What happens to Democrats in the Trump era?
In the 1992 presidential election, after three straight terms of Republicans in the White House, Bill Clinton successfully remade the Democrats into a party of political centrists to regain the support of so-called ‘Reagan Democrats.’
When Hillary Clinton lost the 2008 nomination to the future President Obama, he challenged her centrist politics from the left. He attacked her Senate vote in support of the war in Iraq and war-weary Democrats rallied to him.
With Obama leaving office, the Democrats are losing his anti-war focus and the personal popularity that allowed him to hold the Democrats together. The president enjoys a sky-high job approval rating among his fellow Democrats.
So, who replaces him as the working leader of Democrats in Washington? And what is the Democrats’ new guiding ideology?
The leading candidate to lead the party out of the darkness is Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). He is widely expected to be the next Senate Minority Leader. But his strong ties to Wall Street are guaranteed to give the most liberal members of his party heartburn.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), with 30 years in Congress, is expected to remain the top Democrat in the House. But the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House lost the majority in 2010 and failed to recapture it in any of the three elections since then.
Over at the Democratic National Committee (DNC), there is also a leadership vacuum.
Former chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (Fla.) was forced out after WikiLeaks published embarrassing emails showing DNC staffers trying to help Clinton defeat Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Democratic primaries.
Donna Brazile, the current DNC chairwoman, is under fire for emails, again released through WikiLeaks, that claim to show she shared presidential debate questions with the Clinton campaign while a paid contributor at CNN.
At the moment, Democrats are a people distressed at the reality that millions of Americans voted for Trump — and did so with full knowledge of his long list of insults, bullying, racist comments and failure to pay taxes. Exit polls showed voters selecting him despite their overwhelming conclusion that he lacks the judgment and experience to be president.
I sincerely hope the president-elect lives up to his promise to “bind the wounds of division.” Patriotism dictates that Democrats rally behind him and pray for his success as our nation’s leader. I am trying. It is also good to remember there are lots of Democrats out there. Clinton won the popular vote even as she lost the Electoral College.
If Trump really does try to improve the employment situation for working class people, Democrats should be ready to support him, a recent piece by D.D. Guttenplan in The Nation argued — even while they develop the power to pressure him on immigration and climate change.
Democrats need a revived party with a strong leader, as well as a clear message that allows them to stand as the loyal opposition to Trump Republicans.
One way to find the leader is to consider the best Democrat to run against Trump in 2020. International Business Times last week listed six names for the job: Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio); Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro; New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo; Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.).
“I want an uncompromising fighter who understands the values of our base, of our party, and of our nation,” Markos Moulitsas wrote at the Daily Kos last week in a blog post on who should be the next DNC Chair. “I want a champion who will rebuild the party in all 50 states. I want a hero that will support a whole new generation of new party leaders, candidates, activists and voters. And I want anger. But that may just be the day-after me speaking.”
In a Facebook post last Wednesday, liberal filmmaker Michael Moore urged activists to “take over the Democratic Party and return it to the people,” because “they have failed us miserably.”
“Any Democratic member of Congress who didn’t wake up this morning ready to fight, resist and obstruct in the way Republicans did against President Obama every day for eight full years must step out of the way and let those of us who know the score lead the way in stopping the meanness and the madness that’s about to begin,” Moore wrote.
The progressive populist wing of the Democratic Party, as currently led by Sanders and Warren, has a real opportunity in the coming months to execute a hostile takeover of the Democratic Party, just as Trump took over the Republicans last year.
The internal power struggles within the Democratic Party provide clues to how the party’s congressional leaders will deal with pressing issues like pending trade deals, where progressives like Sanders and Warren may find common cause with Trump in opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Then there is the Supreme Court, where an all-out fight will be required after Senate Republicans never even had a hearing to consider Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.
Other Trump GOP agenda items like the repeal of ObamaCare and sweeping tax cuts will require progressives to go to the barricades. They will need new ideas and strong leadership and it is not at all clear that their current roster is up to the challenge.
Bernie and Elizabeth, the party is yours for the taking. The opening is there for you to channel all of the pain and anger among Democrats. Will you seize it?
Juan Williams is a co-host of FNC's "The Five," where he is one of seven rotating Fox personalities.