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Where do Dems go from here?

November 30, 2016

Article originally appeared in The Hill.


As Democrats ponder the future and rehash the devastating loss we incurred on Nov. 8, it is important the party seek a course that is measured, strategic and judicious. This will demand that the Democratic National Committee and party activists take a step back from their jockeying to anoint a new party chairman and focus on thoroughly reviewing the factors that led to the repudiation by voters of our candidates and messages — and resulted ultimately in the election of Donald Trump, who will enter the White House the least experienced public servant in a century.This post mortem must pay particular attention to why traditional blue-collar voters in the Rust Belt left Hillary Clinton in favor of Trump, and focus intently on how we rebuild a broken national and state party apparatus more pragmatically focused on results and not just ideological rhetoric that excites the base while dividing voters. The post mortem must consider the important impact the party’s center brings to the political process and the successful impetus it brought Democrats and the power of ideas in the 1990s.

Over the last two election cycles, Democrats have lost 15 governors and more than 900 state legislators to the Republican Party. During this time, we remained competitive by out-managing Republicans on the ground, raising more financial resources and developing far superior technology and voter files, only to find that we continue to lose important elections on the local and state — and now presidential — levels.So, the post mortem need not delve into our resources or infrastructure but rather our core messages, or lack thereof, that should embrace working-class families who want a clear path to getting ahead. We must focus on the politics of the future, not the past; the days of our partisan mentalities that are cut from traditional constituencies are over. Until we step back as a party and realize that future success is incumbent upon a bold move to realign and begin talking to those voters who are seeking consensus policies that lift them up, we will continue to lose winnable elections.The post mortem must address how we begin talking to voters who once were Democrats but feel their party has left them. We saw this in the South, in the Midwest, in the Rust Belt and all of rural America, in an election that offered two stark and distinct candidates with very different values, experience and vision. As Vice President Biden said, “our party has stopped talking to white working-class voters” and is acting like a bunch of “limousine liberals” who offer solutions without taking time to listen and learn about the problems.This is not the first time these observations have been made about the future of the Democratic Party. The late DNC Chairman Ron Brown, with the help of Pamela Harriman and other party faithful, pondered the same issues at the Middleburg Conference in the late 1980s after two presidential election defeats: 1984, when Democrats lost 49 states, and 1988, when the party lost 42 states and garnered only 111 electoral votes.The Middleburg Conference was an attempt to re-harness and realign the party’s infrastructure, resources and extreme ideology in an effort to rebuild. This important gathering, and the realignment it spawned, provided the vision and tools that led to the 1992 victory of Bill Clinton, a rural-state governor with a center-left message. The conference was instrumental in reuniting Democrats to victory.The lessons Democrats take away from the 2016 election will be instrumental to the party’s victories in 2018, 2020 and beyond. It is time to regroup and to understand where we are and where we need to be as we chart new leadership. How do we keep millennials engaged and motivated in our approach to governance? How do we build a broader constituency that appeals to an ever-changing electorate less wedded to party politics and more interested in their economic future and good governance?Coming up with the right answers will demand an inward look and will require time. Let us not compound this difficult defeat with a “hurry up and react” attitude that will lead to rash decisions about the future leadership and direction of the party. Rather, in the spirit of the Middleburg Conference, we should take a thoughtful, reflective approach in charting a new course for the party that relies on strong, effective leadership, puts aside our traditional tendencies, moves us from our political comfort zone and seeks to build bridges back to those voters who once were the foundation of the Democratic Party. Perhaps then we can turn our attention to the election of a new party leader.R. Scott Pastrick was the former treasurer of the Democratic National Committee and now serves as president and CEO of Prime Policy Group, Washington D.C. The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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