The Arena: The Democratic blues

2/7/16 – Medford/Somerville, MA – Aren Torikian poses for a headshot on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. (Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily)

Who would’ve thought it would be the Democrats in such disarray after these elections? Coming into Tuesday’s elections, the talking heads (and your favorite columnist) were predicting the inevitable schism of the Republican Party. Instead, we have a president-elect who has never held office and a Democratic Party on the ropes.

There is no two ways about it: Tuesday was a nightmare for the Democrats. Of course, they lost the presidency despite winning the popular vote by a predicted two million votes  (I hate the Electoral College). The party picked up just two seats in the Senate, where it remains a minority, and actually lost three governorships. For the second time since 1928, the GOP will control the House, Senate and the presidency.

For the Democrats, this problem started at the top of the ballot. Hillary Clinton’s underperformance in states like Wisconsin doomed candidates in key Senate and governor races. For the first time since 1916, — the first year senators were popularly elected during a presidential election — no state voted for a senator from one party and a president from another, according to FiveThirtyEight.

It is natural to wonder, then, why Clinton lost in such a spectacular fashion. I’m sure for some set of Trump voters, racism or sexism dominated their decisions. But this is the same electorate that gave Barack Obama — an African-American who grew up partly in Indonesia — roughly 70 million votes in 2008 and 66 million in 2012. Not every vote has been counted, but Clinton outperformed the president-elect by millions. 

I think Bernie Sanders put it best (even if his statement reeked of “you should have picked me”): “Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media.” Hillary Clinton represented this establishment and it reflected in exit poll data; according to CNN, 61 percent of voters did not find Clinton to be honest or trustworthy. That is practically even with the 63 percent who did not find Trump honest or trustworthy. Let that sink in.

Trump cleaned up in the Rust Belt, the formerly manufacturing-heavy region spreading from Pennsylvania through Wisconsin. In Ohio, Trump won by roughly eight percent, a five percent swing from Obama’s victory four years ago. In Cleveland, for example, despite the best efforts of LeBron James, Clinton won nearly 40,000 fewer votes than Obama did in 2012. Even more surprisingly, in Wisconsin, where a Democrat has not lost since Reagan, Trump ground out a roughly 30,000-vote victory. Clinton did not visit the state after April.

The Democrats are meant to be the party of unions and Middle America. That’s precisely the vote they lost in the Rust Belt and beyond. According to CNN exit poll data, Trump outperformed Romney by six percent among those making less than $30,000 a year, while Clinton fared eight percent points worse among those in union households than Trump. It is great that the Democrats made Arizona and Georgia competitive, but that does not matter if they disregard states supposedly in “the blue wall.”

This has to change. For all the talk of Trump “draining the swamp” in Washington, — more on that next week — it is about time the Democrats drain their own swamp; I don’t want to see Debbie Wasserman Schultz representing the party in any substantial form ever again. The party needs change, and it would be wise to start from within. If this means moving to the left, so be it.