Option 2: Reform the Democratic Party
The second option, perhaps a compromise option between pragmatism and progressive values, is to attempt to reform the Democratic party. The hope is that the Democratic party can be forced to change and support more consistently progressive policies that help everyone, not just the wealthy liberal elite or certain segments of marginalized groups. Various groups, such as the remnants of Sanders campaign and others, are explicitly pursuing this strategy. They hope to replace establishment Democratic and incumbent Republican candidates with more progressive ones in 2018, and win back enough seats to block Trump. The plan appears to be to run Sanders gain in 2020. It should be noted that 54% of likely Democratic voters think the party should follow Sander’s direction, with only 26% thinking it should stay more like Clinton with 20% still undecided. The voting base for the Democrats seems to be highly amendable to this tactic.
The main challenge to this approach appears not to be Trump or GOP but the Democratic Party itself. Many in the party’s leadership and base seem to be intent on insulating the party from anything that would make them change. In the last couple months Democrats have blamed everything but themselves for the loss of this election. While evading responsibility might be good for the injured pride of the party, it prevents the party from recognizing where it needs to change to win back its base. If everything is the fault of the Green Party, or Sanders supporters, or Russian interference, GOP voter suppression (etc.) then the Democrats can stay the same and run the same candidates and campaign in 2018 and 2020. Howard Dean has even explicitly stated that there is no need to do an after-election autopsy to figure out why they lost (something the GOP did in 2012 to their credit). Dean suggested introspection is unnecessary and the Democrats just need to campaign in all 50 States. Reforming a large organization is difficult; reforming an organization that does not see the need to change or is willing to even look at its problems is even harder.
Additionally, the Democratic status quo appears to be firmly entrenched in D.C. both in power and in the party’s mindset. Sen. Schumer, a problematic Establishment Democrat, was instilled as the leading Democrat in Congress. Pelosi defeated a challenge to her leadership, suggesting that many Democrats in D.C. do not want a change in leadership. Some are suggesting the policy of the Democrats doesn’t need to be changed, just the messaging or packaging. Biden has recently endorsed Tom Perez for DNC chair, a clear sign that the establishment wants to keep Clinton-aligned people in power. It appears Dem leadership has learned little from the popularity of Sander’s campaign or the election results and some are seriously floating Establishment and celebrity candidates for the presidential election of 2020, including the likes of Clinton, Biden, (Michelle) Obama and Beyoncé.
While some Democrat leaders are calling for revolution and resistance, and some are following through on this, many are not really offering even symbolic resistance. It has already been demonstrated that Democrats are still willing to sell out their constituents for campaign donations. Senate Democrats, including Sen. Schumer, are also approving many of Trump’s outrageous cabinet picks while claiming to be leading some fierce resistance to Trump. This all indicates a party unafraid to be out of step with its dwindling and dissatisfied base.
So while there is a recognized desire by many likely Democratic voters that there needs to be a change in direction (towards the likes of Sanders and away from the likes of Clinton), this means upsetting the status quo, which the status quo always resists. With Democratic leaders in D.C. looking to keep things the same, preserving their power, privilege and donor relations, they may enact some superficial reforms, but fundamental radical change seems off the table. When you factor in the cover and excuses many Democrats are peddling in and adopting are creating for them by the blaming everything but the party for their losses, it may be more difficult to reform the Democratic Party than one would think if it is possible at all.