The battle for the Democratic party's soul

Key senators try to shape the party’s message and the DNC Chair post is up for grabs.

  /  11.18.2016

After losing the Presidency and failing to capture either house of Congress on Election Day, the Democratic party has entered its rebuilding season. This will be a long winter for the left, which splintered during primary season into progressive and pragmatic camps and wound up out in the cold.

Now comes the battle for the party’s soul, and the key figures have identified themselves.

A cadre of Senators have emerged as the leading lights to shape the Dems’ message: New Yorker Chuck Schumer, who will take over as Senate Minority Leader from the retiring Harry Reid; Massachusetts firebrand Elizabeth Warren; and of course, Vermont’s Independent folk hero Bernie Sanders who, while technically still not a Democratic, clearly galvanized a passionate electorate which rallied around his egalitarian economic message.

Schumer’s post as Minority Leader is powerful, and his first act has been to assemble an ideologically eclectic, ten-person leadership team to make sure the party is in touch both with progressives (which is where Sanders and Warren come in) and also with the very voters they lost to Trump this election season. This helps explain Schumer appointing West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin to the post, a strong move after Manchin vocally criticized outgoing Minority Leader Harry Reid for responding to Trump’s election by calling him a “sexual predator.”

Manchin bristled at that and took up for Trump, calling Reid’s statement “an absolute embarrassment” and “feed(ing) the very divisiveness that is tearing this country apart.” He went on, “I will work with anyone, no matter their party, to improve the lives of West Virginians and all Americans.” By including Manchin and his populist voice of dissent, Schumer is casting a wide net in the Democratic leadership — and setting up some fireworks, to be sure.

With the leadership team assembled, the next big showdown centers on the battle for the Democratic National Committee chair. This position is the top strategic coordinator for the entire party, on a state and federal level. This was the position held rather infamously by Debbie Wasserman Schulz, and is now occupied by Donna Brazile, both of whom became focal points of criticism and claims of cronyism for allegedly rigging the system for Hillary Clinton and against Bernie Sanders’ insurgent primary run. This position has been the subject of unwanted intrigue, and as such, all eyes are on its vacancy.

The main candidates are former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who was DNC chair during President Obama’s first election, and Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison, who was an early and vocal supporter of Senator Sanders during the Democratic primaries. Unsurprisingly, Sanders has endorsed Ellison for the post; Ellison’s stock went up even further with endorsements from Warren and Harry Reid. The party won’t make its final decision until next year, but keep your eyes peeled: The choice here will tell you everything about who the Democrats want to be in the era of Trump.



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