As we near the election of the new DNC chair this weekend, it is important to think about how the party develops a successful path forward. While modeling a movement based on the Tea Party can sound attractive, that it is a short-term strategy based on exclusion rather than inclusion, and should therefore be rejected.
As an example of the exclusionary forces at work in the Democratic Party, I would point to the “We Will Replace You” efforts launched by a group of mostly Sanders supporters. Their aim is to target Democrats who have not sufficiently resisted Donald Trump and mount primary challenges against them. Their message to Democrats is: “Do everything you can to Resist Trump, or we will replace you with someone who will.” High on the list of people to target are Senators like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.
While both of these Senators leave much to be desired when it comes to progressive policies that go way beyond their lack of resistance to some Trump nominees, let’s be clear about something. Donald Trump won West Virginia by 42 percent (the largest margin in the country) and North Dakota by 36 percent. These are two deeply red states that just so happen to have Democratic Senators. Targeting them for a primary could very well result in having two additional Republican Senators who will vote with Trump 100 percent of the time rather than occasionally work with him.
In order to effectively challenge incumbent Democrats in a primary, it is far better for that initiative to come from Democrats in those states rather than a national campaign. Those are the people who know their communities and can recruit candidates who have a chance to succeed. That is what is at the heart of what it means to be “grassroots” and embrace the so-called “50 state strategy.” Thankfully, both of the top candidates for DNC Chair agree. Here’s Keith Ellison:
We also need a robust party organization in every state that prioritizes voter relationships over everything else.
We must invest in and empower our state and local parties by creating effective field operations, an enhanced and advanced voter file, and a culture of collaboration between candidates at every level.
And here’s Tom Perez:
We need to be listening and talking to voters – from rural communities and urban, on the coasts and in the middle of the country – year-round, with state parties driving the conversation – and we also need to make sure we’re finding candidates who will stand up for our values and the needs of their communities.
This is not the kind of message of inclusion being circulated by some Trump voters about how standing up against racism, sexism and xenophobia hurts their feelings and therefore is a problem for Democrats. Instead, it starts with being clear about what Democrats have always stood for — as Jesse Lee did so impressively in this article here at the Washington Monthly. It also means being clear about the party’s principles going forward rather than a focus on personalities (i.e. assuming support for Obama, Clinton or Sanders is somehow exclusionary).
To the extent that Democrats work at the grassroots level to get a message out about what they stand for and invite voters to join them — that is a message of inclusion that can empower voters in every state to recruit and nominate the best candidates to represent them.
Whenever I hear people/groups putting forth their demands about who needs to be excluded from that conversation, I hear power plays for control of the party rather than a true message of grassroots empowerment. And frankly, that message is most often coming from individuals who once claimed to support a movement for Bernie Sanders. They should take a look at history because that is NOT how movements are born.