It hasn’t exactly been a well-kept political secret that Democrats have struggled with a thin political bench for years now.
In 2012, National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar warned that “it’s hard to find many top-tier Democrat contenders for 2016,” concluding that they have a “bench that’s, comparatively speaking, awfully thin.”
In 2013, Democrat strategist Doug Sosnik warned that the part is “in decline” and “is at considerable risk when Obama is no longer on the scene,” because they’ve failed to “build the Party for the long-term.”
In 2014, after getting walloped in the mid terms, New York Daily News’ James Warren called Democrats “the New York Yankees of politics; some aging stars, a thin bench and a depleted farm system.”
In 2015, the Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost argued that Clinton’s easy path suggests that “the Democratic bench is now so thin that the party cannot even give its voters a real choice,” later arguing that none of the sitting governors are serious contenders and the Senate caucus is “too old, too dull, too new, or barely won election.”
Prior to the 2016 presidential elections Kraushaar once again wanted that “without a future generation of leaders able to compellingly carry the liberal message, there’s little guarantee that changing demographics will secure the party’s destiny.” And yet, he argued, Democrats’ 2016 strategy was “betting on the past, running veteran politicians to win them back the majority.”
As we know now, it didn’t work. It didn’t work in the Senate races, and much to Democrats’ surprise, it didn’t work in the presidential race.
“The truth, as exposed by Clinton’s stunning loss to Donald Trump on Tuesday night — was that the Democratic bench was (and is) remarkably thin, a sign of both the relative ill-health of the party down ballot and the isolated appeal of Obama,” left-leaning writer Chris Cillizza writes in the Washington Post the day after Election Day.
The issue came up—again—at one of the nation’s largest political science conferences, the Midwest Political Association.
“I think the Democrats are kind of screwed at this point,” CNN’s Nia-Malika Henderson said on a panel called The Media and the 2016 Election: A View from the Campaign Trail. “They thought that Hillary Clinton would win and their bench is really, really thin.”
The Atlantic’s Molly Ball agreed. “It will be fun to cover the Democratic civil war for a change,” she said. “It’s hard to underestimate how screwed the Democrats are.”
“There’s no pipeline” of obvious Democratic talent, Ball concluded.
What’s perhaps most amazing is that despite being told repeatedly that they are utterly failing to groom the next generation of top tier candidates, Democrats refuse to change. Rather than empower new faces, they continue to run with the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer – the same leadership team that guided them straight to Congressional minorities. But as Kristin Tate writes in The Hill, the problem goes well beyond the top:
Making it worse is that the Democrats so mishandled and neglected elections outside of California that they have no farm team. The national Democrats are out of prospects. It’s obvious. With few exceptions (Cory Booker and Julian Castro are the only two who come to mind), the leading Democrats have several things in common: they are white and old. How old? In the House, they are an average of 64 years old, over a decade more than Republicans. …
The Democratic Party can only ignore these demographic time bombs for so long. In most cases, state legislatures redistrict Congressional seats. It already looks like a bad deal for Democrats, and their recent losses will make it all the worse. The party is also looking at steep defeats at every level in 2018, almost regardless of Trump’s job performance.
That gives Democrats plenty of time to identify some young, diverse, up-and-coming talent and give the opportunity to shine. But time has never been the issue. Desire has. And for now, it appears they remain utterly content to let the same old faces try to attract new voters to the party. It’s a recipe for failure.