The Long Path Out Of The Wilderness For Democrats

Guests at Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's election night rally watch returns at the Jacob K. Javits Conve
Guests at Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's election night rally watch returns at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York, U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Co-Authored by Maclen Zilber, Democratic Strategist and Campaign Consultant based in Hollywood, CA

There is no sugarcoating it: last night was a harrowing night for this country. If you're somebody who believes in tolerance, if you're somebody who has children, if you're anything but a straight white male who doesn't believe in climate change, last night was a threat to you on a personal level. It's not going to get better any time soon.

But when we get through the initial bout of despair, the sun will still rise, as President Obama says. The question we need to ask ourselves is: what's next?

The Democratic Party is in a strange state of affairs nationally. Democrats have won the popular vote in 6 of the last 7 elections (including last night), and the party still is broadly viewed more favorably than Republicans.

And yet, in a real sense the party is in shambles. Not only do Democrats not have control of a single branch of the federal government, but we control the legislature and governorships of only 7 states (6 of which have populations of under 4 million people). This means not only are we locked out of power at the federal level, but lack the access to implement and test our policies in the "laboratories of democracy" at the state and local level. Even worse, we have a thin bench of national stars who can start running for Senate and president to advance good policy and take the country back from Donald Trump.

Let's put anguish aside for a minute. The best thing we can do now is put one foot in front of the other, wrest the levers of policy away from arsonists and nihilists, and build the future our nation deserves. It won't be a quick process, but just because it's not easy doesn't mean it's not necessary.

Step 1. Take back Statehouses in 2018

The seed of Republican dominance of modern United States politics goes back to the 2010 elections, President Obama's first midterm election. The Republicans won in a landslide that year, but more importantly, they won state legislatures and governorships in a bloodbath.

While most observers focused on the elected Governors as future potential presidents, the bigger impact was that State legislatures dramatically gerrymandered the country in a way that made it virtually impossible for the Democrats to win the House back for a decade. In 2012 and likely 2016, Democrats won the national popular vote in the House but didn't come close to winning a Congressional majority.

It's not the glamorous work that winning a presidential election is, but to come back from the wilderness, we need to start flipping state governments in 2018 and carve out a seat at the table in 2020's redistricting process. Luckily, we'll have the wind at our back -- presidents almost always lose seats during their first midterm, and we can bet it will be more pronounced after what we can only imagine will be a disastrous two years.

Step 2. Pass the national popular vote compact, and enact nonpartisan redistricting

It appears that Hillary Clinton would have needed to win by about 2-3 million votes to win the presidency last night. The electoral vote is technically enshrined in the constitution, but there is an end-run around it that doesn't require a constitutional amendment. The National Popular Vote Compact is an agreement between states that would allow the presidency to be decided by the popular vote, not the electoral college, and we already have about half the states that we need in order to get it enacted.

Meanwhile, State legislatures across the country should do what California has already done and hand the redistricting process to a nonpartisan commission. Democrats have won the most votes in two of the last three Congressional elections, and it has done no good for them because of gerrymandered districts.

The Democratic party is going to have no problem getting votes in the future, but its path back to relevance partially depends on having an institutional system where getting the most votes matters.

Step 3. Focus on "the boring stuff" -- there's no substitute for hard work

This is a wakeup call for progressives and Democrats across the country. We don't have an emerging permanent majority due to demographics like some had hoped, and it is our party, not the Republican party, that is suddenly on the endangered species list in many states.

Republicans got to this moment of national dominance by years of doing "the boring stuff" - contesting downballot races that Democratic base voters often didn't bother to vote in. Voting in City Council races. Sticking around and paying attention in the elections where the President wasn't on the ballot.

So if you're feeling like the sun isn't going to come out today, if you're feeling scared and angry, we get it. We are too. But there is only one way to make this better: Get out there and start doing the work to turn Statehouses across the country blue in 2018.

It's not going to be easy, it's not going to be quick, and there is no guarantee of success, but it's our best hope of bringing this country back from the brink.