The Chasm of the Democratic Party
On election night 2016, all of the experts got it wrong. What was predicted to be a decisive win for Hillary Clinton slowly began tilting further towards Donald Trump and the Republican agenda. As Trump’s electoral count crept up to the 270 mark and his winning the presidency became imminent, the oldest political party in the United States of America was left to face a hard truth and a serious question demanding an answer, “We just blew it. How in the world did that happen?”
There is no one correct answer to that question. Internal forces such as a poorly-run campaign and a candidate that just couldn’t put the nagging scandals behind her all factored into the many external forces that contributed to a Democratic loss. The loss for Democrats was an especially hard one to swallow, their opposition toward Donald Trump was strong, their admiration for President Barack Obama was just as strong. However, an admiration for Obama and a hatred of Trump were some of the only things people could agree on.
Long before she won the nomination, Hillary Clinton was the candidate to beat. She was the one with the money, the party leadership, and the experience that made her nearly impossible to run against from within the Democratic Party. Little known challengers tried- Lincoln Chafee and Martin O’Malley – but both flamed out remarkably quickly. Bernie Sanders, however, the junior senator from Vermont, a political independent and self-described democratic socialist led a passionate and bruising primary campaign for the nomination. Bringing ideas like single-payer healthcare, rewriting existing trade deals, and a 90% top marginal tax rate into the mainstream, he ran a hard campaign from the left wing of the Democratic Party. While Hillary Clinton succeeded in winning the nomination, her centrist old-school politics were a point of anger for much of the Democratic Party. Reluctantly and angrily willing to unify against Donald Trump, the party achieved temporary peace. But now after the loss, halfway through Donald Trump’s first term, and with the election for 2020 starting up, things have changed. The peace is broken, the conflict of progressivism and New Democrat centrism has consumed a party that is for the most part, leaderless and confused.
From a numerical perspective, the Democratic Party is pretty comfortable. Donald Trump’s first term has been very beneficial to the Democratic Party’s popularity. President Trump’s approval rating has hovered in the mid to high 30’s depending on the poll, he is with few great legislative accomplishments, and 2020 looks hard for him. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday, 56 percent of Americans said they would definitely not vote to re-elect Trump in 2020, and only 28 percent are definitely committed to voting for him. With those numbers, 2020 is looking blue. However, there is no clear front runner for the nomination, and the party looks leaderless. Split between the centrist, old-schoolers, and the newer liberal wing, each faction has offered several candidates for the nomination.
The field is crowded. Some are running on experience, others on their diversity, some form the “center,” and some from the “left”. All are running with a dedicated goal of defeating Trump. On the liberal side, Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren has officially declared for the nomination, running on a platform of regulating Wall Street, and Medicare for All. Julian Castro, former HUD Secretary under Obama, runs on a remarkably similar one. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York runs liberally, despite a conservative past. Kamala Harris, as of now the frontrunner for the nomination, runs on a similar left-but-not-that-left agenda as Obama did, but has recently veered to the l eft. Cory Booker, despite close ties to Wall Street, has pledged his liberalism. Serious potential candidates may still announce. Joe Biden, a highly popular moderate and former VP is yet to make a decision, trying to balance a high approval rating with a party that is intent on electing liberal, diverse, female candidates. Beto O’Rourke, the phenomenon from Texas is in a similar stance as Biden is, a popular, white moderate in a party that has been clamoring for a truly liberal diverse candidate. Bernie Sanders faces an uphill climb as others have adopted his ideas, and platform. Others are waiting in the wings, with relative obscurity.
All of the candidates mentioned have a foreseeable path to the nomination and to defeating Donald Trump. But the party is stuck. It doesn’t like Trump but that’s all every single Democrat can get behind. Right now, Democrats are in the driver’s seat but don’t know how to drive.