By Haley Barbour; Companion Piece
For those of us that are members of the Democratic party, this year’s election was devastating. We lost. Badly. But we also won three million more votes than the Republicans. It is easy to point to the clear divisions that exist within the opposition party, as well as point to our seats gained in the House of Representatives and the progressive ballot measures passed across the country. So many in our party have looked across the aisle and told Republicans that they need to get their house in order. But as a member of the Democratic party I am writing to say that our house is out of order, and it is time that we do something about it.
As Dr. Julia Azari of Marquette University pointed out, the Democratic party is made up of a broad coalition that transcends race, gender, age, and socioeconomic status.
This coalition grew even larger and more inclusive under the leadership of President Barack Obama. This coalition is an asset, absolutely. But the interests of specific groups within the coalition not only disagree at times, but often are in direct conflict as Ruy Texiera of The Century Foundation, John Hudak of the Center for Effective Management at the Brookings Institute, and David Lauter of the L.A. Times pointed out in a postmortem panel on the 2016 election.
The examples of division within our party are very clear: labor vs immigration, millennials vs baby boomers and older generations, the working class vs the educated elite, labor vs fair trade, rural vs urban. Ignoring these divisions because the Republicans may be worse off will only lead to further division. And perhaps more important to the leaders of our party, ignoring these divisions will lead to many more election losses. Traditional Democratic voters, specifically the working class Democrats in key states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, felt that the party to which they have been loyal members for decades no longer cared about them.
As Dr. Azari pointed out, unless we, as members of the party, are willing to move from California and New York and major cities to more evenly distribute ourselves in the rural areas of key swing states, we need another solution.
I do not claim to have all of the answers by any means, but I do have a couple of suggestions. It is vitally important that Democrats begin to identify and foster young party members that can be passed the baton. This is specifically important at the state level, where established party structures often ignore their younger members. That is not to let my peers off the hook. The party may not be great at including young people, but young people are nowhere near great at participating and that needs to change. Further, Democrats need to learn how to speak in soundbites. A politician with the most innovative policy ideas is not electable if she is unable to articulate those ideas to her own party.
Our party has many lessons to learn from this election, but starting now will only set us up from a redeeming election night two years from now.