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Eric Fehrnstrom

Democrats know why they lost, but won’t fix their problems

Clinton supporters watch voting results at the Javits Convention Center in New York City.
Clinton supporters watch voting results at the Javits Convention Center in New York City. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Are Democrats ready to undertake with seriousness the course correction that
is needed to revitalize the party? Judging by the early reaction to Donald Trump’s victory, the answer is no.

Anyone looking at the 2016 electoral map and exit polls knows there were two main forces that tipped the election to Trump: white working class inhabitants of the Rust Belt upset about a hollowed-out economy, and religious voters, both Catholic and Protestant, who reacted to attacks on their values by voting against the candidate of the cultural elite. There may be other reasons, but these two are highest on the list.

Trump’s victory did not happen overnight, either. The last eight years of the Obama presidency have been disastrous for Democrats. On their way to minority status, Democrats since 2009 have lost a net of 13 US Senate seats, 69 House seats, 12 governorships, and 30 state legislatures. The entire party is a smoldering ruin.

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This is what happens when you invite unfair foreign competition for American jobs via bad trade practices and massive illegal immigration, and when you go to war with nuns over birth control.

Still, some Democrats believe the presidential election was unfairly denied them.

Former Massachusetts governor (and Democratic presidential candidate) Mike Dukakis thinks the problem is the Electoral College. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow pointed the finger at third-party candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. Democratic influence peddler Sidney Blumenthal accused rogue FBI agents of staging a “coup d’etat.” Hillary Clinton is blaming everyone but herself.

Clinton is not very good at self-
reflection. If she were honest, she would admit Bernie Sanders pushed her campaign too far to the left. She took the side of Black Lives Matter protesters against the police. She promoted government-run health care and free college tuition at a time of record-breaking deficits. She embraced more gun control.

Instead of listening to her husband, Bill Clinton, she strayed from a centrist message, focused on jobs and the economy, that got him elected and reelected in the 1990s.

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Now a civil war is raging between the progressives and the pragmatists in the party, and it looks like Democrats will make the mistake of thinking they didn’t move left far enough. Two of the leading candidates for party chairman are the former governor of Vermont, Howard Dean, and Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota — the former a tired liberal voice from a decade ago, the latter the chair of the Progressive Caucus in the House.

As Democrats prepare to double down on the errors of the past, Trump is finally making a hoped-for pivot to the middle.

He told “60 Minutes’’ in his first TV interview that he plans to keep major portions of Obamacare. He backed away from appointing a special prosecutor to pursue Clinton’s e-mails. He said he is focused on removing criminal illegal immigrants from the country, not breaking up families. He welcomed same-sex marriage as settled law.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped the protests. Trump needs to continue to prove himself worthy of the office, but his critics also need to cut him some slack.

When Trump said he wouldn’t take a government salary, his detractors on Twitter acted like Pavlov’s dogs in comparing him to Adolf Hitler, who refused pay as Germany’s chancellor. They should have reached for a more lucid comparison from America’s own past — John F. Kennedy, who donated his check to charity.

The road ahead is not going to be easy for Democrats. There are 10 Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2018 in states won by Trump. Their path is going to be made more challenging by a failure to come to terms with the real reasons voters are deserting the party in droves.

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Eric Fehrnstrom is a Republican political analyst and media strategist, and was a senior adviser to Governor Mitt Romney.