2017-01-20 / World / National

Democrats in sad shape: Power deficit as Trump era begins

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Democrats begin the Donald Trump presidency in sad shape. They lack a clear power base, they’ve got no distinct national leader, and party brokers are searching for a formula to counter the new Republican-dominated government and figure out how to win again.

It’s a curious and dispiriting position for a party that has led the national popular vote six out of the past seven presidential elections. Yet Hillary Clinton lost the Electoral College count, while Republicans maintained their largest House majority since 1928 and kept control of the Senate — with 2018 advantages that offer the potential of a Senate supermajority in two years.

Outside Washington, Democrats now have just 16 governors and run 14 state legislatures, compared to 33 Republican governors and 32 GOP-run legislative bodies.

“We haven’t been in this shape in a while ... but we will rebuild,” insists interim Democratic Party Chairwoman Donna Brazile.

And Republicans have their own challenges.

Control means answering for everything from the economy to health care. Trump enters the Oval Office with the lowest approval ratings of any newly inaugurated president in more than a generation, and he’s an unapologetic freelancer who sometimes flouts GOP orthodoxy.

That leaves elected Democrats to decide how they will treat the new president as they try to woo middle-class voters — particularly whites — who were lost in November from President Barack Obama’s winning coalitions.

Party insiders will choose Brazile’s DNC successor next month, a campaign that has revived fissures between the party’s liberal and centrist factions. The next chairman will jockey with Congress’ Democratic leaders and perhaps Obama as the party tries to settle on a national standard-bearer.

Around the country, Democrats are quietly looking to the 2018 midterm elections, with a focus on governor races that will give the party its first tangible shot at climbing out of the present crater. Republicans will be defending more than two dozen seats, including in Democratic-leaning states like Massachusetts and Maryland.

No clear consensus guides all those moving parts.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California says Democrats must “fight with more clarity” on issues affecting average Americans, such as health care and laws covering wages.

“We’ve done it before, we know how to do it,” she says of winning.

Yet she adds that Democrats have a responsibility to work with Trump where there is common ground, such as infrastructure spending.

That’s a divergence from Republicans’ near-absolute, eight-year opposition to Obama. It’s also a seeming contrast to the man many top Democrats have endorsed for party chairman: Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota.

“This question of whether we fight back right away or not, that question has been answered,” Ellison said in a DNC chairmanship debate this week. “He has already started to institute a right-wing program, so of course we have to fight.”

Outgoing Labor Secretary Tom Perez, viewed as Ellison’s stiffest competitor, offered slightly more nuance. He dubbed Trump “a target-rich environment” and said Democrats can “hit him with a two-by-four.” But, he added, “What we can’t do is go after him every time. You can’t meet him tweet for tweet. I think we’ve got to be surgical.”

In Michigan, a key state in Trump’s November victory, Obama campaign veteran Amy Chapman said the 2010 tea party movement gives Democrats a model.

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