WEISS: Democrats should take advantage of minority party status

In order to take full advantage of the opportunity, Democrats should take a page out of Republican playbook

The story of the rise of the Tea Party is a familiar one. Protests erupted in the summer of 2009 and continued as a Democratic president and Congress pushed through a slew of consequential reform measures, culminating in the landslide Congressional victories for Republicans, which made John Boehner Speaker of the House. An equally important and well-known part of this story was the Tea Party’s instrumental role in unseating numerous Republican incumbents who were deemed too moderate. Arms-control legend Dick Lugar of Indiana, Mike Castle of Delaware, Eric Cantor of Virginia and numerous others lost to fringe candidates as America’s growing hatred of all things elite and establishment grew in proportion to Washington dysfunction — eventually bringing us President Donald Trump. As Democrats regroup, they cannot afford to make the same mistake of applying endlessly more stringent litmus tests to their standard-bearers. Not only would this be a recipe for electoral defeat in the midterms and beyond, but it would also further erode whatever slight chance remains of finding common ground.

Out of power and in the streets, the left has a real chance of mobilizing and sustaining enough support to get out of the hole come 2018. The Trump presidency has sparked a remarkable degree of civic engagement and protest across the country, from the Women’s March to the Indivisible movement to the innumerable calls that flooded Congress during Trump’s cabinet confirmation processes. Here on Grounds, a series of marches, a focus on organizing and efforts to bridge the partisan divide have reinvigorated student activism to a degree unseen in recent memory. The groundswell of resistance to the Trump agenda is far more intense at a far earlier stage than the similar Tea Party resistance during former President Barack Obama’s first term. As Trump brings the nation’s worst impulses to the fore and left-wing America realizes that the arc of the moral universe does not bend itself, the question that hangs over the Democratic Party is how to turn this fighting spirit into electoral success.

I believe Democrats will inevitably win back a few seats. The burden of having to govern is already causing the Republican Party to shatter along the lines demarcating its endless internal contradictions. Being the opposition, as Democrats have learned watching Republicans over the past eight years, is just much easier. The House Republican attempt to tackle the Affordable Care Act with a predictably terrible replacement plan has been fun to watch. Still, the Democratic Party faces the same structural headwinds that placed it in this position of oblivion to begin with. Gerrymandering, the defection of the white working class, the slow materialization of the coalition of the ascendant, a collapsed state presence nationwide and a discourse increasingly disconnected from the realities most Americans face are real and pervasive issues. Democrats should not make their jobs harder by indulging in the easy righteousness of mandating ideological purity from their elected officials, and they should be fostering debate, rather than shutting it down.

The signs of growing intolerance within the Democratic Party toward dissent — both internal and external — are unmistakable. Within days of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., hugging Trump at his address to a joint session of Congress two weeks ago, a petition to challenge him in the West Virginia Democratic primary in 2018 gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures. Applying those standards in a state Trump won by over 40 points. At Middlebury College, a mob assaulted right-wing scholar Charles Murray and event sponsors, injuring a professor in the process, in a show of force that should be condemned by Democrats in the strongest terms. The Democratic National Committee “chair fight” was an unnecessarily acrimonious repeat of the Hillary-Bernie duel to the death, with accusations meant to label former labor secretary Tom Perez as a typical D.C. insider besmirching the reputation of a successful former labor secretary. His record was as solidly liberal as that of his main competition for the job and DNC vice-chair Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., but Perez received the endorsement of far too many establishment Democrats, so clearly he was part of the problem. Genuine debate should not be quashed where genuine debate is needed. But as Obama said with characteristic eloquence in his farewell address, “we weaken those ties [that make us one] when we allow our political dialogue to become … So coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are seen not just as misguided but as malevolent.” This applies broadly.

Right now, the challenge for Democrats is resisting Trump and allowing the Republican Congress to stumble over itself. But when the rush of elections in 2018 come, the Democratic Party needs to be more flexible than it’s proven itself to be so far.

Olivier Weiss is an Opinion columnist for the Cavalier Daily. He may be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.

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