WASHINGTON – Two weeks after a crushing defeat in an election in which Democrats thought they were playing to their strengths of sober competence and tolerance in the face of extremism, a change has already occurred.
Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders is acting as the voice of the party far more often than anyone could have imagined just a few years ago. His prescription last week? “When you lose the White House to the least popular candidate in the history of America, when you lose the Senate, when you lose the House and when two-thirds of governors in this country are Republican, it is time for a new direction for the Democratic Party.”
Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, a staunch progressive, is the most talked-about candidate for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, with backing from progressives like Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., as well as from party stalwarts like outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and his successor in the next Congress, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.
Ellison couched his DNC candidacy in the language of renewal, saying the party had not been committed enough to addressing the struggles of working people, leaving voters unmotivated to go to the polls.
A similar disaffection with party leadership inspired Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan to challenge Nancy Pelosi for the House minority leadership.
Robert Reich, former Labor secretary under President Bill Clinton, said that he also sees a party that “needs to be completely reinvented.”
“Young people are looking to the Democratic Party as a vehicle for re-establishing a progressive vision of what the country can be,” he said.
Though Sanders and Warren have signaled that they’re willing to work with Trump if he actually pursues policies to “rebuild the economy for working people,” as Warren recently put it, Trump’s early Cabinet picks and nods toward repealing the 2010 health care law and privatizing Medicare don’t look promising for progressive Democrats. Sanders’ hope of working with Trump quickly turned sour quickly when the senator derided Trump’s proposed infrastructure plan, perhaps their most likely source of common ground, as a “scam.”
For now, rhetoric and opposition are likely to be all that Democrats can offer as they prepare for 2018 and beyond.