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If it were Republicans who had been delivered their worst lost in nearly a century, the fight about why that happened and what to do next would be obvious. In many ways, that battle had been scripted for months.
There would be one side who would argue Donald Trump was the first candidate in a long time to represent the Republican grass roots, but he didn’t get enough support from more traditional Republicans. The traditional set would say that Trump and his forces weren’t inclusive enough and didn’t adhere to the three-legged stool that has held up conservative thought since Ronald Reagan: fiscal conservatism, social conservatism, and a hawkish position on national security.
Of course, none of that matters today. Democrats are in their worst political position since the 1920s. Not only is there a President-elect Trump and a Republican-led US House and Senate, but also the down-ballot picture looks even worse.
There are 25 states with a Republican governor and a Republican legislature. (One can now drive from Florida to Idaho and never enter a state where Democrats have any power at all.) Democrats completely control just five states, and one of them, Connecticut, is basically an asterisk because the Democratic lieutenant governor breaks the tie in the state Senate.
Perhaps the bigger problem for Democrats moving forward is the fact they don’t even know how to think about the future of the party. It’s been nearly two weeks since the election, and party leaders are still shellshocked. If Republicans had lost, there would be at least some agreement about why. Democrats are looking around and saying they lost for all kinds of reasons.
For example, some Democrats say Clinton didn’t do enough to drive out the Obama coalition of young people and people of color. This reliable Democratic voting group simply didn’t turn out in the numbers it did in 2008 and 2012. Other Democrats argue that Clinton was too much a member of the American political establishment that white working class voters rejected her.
But those white working class voters were part of the Obama coalition too, leading other Democrats to argue the party needs to do a better job on focusing on one group over the other. Or, the party just need to focus on doing better with everyone.
To be fair, the losses look worse than they were on Election Day. After all, Clinton did win the popular vote. As ballots trickle in from western states, Clinton’s lead over Trump is now three times what Al Gore had over George W. Bush in 2000. If you just look at the swing states, Clinton lost the presidency by just 53,667 votes out of some 120 million cast.
But the question about how to do better with everyone doesn’t leave Democrats looking to fight over the path forward, but simply hugging each other. When leaders offer a theory as to why their party lost, the likely response is “you are right” -- since there are so many reasons and no immediately evident sides.
Just look at the race for Democratic National Committee chairman. There are a collection of people who are essentially running on the power of their political resumes, but none so far with a strategic vision on how to move the party one way or the other. Three candidates -- including former Vermont governor Howard Dean -- are leaving aside an intellectual vision and just want to focus on the tactical basics of campaign organizing.
Where Democrats go from here is anyone’s guess. But you can expect an especially difficult road for the party given Democrats don’t even know where to begin.