Fractured Democrats Face Severe Consequences Absent Party Unity

The stakes could not be higher.
03/15/2017 04:32 pm ET
Mark Reinstein via Getty Images

As the Democratic Party struggles to come to grips with its current status, it faces a long road ahead. There are only 16 Democratic governors, 48 Democratic senators, under 200 House Democrats and four states in which Democrats control the state house and the state legislature. To those who say the party will of course come together and rebuild, consider this – Senator Sanders has thus far not agreed to share his considerable email list with the DNC. And a Democratic Super PAC just sprung up to support challengers to incumbent Democrats who hew too closely to center.  Simply put, the party is at an inflection point where the choices it makes will determine whether it moves in a leftward lurch toward long-term minority status or chooses the sensible center-left approach that can win national and midterm elections in 2018 and 2020.

The stakes could not be higher. If President Trump and the GOP remain in control of both Congress and the executive branch through 2024 the following will likely occur:

  • President Trump will nominate ― and the Senate will confirm ― two to four conservatives to the Supreme Court who will endanger a woman’s right to choose and further the dominance of conservative dark money in our elections.

  • America will draw inward and ignore the international fights only we can lead to promote emerging democracies and protect human rights across the globe.

  • Republicans will retain control of a large majority of our state governments, and use the 2020 redistricting process to solidify their grip on the House of Representatives, perhaps for decades to come.

  • Steve Bannon’s “deconstruction of the Administrative State” will succeed and countless regulations will be discarded that currently protect our children, our environment, and American workers and consumers.

  • There will be a massive wealth redistribution toward the wealthiest in society and away from those who need it most.

  • Millions of Americans will lose their health care and some of them will die.

When you consider these daunting possibilities, it seems obvious the Democrats will come together to stop them. Except that it isn’t obvious.

During the last election, Hillary Clinton lost the electoral college despite a solid popular vote victory because she could not carry Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.  While the loss can be pinned on many things, one key factor was that the energy on the left cost her the race. In each of these three states ― considered critical to electing a Democrat for President ― Jill Stein received more votes than the narrow margin of victory for Donald Trump.  

How did this happen?

While canvassing in New Hampshire during the primary and in Pennsylvania during the general election, I was stunned to hear from numerous Democrats that they viewed Clinton and Trump as somewhat indistinguishable ― both part of the rigged system and beholden to Wall Street. But the antipathy ran deeper and was not just focused on Hillary as a candidate or as a person. Many voters in New Hampshire, who had voted for Sanders in the primary, viewed Hillary as an extension of the Obama years and believed that health care reform didn’t go far enough and college should be free for everyone. Obama represents the corporate interests and Clinton would simply be more of the same.  

Even now as we face House Republicans’ reckless “repeal and replace” effort, some in the left wing of the Democratic party continue to attack our allies rather than building our coalition.

Witness West Virginia – where moderate Democrat Joe Manchin is being threatened with a primary challenge because he voted for some ― not all ― of President Trump’s nominees.

To make matters worse, President Trump and the GOP leadership understand this dynamic all too well. These fruitless acts of anger are playing right into their hand.

Mitch McConnell’s late night reprimand of Senator Elizabeth Warren was not the tirade of an irritated misogynist. It was a calculated play to boost her status as the voice of the left ― a voice that the GOP believes it can run and win against in 2018 and beyond.  Republicans are already at work trying to paint the red state Democratic senators up for re-election with a broad Sanders-Warren brush which won’t be a pretty picture in Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, West Virginia, and Indiana.

Meanwhile the president, and his disruptive Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, with an eye toward 2020, will continue to try and co-opt the message of the far left, in their attempt to realign the electorate in their populist favor. Listen carefully, the president’s rhetoric on trade, on American workers, on draining the swamp, and on the “rigged system” is not too different from Senator Sanders’ message during the Democratic primaries.

Faced with these challenges, Democrats cannot be deluded as to the seriousness of the fight to come.  We need to be more united and more focused on winning than ever before. It is our only pathway back to the majority.

So when those in our party want to attack a United States senator for authentically representing their constituents, I hope they will consider that Democrats will never be back in the majority without winning in states like Montana, North Dakota, Indiana, or West Virginia.

We must either recognize the reality of what our party looks like when we truly represent Americans from all across this country or buckle in for the devastating reality of the damage that will extend for decades to come.

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