The election of Donald Trump was a surprise to pollsters, pundits and perhaps most of all, the Democratic Party. With Republicans in power in the White House, Senate and House of Representatives, Democrats will now have to figure out their role as the minority party.
Here are 4 questions the Democrats will have to grapple with as they think about the future.
Will Democrats resist if necessary?
In Clinton’s concession speech, she urged a “peaceful transfer of power” but also spoke of respecting the constitution. She said the constitution enshrines the rule of law, equal rights and the freedom of worship and expression. She urged Democrats to defend those rights.
In that appeal was a kind of veiled prediction of resistance if necessary, if Trump abrogates any of those rights. She was telling Democrats to not give up and little girls, who she highlighted explicitly, to not give up. She was hinting at the kind of conflicts that might come up and how she would want her party to deal with them.
How will Democrats assess why they lost?
It’s still early and a lot of Democrats are in a state of shock. Before the election, journalists were writing or getting ready to write circular firing squad articles about the Republicans. Now they are going to write them about Democrats instead.
But the party has already identified some scapegoats, among them FBI Director James Comey, who was criticized for resurfacing Clinton’s email scandal shortly before the election, former Rep. Anthony Weiner, estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin who is embroiled in sex scandals, Wikileaks, which released troves of Clinton emails and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. Above all those names, though, is Hillary Clinton herself. She was a weak candidate with tremendous baggage and very high unfavorable ratings. She was a status quo candidate with a status quo campaign in a change election.
What does this loss mean for the Democrats’ coalition?
There’s a lot of talk among Democrats now about how to reach white working-class, non-college voters. Clinton under-performed with that demographic compared to Obama. It’s possible that Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders might not have had the same problems. But the percentage of white, working-class voters keeps shrinking as a portion of the electorate. The Democrats’ coalition of voters is ascendant and growing, but they have to get them to turn out without Obama on top of the ballot. Still, they have won the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections.
Party members are also saying this was not an election about two ideologies. It was really about values: inclusiveness, respect, diversity and tolerance. It really divided the country in deep way.
Trump talks a lot about Brexit, the nickname for Britain leaving the European Union, as an analogy for the working-class rising up against the elites and against globalization.
The Brexit analogy could also be applied in a different way: That decision perfectly cleaved the British population, just like this election did here. It was young versus old, rural versus urban. This election completely divided the country on race, gender, class, and education.
Will Washington Democrats block Trump and find new leadership?
Their main strategy will be to oppose Trump, and it’s a pretty simple task to when you’re the minority in Congress. They want to block the majority party and the White House when they disagree with them. Republicans have been excellent at this. They created a path to get the majority back in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections. If Nancy Pelosi decides to stay on as minority leader, she might do the same thing as Mitch McConnell and John Boehner did.
One other thing Democrats are looking for is the new, younger generation of leaders. This is definitively the end of the Clinton era, and they’re looking at people like Julian Castro, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and his brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro; also Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sen. Tim Kaine and Sen. Cory Booker. The Democratic bench is pretty decimated, which is why there were two old people — Sanders and Clinton — running for the nomination. No one person has emerged yet, but they’re looking for new leadership.