Chuck Schumer, as expected, has been elected to succeed Harry Reid as Senate Minority Leader. The Democrats need to stop being a Republican-lite party if they are going to get more people to turn out to vote for them, and Schumer is not the person to bring about such a change in direction. At least there was some good news with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren being included in the Senate leadership. The Hill reports:
Sanders was named chairman of outreach during a closed-door Senate Democratic caucus meeting Wednesday morning.
In the role, Sanders will be in charge of reaching out to blue-collar voters who flocked to President-elect Donald Trump this year.
Sanders told reporters that he has a “heavy responsibility to help shape the priorities of the United States government.”
“I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that the budget that leaves the United States Congress is a budget that represents the needs of working families and a shrinking middle class and not billionaires,” he said.
Elizabeth Warren was formerly a strategic policy adviser and has now been named vice chair of the conference.
The addition of Sanders and Warren to the leadership will give stronger voices to progressive economic views, but it is not clear how much influence they will actually have. I would also like to see signs that the Democratic Party planned to take a stand against military interventionism and mass surveillance, and in defense of civil liberties. Having Schumer as minority leader is not reassuring on these issues. The Intercept recently described why Schumer is a poor choice for leader. Among the reasons:
- He possesses the same impressive political acumen as Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, sagely explaining “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.”
- Schumer’s done more than anyone except Bill and Hillary Clinton to intertwine Wall Street and the Democratic Party. He raises millions and millions of dollars from the finance industry, both for himself and for other Democrats. In return, he voted to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 and voted to bail out Wall Street in 2008. In between, he slashed fees paid by banks to the Securities and Exchange Commission to pay for regulatory enforcement, and eviscerated congressional efforts to crack down on rating agencies.
- Schumer has long been the Democrats’ point man in efforts to craft a bipartisan deal to slash taxes on multinational corporations.
- Schumer voted for the Patriot Act in 2001, and sponsored its predecessor, the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995. During a Senate hearing, Schumer explained that “it’s easy to sit back in the armchair and say that torture can never be used. But when you’re in the foxhole, it’s a very different deal.” In certain cases, he said, “most senators” would say “do what you have to do.” Schumer also defended the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslims across the region, which Trump has cited as a national model.
- In October 2002, Schumer voted for the Iraq War by giving George W. Bush authority to invade. In a speech explaining his vote, Schumer warned of Iraq’s imaginary yet “vigorous pursuit of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.”
- Schumer voted against Barack Obama’s deal to limit Iran’s ability to enrich uranium and potentially develop a nuclear weapons program.
The Democrats have done poorly in recent elections in which they did not have Barack Obama on the ballot, including the 2010 and 2014 midterms elections. They faced further setbacks as a result of choosing Hillary Clinton to be the nominee as opposed to having a fair nomination fight.
I have often said that this was an unusual election between two terrible candidates, with the party which loses the presidency likely to do better in the long run–assuming they learn from their defeat. Ron Elving of NPR has made an argument similar to what I have been saying as to why the Democrats might be better off with Clinton losing. He began by describing how Clinton would not be able to get very much done with Republicans controlling at least the House. I would add that, as unpopular as Clinton is now, she would probably be even more unpopular during the 2018 and 2020 elections. Elving went on to argue:
So we are imagining an uphill struggle for a Clinton re-election, especially given the outlook for Congress and the races in the states. And a defeat in 2020 would be disastrously timed for Democrats, because 2020 is also the date of the next census. The national headcount will launch the next round of redistricting, as the last was launched in 2010. If triumphant in that decennial year, the GOP could look forward to another decade of running downhill in most congressional and legislative elections…
So stop and think about it. Democrats simply cannot expect to move legislation again until they can regain control of Congress. And all signs are that it will take a Republican president, and voter dissatisfaction with a Republican president, to make the Democrats truly competitive in congressional races again…
So that builds pressure on 2020, a fortuitously numbered year that could be the next hinge in our political history. That could be an advantageous case of timing for the Democrats, a great year for a comeback for all the reasons it would have been a disastrous time for a punishing rejection.
All of this is mere projection, and it may not ease the pain of a narrow loss in a presidential election. But it paints a realistic picture of what would have come next. And for Democrats, the prospect of losing the presidency in 2020 would clearly be worse.
What Democrats have to do is adjust their thinking and their time frame. They should stop trying to maintain what they won the last decade (mostly in 2006 and 2008 while George W. Bush was still in the White House) and start thinking about how a Republican president can help them rebuild. They need to go back to the base and raise a new pyramid from the ground up, with a new generation of candidates and activists and motivators. There need to be new approaches to issues, new messages to take to the disaffected.
Having Clinton in the White House would probably lead to bigger Republican gains in 2020, including in the state governments which are responsible for redistricting. A Trump presidency is likely to result in the Democrats doing better in 2018 than if Clinton was president. It is unlikely they can retake control of the Senate with more Democrats up for reelection, but they will be in a better position to potentially take control of Congress and the presidency in 2020. They also have a far better chance to win victories in state elections without Hillary Clinton dragging down the Democratic Party, with votes for state government often being based upon the voters’ view of the president.
The question is whether Democrats can take advantage of the opportunity presented by the Republicans having Donald Trump in the White House, and being responsible for what happens in light of their complete control of government. Listening to Sanders and Warren is a start in the right direction. We will not be happy with what comes out of the government for the next four years, but if the Democrats had won with Hillary Clinton we would probably be faced with a turn to the right under Clinton, and a more sustained turn to the far right after the probable Democratic loses in 2018 and the crucial 2020 election.