Is Republican leadership finally ready to take advantage?
The Democratic Party’s political institutions are showing massive weakness, as the party seeks to move forward from its across-the-board loss in this month’s elections.
Incoming Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen is taking over as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), it was announced Friday. Van Hollen is a mere senator-elect, and his prior stint as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) was less than spectacular: He oversaw the stunning Democratic defeat at the hands of tea party voters in the 2010 midterms and resigned in failure.
Van Hollen has a tough gig to pull off.
“Tough” is one word to describe what Senate Democrats face in 2018. The party will have 23 seats to defend, as well as two seats held by independents who caucus with the Democrats. By comparison, Republicans will only be defending eight seats.
Ten of the states where Democrats will be up for re-election were won by Donald Trump in this year’s presidential election, including Montana, represented by outgoing DSCC Chairman Jon Tester.
Van Hollen’s appointment comes on the heels of Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison’s surprising announcement that he will run for chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which has been fraught with turmoil. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s ouster as DNC chair during the party’s convention in Philadelphia — following WikiLeaks revelations that she colluded against Bernie Sanders in the primaries — led to the dysfunctional interim reign of Donna Brazile as DNC chief. Even before the shakeup, the DNC was at least temporarily insolvent and relying on the sugar-daddy kindness of John Podesta’s Hillary Clinton campaign in order to stay afloat.
Ellison is one of the most left-wing members of the House, and his ascendance signals the continuance of a damaging trend in Democratic politics. The exclusionary progressivism of Hillary Clinton’s campaign doomed it to failure. The campaign even ignored husband Bill’s advice to target white working-class voters, citing a demographic shift in the party that senior progressives thought would be enough to justify cutting blue-collar Midwesterners out of their coalition altogether. Bill, as he usually was on his own campaigns, was right. The Democrats appear to be doubling down on being wrong.
With Nancy Pelosi running for re-election as minority leader after yet another House loss, Democratic divisions are beginning to form. Some House Democrats are reportedly pushing to strip Pelosi of the power to appoint the new DCCC head and instead elect their new House political leader themselves in an open vote.
The structural damage to the Democratic machine has clearly been done, and the party seems incapable of realizing its own political mistakes. The influence of heavyweight progressive-movement donors continues to bind the party to its losing left-wing identity. While Bernie Sanders’ small-donor movement presented an opportunity for the party to grow and change, his downfall at the hands of Wasserman Schultz is causing those donors to repudiate the party of Obama and Clinton.
The Republicans have a tremendous opportunity to knock out the Democratic political operation in long-reaching ways over the next two years. The GOP should seize the opportunity. Despite its big Trump-driven win, those demographic shifts the progressives talk about are definitely real and will keep the Democrats in long-term contention.
Feckless Republican leadership helped to create the disenchantment that led to Trump’s populist win in the primaries. Feckless Republican leadership at a time like this — when so much opportunity exists for GOP exploitation — will only cause the party of Lincoln to miss yet another YUGE opportunity for gain.
Chris Van Hollen (C-Span)