OPINION: After elections, Democrats scramble for path forward

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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks with supporters at a "Get Out the Caucus" rally at Valley Southwoods Freshman High School in West Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 24, 2016. (Gage Skidmore | CC BY-SA 2.0)

Slowly digesting the relentless series of sucker punches of the 2016 election, Democrats have suffered what feels like a jolting betrayal by the country they felt they knew. The social and economic progress they cheered on in the era of the first African-American president has been put in jeopardy, and the KKK-endorsed reality TV star is set to succeed the man he deemed illegitimate from the beginning.

Both major parties will encounter major reforms. The Republican Party was predicted to struggle between conservatism and Donald Trump-style populism, whether or not its presidential nominee won the election, but now the Democratic Party is face to face with the threat it was expected to encounter as only a stumbling block in a Hillary Clinton presidency — a party split between the left and the more moderate wing.

One reason Clinton may have lost is turnout. While relatively low for both presidential candidates, the even smaller turnout among the Obama coalition in many states may have made the difference, as NPR’s Domenico Montanaro showed on Twitter.

Compared to President Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, Clinton didn’t garner the same enthusiasm and rally sizes, a fact that Trump consistently made clear to his own raucous crowds, according to “In presidential elections, size doesn’t always matter” by Stephen Collinson. Clinton may have campaigned too heavily on the expectation that the increasingly diverse demographic makeup of the 2016 electorate would offset her opponent’s almost entirely white backing, a prospect that may not be entirely feasible until the 2028 or 2032 elections.

In doing that, the Clinton campaign overlooked how dependent Democrats have been on white working-class voters in the Midwestern and Great Lake states, according to “There are more more white people voters than people think. That’s good news for Trump” by Nate Cohn.

“Trump toppled heavily blue-collar Rustbelt states that stand as the last monuments to the Democrats’ earlier working-class-based coalition,” Ronald Brownstein’s said in his article “How the Rustbelt paved Trump’s road to victory.” “A slim Trump victory driven by voters who feared that America’s best days are in the past has now plunged the nation into a bracingly uncertain future.”

Going forward, the Democratic Party cannot take the white, working-class voters it needs as any kind of a given, but as an integral part of the party’s efforts in the next decade. At the same time, Democrats need to be ardently committed to protecting and fighting for Americans who are now threatened by President-elect Trump and the extreme social conservatism of Vice President-elect Mike Pence, the Republican-controlled Congress and expected leanings of the Supreme Court.

The party has to go to the Midwest and work from there to first regain the states that made up the “Blue Wall” that crumbled this November.

The party has been decimated at both the state and federal levels, and that deficiency has deprived Democrats of the abundance of fresh leaders that Republicans have built up for almost a decade. Democrats need new, young leadership that can appeal to both their diverse base and the white working-class, according to Julie Bykowicz’s “Leaderless Democratic Party in dire straits after GOP sweeps.”

“One small Democratic bright spot this year was the election of three women of color to the Senate, Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada, Kamala Harris in California and Tammy Duckworth in Illinois,” Bykowicz wrote. “At the same time, the party’s marquee names are far older than the core Democratic coalition.”

Climate change may have completely upended life as we know it by the time Democrats are able to reach the power they once held early in Obama’s first term, as Paul Krugman’s article “Now what? Personal thoughts,” stated Trump’s victory is “… a disaster on multiple levels, and the damage will echo down the decades if not the generations.”

It is appropriate for Democrats to grieve over the reality of the election of Trump as there are genuine concerns about the real possibility that Obama’s entire presidency will be erased when conservatives control all three branches of the federal government for at least the next two years.

In a strictly political sense, the upside of an over-eager Republican Congress is that an exuberant use of power by a single party usually draws backlash and reinforcement for the party out of power during the president’s first midterm election, that is if Democrats are actually able to push themselves during a non-presidential election. Nonetheless, the mind-boggling consequences of an emboldened Trump outweigh the political gain any political party makes in the coming years — a stark and horrid reality that the Democratic Party must come to grapple with.

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Contributing writer for the Collegian. I’m a senior studying journalism and mass communications and working on minors in political science and music. I also manage digital operations as a communications fellow with the Kansas Democratic Party; I do not report on or write about anything political unless it shows up in the opinion section.