The government shutdown, for all its pomp and circumstance, was here and gone in less than 70 hours. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer capitulated for a deal with sparse tangible results: a new continuing resolution, a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold a floor debate on immigration and — not to be minimized — Children’s Health Insurance Program funding for six years. The most important result, though intangible: Democrats can add yet another loss to a growing list of inexcusable defeats.
Looking at the Democratic Party’s past two years reveals not just a lack of long-term strategy, but a resistance to the very concept of a far-reaching plan. Instead, it has split its time reacting to crises and pushing back on any in-party criticism as unnecessary divisiveness. With yet another belly-up performance during the shutdown, the party is past due for an honest vivisection to determine the cause of its dysfunction.
What is most baffling about the left’s two-year losing streak is that the Grand Old Party has never been a more vulnerable target. Major planks in the party’s platform, like dismantling Obamacare and denying climate change, are opposed by the majority of Americans. Both dysfunctional houses of Congress are running interference for the least popular president in history. The stage is set for a dynamic opposition to show America how a successful government should work, but the Democratic Party has yet to capitalize on this opportunity.
Democrats demand justice for Russian interference in the election, but they refuse to acknowledge plain tactical flaws in their own 2016 Presidential campaign. From the get-go it wasn’t clear how Hillary Clinton would surf the wave of populism that rose in 2016, but President Donald Trump was so despised that her “do nothing new” strategy almost worked. It was her team’s brutal error to literally and metaphorically not speak to the people of the Rust Belt that ultimately decided the election. Clinton never countered Trump’s lies about renewed economic security face-to-face with voters in Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, so the voters fell for them. Was that Russia’s fault?
After a devastating election day, Democrats could do little except play defense in Congress. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) have brilliantly demonstrated what an opposition party should act like in the Capitol. But in the streets, hearts and minds of America, Democrats are absent. Once Trump proved himself to be as embarrassing as Candidate Trump, the sigh of relief from Democratic Leadership was deafening. The “I’m With Her” party seamlessly transitioned into the “We’re Not Him” party, abandoning any inkling of substantive change. Democrats are so comfortable in their status-quo resistance that they unironically floated the new slogan: “I Mean, Have You Seen The Other Guys?”
Some Democrats are doing the work. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) was appointed chair of the Outreach Committee, thanks to his massive popularity with a younger, diverse and growing crowd of voters. He has held several primetime debates, with his recent Medicare-for-all town hall drawing one million viewers. He shows up at protests — both big and small — to show support for workers, women and immigrants. Say this to Democratic leadership, though, and you’ll hear their eyes roll.
The new continuing resolution passed by Congress to put an end to the government shutdown includes no Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals fix, no funding for community health centers and no hurricane relief funding for Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida, despite Democratic leadership citing these issues as its reasons for a shutdown in the first place. Now that Senate Democrats have dropped DACA from budget negotiations, it is clear that they aren’t just weak negotiators but spineless pushovers as well.
There has been no reckoning, no huddle, not even a moment of reflection for the Democratic Party, even after two years of significant losses. Schumer’s appeasement has once again shown the poor, the sick and the non-white that Democrats never stand with them; they will only stand by. With the midterm elections only nine months away, such a lack of courage and strategic thinking spells disaster.
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A version of this article appeared in the Jan. 29 print edition. Email Hunter McLaren at [email protected]