As they struggled through the wreckage of one of their worst election nights in memory, Democrats faced a brutal reckoning over how the party, soon to be out of power on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, can regain relevance.
Democrats went into Tuesday’s balloting presuming that they would win the presidency for a third time in a row, gain a majority in the U.S. Senate and, if everything went well, cut into Republicans’ congressional margins, too.
Nothing went well.
Not only did Hillary Clinton suffer defeat at the hands of Donald Trump, but a tide of conservative voters swamped Democrats at other levels.
Sooner rather than later, given unified Republican control of Washington, the damage will include President Obama’s signature achievements, like the healthcare plan Trump and congressional Republicans have vowed to repeal.
“That’s got to be a huge wake-up call for the inside-the-Beltway Democratic establishment. They fundamentally failed,” said Democratic pollster Ben Tulchin, who worked for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign this year.
Democrats already seemed to be split over how to regroup. Some argued for a more aggressive effort to move the party to the left, hoping to drive up turnout among younger and minority voters. Others stressed a need to reach out to the disaffected working-class white voters who so conspicuously deserted the party this year.