Young Turks style view that our way of thinking is the only acceptable method so obviously anyone who disagrees with us is a stupid bigot that is beyond help. Despite how obviously flawed painting half the country as irredeemable bigots is when you’re seeking their votes, they went full steam ahead with it. This strategy alienates people. It leads to them being scared to tell pollsters who they’re really considering to vote for because they’re afraid of being called a racist. There is no clearer example of this than the massive polling errors we observed in this election. Even Michael Moore saw the absurdity of suggesting that the people of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, most of whom voted for Obama twice, were suddenly overcome by a wave of racial hate. They were tired of being called racist and sexist by people like Hillary Clinton for even considering Trump. They were tired of being told that their problems don’t matter. When you constantly insult someone, they will make you pay in the one place they will be completely free of your ridicule: the voting booth.
Democrats would also be well served to stop ranting about abolishing the electoral college. Yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. But what you’re leaving out is that nearly her entire margin of victory in the popular vote came from the state of California. Should we allow the will of one state to steer the entire country? While centralizing voting power in places like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York would be excellent for the Democratic Party as far as keeping power goes, completely ignoring the will of anyone who doesn’t live in a city (which a straight popular vote would do) is ironically the most undemocratic idea they have ever proposed.
Perhaps the most crippling problem the Democratic Party faces is its leaders. Since the election of Barack Obama, House leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate leader Harry Reid have been comprehensive failures in their stewardship of the Democratic Party. There has been a steady decline in Democrats in both the House and the Senate since 2010 and with many of the senate seats up for grabs in 2018 already held by Democrats, their early prospects of loosening Donald Trump’s grip on the government do not look good. They have also watched as far too many state legislature seats and governorships fell into Republican hands. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, retiring New York congressman Steve Israel attributed this phenomenon to the aftermath of the 2008 election where Democratic leadership misread a margin as a mandate. This charge was led by people like Nancy Pelosi and the result was massive losses in both the House and Senate and now the White House as well.
The Democratic leadership charged with breathing life into a reeling party is deeply flawed. Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders (someone who I actually think would be up to the task) will all be well into their seventies by the time 2020 rolls around. Counting on 7o-year-olds to modernize a party is a questionable strategy at best. Not only is their leadership old, it’s almost exclusively coastal. Nancy Pelosi represents San Francisco. Chuck Schumer, who will replace Harry Reid as minority leader in January, has his offices in New York City. Elizabeth Warren’s office is in Boston. Bernie Sanders is from Brooklyn. In order to win back the Rust Belt voters that they lost, they need to start empowering the people who represent them.
They’ve already had an opportunity to do so in a big way. However, they inexplicably looked that gift horse in the mouth and declined. That opportunity was removing Nancy Pelosi from her position as House Minority Leader and replacing her with her challenger, Ohio congressman Tim Ryan. By re-electing Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats once again proved that they just don’t get it. Tim Ryan checks every box that the Democrats could ask potential party leaders to fill in order to win back the rust belt and revolutionize the party and boost their chances in future elections. He’s from Ohio which is obviously one of the most critical swing states. The district he represents includes cities like Youngstown and Akron, both of which have large populations of working class people. He’s only 43 years old. But instead, they decided to go with the 76-year-old San Francisco elite who did nothing to curb the red tide that has overtaken the House since 2010. According to a recent USA Today poll, nearly 66% of Democrats would prefer someone entirely new to lead their party. If the Pelosi result is any indication, the Democrat old guard is still very much out of touch with their base.
Heading into November, many would have thought this article would be about how the Republicans can regroup recover from a Hillary Clinton victory. But as a result of a perfect storm of white working class anger and Democrat incompetence, we’re instead talking about how the Democrats let a slam dunk win be taken away from them by a loud-mouthed buffoon. The Democrats face a daunting task in taking on Donald Trump with the entire legislative branch of the federal government riding shotgun with him. Democrats in government will have to fight tooth and nail to protect their values as well as legislation passed by the outgoing President Barack Obama. Right now, they need to promote young leaders from the middle of the country. They need to work at the grassroots level to regain a foothold in state legislatures and governorships. But most importantly, they need to recognize what isn’t working and stop blaming everyone but themselves. Using the same tactics with the same leadership only serves to tighten Donald Trump’s grip on America. There is a path forward. The only hope is that they aren’t too blind to see it.