To reclaim support from working class voters, become united and make progress on issues, Democrats may need to cooperate with candidate they decried
Democrats spent 17 months branding Donald Trump as fundamentally unqualified to be president, a candidate whose campaign was rooted in racism, xenophobia and misogyny. Now they are preparing to work with him in the aftermath of a demoralizing election loss that plunged the Democratic party into an uncertain future.
As Democrats look to pick up the pieces from the outcome of the 8 November election, a debate is only just beginning on exactly when, how and at what cost they should cross the aisle to support a president-elect who marginalized some of their core constituencies.
But in an election where working-class white voters were integral to handing Trump the keys to the presidency, there is also widespread agreement among Democrats that a key faction of their base defected to Republicans because Trump successfully co-opted their economic message. And reclaiming it might require their cooperation with the same man they decried as one of the most divisive candidates in modern history.
In the wake of the election, Democrats on Capitol Hill said they were adopting a wait-and-see approach to the incoming administration and how Trumps cabinet appointees might signal the contours of his agenda. But many were also quick to put a bitterly fought election behind them, acknowledging the partys failure to reach out to voters in the so-called Rust Belt, which swung in Trumps favor despite representing a Democratic stronghold in years past.
My job now is not to comment on [Trumps] campaign, said Missouri senator Claire McCaskill, who faces re-election in 2018 and was just named the top Democrat on the Senate committee on homeland security. My job now is to figure out where I can work with Republicans, including the president-elect, to do good work on behalf of the people I represent.
Clearly weve fought for working people as long as Ive been a Democrat and clearly a lot of them dont believe us.
Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia and another vulnerable incumbent in 2018, is scheduled to meet with Trump early next week and has been floated as a possible cabinet pick. Hailing from an overwhelmingly red state, the senator has often broken with Democrats and once described himself as fiscally responsible and conservative.
Party lines do not scare me whatsoever, Manchin said. I just want to get something accomplished.
The predicament facing Democrats is not simply Trumps stunning defeat of Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, but the continued Republican control of Congress.
The party had hoped last month to regain control of the US Senate and pick up at least some seats in the Republican-led House of Representatives. Instead, both chambers remain under Republican control. The GOP is also favored to further expand its majorities in the 2018 midterm elections.
And then there are the Republican victories that have swept Democrats from state governorships and legislatures over the past six years.
The abysmal state of affairs has led to a pitched battle over who will lead the party in the Trump era, already a vessel for the wider debate about where Democrats went wrong in recent election cycles. And that fight is being waged as the party mulls the next leader of the Democratic National Committee.
Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress and a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has emerged as an early favorite in the contest.
He has the blessing of progressive champions and party leaders, including support from Senator Chuck Schumer, the incoming Senate minority leader, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. On Thursday, AFL-CIO, one of the largest and most high-profile labor unions in the country, endorsed him, calling him a proven leader.
On a biting Wednesday morning in Washington, Ellison was introduced to a cheering crowd of minimum- and low-wage federal contract workers at a rally near Trumps new hotel as an organizer in his heart of hearts who has walked with us on the picket line.
Politics is nowhere near as important as being in the street, being active, fighting back and raising your voice, Ellison said to the hundreds of workers gathered in Freedom Plaza, waving posters and American flags.
Ellison was an early supporter of Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary, and has championed a similar populist economic agenda since his election to Congress a decade ago
As a lawmaker from Minnesota, Ellisons supporters say he embodies the sort of energizing figure who can heal the party divisions by appealing to working-class voters across racial lines. To them, the congressman, with his activist credentials and organizer roots, is just the person to orient the party.
They talk about white working class absolutely we are there for our white brothers and sisters, Ellison said at the rally, his voice building as he continued. But for our black ones too. For our brown ones too. And women too. For men too. For Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, people of all faiths, we are together and we arent going to let nobody pull us apart.
But Ellison is facing increasing opposition from Jewish groups and labor unions who are uneasy with the Minnesota congressmans past remarks on Israel and earlier writings on the Nation of Islam.
He is being challenged by New Hampshire Democratic party chairman Ray Buckley and South Carolina Democratic party chairman Jaime Harrison.
Meanwhile, inside the halls of the Senate, the progressive wing of the party made gains in the Democratic leadership. Sanders and Warren were both named to an expanded 10-member Democratic leadership team that will tailor the partys outreach to voters, as well as its messaging and agenda under Trump.
We heard the American people loud and clear, Schumer told reporters on Capitol Hill. They felt that the government wasnt working for them. They felt that the economy was rigged against them in many places and that the government was too beholden to big money and special interests.
Schumer also made clear there was room to achieve common ground with Trump, particularly on issues such as infrastructure spending, raising the minimum wage and renegotiating trade deals. The sentiment was echoed by Democrats who signaled they would work with the president-elect if he was serious about following up on the promises he made to working class voters about creating jobs and increasing wages.
If hes going to try to build roads and bridges, wed be fools to say no, said Connecticut senator Chris Murphy. We dont have to foreclose the possibility of finding some small, meaningful areas of agreement.
In the House of Representatives, however, there was less consensus over the direction of Democrats whose influence has only grown smaller since the party lost control of the chamber in 2010.
Although Nancy Pelosi was re-elected as the House minority leader, 63 Democrats opposed the veteran California lawmaker. She was challenged by Tim Ryan, a 43-year-old congressman from Ohio who had argued that choosing the same leadership would be yet another slap in the face to the industrial midwest that gravitated to Trump.
Democrats in both chambers insisted that the focus on tactics and internal squabbles was overblown, and expressed confidence in their ability to go to battle against Trump as a unified party. They also maintained that working with Trump where appropriate would not legitimize the worst aspects of his campaign, such as his attacks on minorities and civil liberties.
Theres going to be no shortage of big, life-or-death fights with the Trump administration next year, Murphy said.
A Senate Democratic leadership aide, who requested anonymity to discuss the strategy more freely, said Trump was an anomaly because he did not campaign on a traditional Republican platform. It was entirely likely, the aide said, that opposition to some of Trumps proposals might stem from Republicans and not Democrats.
But, the aide added: If he continues down this dark, divisive rhetoric we will call him out on that every single time.
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