It’s the end of the world as we know it, Like a nightmare we can’t wake up from.
Welcome to Jurassic Park.
For members of the Democratic Party, and progressives all over the world, it is difficult to overstate or hyperbolize the despair and dread that has descended upon them in the wake of President-Elect Donald Trump. This is well beyond a worst-case scenario, it’s downright apocalyptic. By contrast, the thought of President McCain or President Romney seems like a refreshing cool summer breeze.
There’s no question these are going to be a difficult four years for Democrats to get through. From Supreme Court appointments, to stripping down the Affordable Care Act, to Trump’s finger on the nuclear button, it’s enough to send progressives into a permanent fetal position.
But if you were to take a slightly wider perspective, there’s also reason for hope. The seeds have been sown for a stronger, more united, and more responsive Democratic Party to arise from these ashes. But only if the party heeds the lessons of 2016. The future can be theirs, if they don’t screw it up.
The Wrong Candidate at the Wrong Time
“How did he win?” It’s a question many people have been asking aloud in complete disbelief for two weeks now. After the rant against Mexicans, the Access Hollywood tape, the parade of sexual assault accusers, and the fact he was the least popular presidential candidate of all time, Hillary seemed like a slam dunk. But the fact is, a Democratic president succeeding an outgoing Democratic president is not an easy feat to pull off. In fact, the last time it happened, there hadn’t been a Republican presidential candidate yet. You have to back to 1856 when James Buchanan succeeded Franklin Pierce to find a Democrat going in as a fellow Democrat is going out.
The truth is that for a Democrat to triumph in a presidential election, it needs to come on the heels of “the dark times” of an unpopular Republican administration. Carter followed the Nixon era, Clinton succeeded after 12 years of Reagan/Bush, and Obama was a direct result of eight years of Bush/Cheney. So the first glimmer of hope is that as dark as Trump takes the country, the better it is for a bright light to succeed him.
The Candidate Matters
Really, Hillary’s best shot to become president was in 2008. The fact that she was overtaken by a fresh-faced upstart in Barrack Obama is the next lesson the Democrats need to learn heading into 2020 – Democrats need someone they can get excited about.
If we go back 50 years and look at both successful and unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidates, we’ll see some patterns beginning to emerge. The successful candidates were either charismatic, renegades, outsiders, or had something else that created a buzz about their candidacy.
Kennedy was like a rock star, Carter was the earnest outsider at the height of Washington cynicism, Clinton was a bad boy who proposed his “third way” of Democratic politics, and Obama brought hope and change to a country that so desperately needed it.
Conversely, McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry all had something in common with Hillary Clinton. They were intelligent and capable people who had a hard time generating excitement about their candidacies. “McGovern, he’s better than Nixon”, “Dukakis, he’s better than Bush”, “Gore, he’s better than W” didn’t work any better than “Hillary, she’s better than Trump”. Democrats need someone they can vote for. If the Democrats only give their supporters a “safe” option to try to block a despised Republican, they’ll be doomed to the failures of the past.
In the Digital Age, Go with the Grassroots Groundswell Movement
If we look at Hillary Clinton’s last three major political campaigns, another pattern emerges. In the 2008 Democratic primaries, 2016 primaries, and 2016 general election, she went in to all three races as the prohibitive favorite and lost two and nearly lost the third. And in all three cases, she was the face of the establishment and lost to a populist candidate who only 18 months earlier was not mentioned as a one of the credible challengers.
So what is the lesson here? We’re living in the age of viral campaigns, where up and comers can gain momentum and create a movement. That’s how Obama won, Sanders nearly won, and Trump won. The party needs to stop trying to pick a candidate from the top and allow a new fresh face to rise up and win over the country.
“It’s the Economy Stupid”
It’s more than a little ironic that the mantra that swept Bill Clinton into office is exactly what prevented Hillary from winning it. Somehow the Manhattan billionaire became the voice of the disaffected blue-collar middle class in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. The Democrats need to get back to their populist roots and connect with the people who feel like the Democratic Party elite has forgotten about them. A point that Bernie Sanders made very eloquently in a recent New York Times op-ed.
“Working families watch as politicians get campaign financial support from billionaires and corporate interests — and then ignore the needs of ordinary Americans. Over the last 30 years, too many Americans were sold out by their corporate bosses. They work longer hours for lower wages as they see decent paying jobs go to China, Mexico or some other low-wage country. They are tired of having chief executives make 300 times what they do, while 52 percent of all new income goes to the top 1 percent. Many of their once beautiful rural towns have depopulated, their downtown stores are shuttered, and their kids are leaving home because there are no jobs — all while corporations suck the wealth out of their communities and stuff them into offshore accounts.”
So Who’s Next?
There is no one savior waiting in the wings. Bernie Sanders is perhaps to advanced in age to be considered as a President from 2020-2028. There are several intriguing possibilities who could emerge including:
1. Elizabeth Warren – A darling of anti-Wall Street and finance reform advocates, she has a particular skill for getting under Trump’s skin.
2. Corey Booker – Seen as Obama 2.0, he’s a charismatic African American former Mayor from New Jersey who, like Obama, impressed with his convention speech.
3. Deval Patrick – African American former Governor of Massachusetts who served in Bill Clinton’s White House
2020 Will Be There For the Taking
Donald Trump has not even taken the oath of office and already it’s not hard to see he will be vulnerable in four years. As president, he will no longer be a blank canvass on which the voters can project their hopes and fantasies. Unless he succeeds in bringing back American jobs from overseas, single-handedly defeats ISIS, stops the flow of illegal immigration, and ends the corruption of Wall Street, he will have to answer for falling short on all his promises. He will have a record to defend and it won’t be easy.
A Democrat will take back the White House if the party doesn’t repeat the mistakes of 2016. They can’t anoint a “safe” establishment candidate while turning away from the populist grassroots movement candidate. If they do away with all those super delegates and allow the people to choose the candidate, they will likely have a candidate who can get progressives excited again.
And in the wake of an unpopular Republican president, history has taught us that this recipe for success.