If this election proved anything it’s that voters are tired of the same old Washington players, playing the same old Washington games, in which wealthy, connected Americans always seem to win, and blue-collar, everyday Americans always seem to lose.
In his 1996 State of the Union, President Bill Clinton declared that “the era of big government is over.” Two decades later, the election of Donald Trump seems to suggest that the era of the establishment is over. Put simply, the American people were tired of voting for change every four years only to find that their wages are stagnant, their job prospects continue to dwindle, their economic anxiety continues to skyrocket, and their future continues to dim.
The Clinton’s typified this problem. As Frank Bruni writes for the New York Times:
It’s hard to overestimate the couple’s stranglehold on the party — its think tanks, its operatives, its donors — for the last two decades. Most top Democrats had vested interests in the Clintons, and energy that went into supporting and defending them didn’t go into fresh ideas and fresh faces, who were shut out as the party cleared the decks anew for Hillary in 2016.
In thrall to the Clintons, Democrats ignored the copious, glaring signs of an electorate hankering for something new and different and instead took a next-in-line approach that stopped working awhile back. Just ask Mitt Romney and John McCain and John Kerry and Al Gore and Bob Dole. They’re the five major-party nominees before her who lost, and each was someone who, like her, was more due than dazzling.
Donald Trump understood this tectonic shift in the electorate’s thinking before anyone else, and he deserves enormous credit for dragging many Republicans kicking and screaming along with him. He saw an enormous swath of Americans who felt left behind, he took the time to understand their fears and worries, and he crafted a set of policies that were tailor made to his constituency, not party orthodoxy.
He was a refreshing (if bombastic) voice for the voiceless at a time when Democrats opted to amplify the same old insider blather.
So where do Democrats go from here? Do they follow a similar tack and toss out the party leadership in the hope of getting fresh thinking and fresh ideas?
They should. But they’re not.
Democrats in the House of Representatives have been rallying around Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a consummate insider who has served as the face of House Democrats for more than a decade. This unflinching confidence comes despite Democrats losing 63 seats and their majority in 2010, when she served as Speaker, and suffering continued losses under her subsequent tenure as Minority Leader.
It’s much the same story in the Senate, where Democrats are using the opportunity to replace a retiring Harry Reid with Sen. Chuck Schumer, one of Reid’s top lieutenants. Rather than inject any new blood into the stale mix, every existing member appears to be simply staying put or getting a promotion. Sen. Duck Durbin, the current No. 2 Democratic leader, will stay on as minority whip, Sen. Patty Murray, will get a slight bump to become the minority chief deputy whip, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, will be elevated to No. 4.
Even the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, the institution that was deservedly maligned for rigging the election to favor Hillary Clinton, is refusing to change. Politico reports that “high-profile liberals and establishment figures” like Harry Reid and Chuck Schu mer are coalescing around Rep. Keith Ellison. It’s telling when Howard Dean, a Clinton backer, Sanders critic, and former DNC chair, is considered the potentially disruptive force in the race.
Little wonder then that some Democrats are rebelling against the same leadership that led them into this political mess. Kelsey Snell and Paul Kane report for The Washington Post:
Rank-and-file House Democrats are angry with leaders at every level of the party and want to see blanket changes to Democrats’ message, approach and leadership structure, according to many aides. A growing number of young and recently elected House Democrats want term limits for committee leaders and are pushing to elect at least one reform-minded member to their official leadership ranks.
If Democrats are tired of the same old result (read: losing), that begins by refusing to follow the same old leaders with the same tired ideas. Interestingly, they still don’t appear ready to do that.