The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Democrats’ long road back to hope and change

Vice President Joe Biden and President Obama. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)
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Progressive road rage is getting in the way of Democratic leaders pulling themselves out of the ditch. Despite six years of historic political setbacks, there is little self-reflection from a party that seemed to be on the verge of becoming a permanent majority just eight years ago.

Barack Obama followed his landslide victory in 2008 with the worst run for any party in control of the White House since Herbert Hoover’s GOP was swept aside by Franklin Roosevelt. After the 1928 election, Hoover enjoyed a Republican majority that controlled 270 seats in the House and 56 in the Senate. Four years later, Roosevelt destroyed that majority and Republicans were left with only 36 seats in the Senate and 117 in the House.

Democratic prospects in the Age of Trump are better than those faced by Roosevelt’s GOP opposition, but just give the blue side of the aisle time. With the 2018 Senate map stacked dramatically in the Republicans’ favor, and with Democrats unwilling to take a realistic look at their dismal plight, Roosevelt’s party could soon find itself in an overwhelming disadvantage.

How do Democrats avoid handing President Trump an unbeatable majority on Capitol Hill? They must start by admitting to themselves just how bad things have become.

President Obama shares his advice to Democrats following their defeat in the 2016 election. (Video: Reuters)

Clinton insiders have pinned their loss on James Comey, Vladimir Putin, Obama, Fox News, the electoral college and an assortment of other factors. And while all of those played a role in Hillary Clinton’s defeat, explaining her party’s nationwide collapse will prove more difficult. The truth is that Democrats have lost middle America.

Since Obama’s win in 2008, Democrats have taken a pounding at the polls, losing 68 seats in the House, 12 seats in the Senate and 10 governorships. And those are not even the most disturbing data points. Former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Steve Israel told me on “Morning Joe” Thursday that local Democratic officeholders lost more than 1,000 elected positions between 2008 and 2012. And since 2010, more than 900 state legislators have surrendered their seats to the party of Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump.

The impact of those setbacks becomes painfully apparent when you look at the aging politicians in their 70s fighting to lead their party into the future. Nancy Pelosi is 76. Bernie Sanders is 75. Joe Biden is 74. The vice president is eyeing a run for the top spot when he is 78. He would likely have to run against Elizabeth Warren, who would be 71 in 2020. Looking to the states for younger leadership will prove frustrating when Democrats control only 18 of 50 governors’ mansions.

So the political landscape looks grim for the party of Obama and Roosevelt. Its path back to the majority can’t be drawn up by a former Republican congressman. But I do know this: The Democratic Party’s demise will continue until it stops blaming others for its collapse, and instead looks inward at a party that not so long ago defined hope and change.