Democrats Must Broaden Appeal


While the Republican party dominates many politicalconversations, the Democrats are not safe from constructive criticism.

Francis Migliore, Maroon-News Staff

As a Democrat, I’ve derived a certain amount of amusement from watching the GOP tear itself apart. Their two top candidates, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, have defiantly derided and are thoroughly thrashing the much loathed establishment.

Once we finish fixating on how puzzling this phenomenon is – not only of the GOP, but of this entire election – we have to look at what’s powering the rising forces of discontent threatening to upset the two parties. The answer may be found in the tumult currently engulfing our friends across the aisle.

One of the surprising things about Donald Trump is that he’s been able to stay in the election by winning a wide variety of states, leveraging his anti-establishment stance. According to the exit polls he has done well with voters who have not earned a college degree, blue collar voters and even some of the old Reagan Democrats.

The idea that Trump is poaching some of the more conservative Democratic voters is disturbing. It’s not enough for Democrats to just write off the fact that some people are racist and buy into his message; when the most extreme candidate from another party is garnering people who should be part of your voter base, the party leadership needs to pay attention, because you have a real problem on your hands.

Nor are Democrats without their intra-party conflicts. Bernie Sanders has strong grassroots support, and he’s mounted a formidable challenge to Hillary in the Heartland and some Northeastern states. He’s done this by relying on people angry at the

establishment. Sound familiar?

I’m not implying in any way that Trump is the Republican Bernie, but anti-establishment revolts are racking both parties in a way that they haven’t done for years. The phrase “sold out to special interests” is a common criticism of both parties. Anti-establishment candidates are a logical outgrowth of that anger, and for whatever else you believe about them, you have to admit that they genuinely speak to people’s disillusionment with party leadership and policies. This anger and disillusionment transcends this election cycle. It’s bigger than Clinton, Sanders, Trump or Cruz.  

The Democratic party faces a choice. It can either admit that it’s been out of step with the needs of some elements of the working class, in particular some of the less educated white voters who have been defecting to the GOP, and adjust its stances accordingly.

That might mean taking a hint from Senator Elizabeth Warren and promising to get tougher on financial institutions, or advocating for more protectionist trade policies that would benefit American workers, for example. It would then be more in line with the people and Democrats might be able to recuperate some of their losses at both a federal and state level.

On the other hand, the Democrats could continue with business as usual. If that’s the case, I predict one or more of the following things could happen. The first is that they could continue to lose voters to whichever Republicans are able to scoop them up. The bad news is that “whichever Republicans” today includes the most radically right-wing member of the Senate and a megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur.

The second problem is that the Democrats will have a harder time winning in key states if they continue to neglect blue-collar white voters; think Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, etc. Will it be enough to lose the presidency to the Republicans? The real question is “How badly do the Democrats want to find out?”

The final problem is more long term. Today we face the possibility that Sanders upsets Clinton and takes the nomination, but Sanders won’t be the last candidate who divides the Democrats along establishment-outsider lines. In 2010 we saw the onset of the Tea Party and we have watched for the past six years as the GOP becomes increasingly dysfunctional. Is it so hard to imagine that the Democratic party would not have similar problems?

This election has given us a whole host of stories to marvel and gawk at, but Democrats need to take this election as a learning experience and an opportunity to broaden their voter base; it’s foolhardy not to do so. If Democrats adjust some of their positions, they will not only win the election, but they will also once again become a big-tent party – something neither they nor the Republicans have been for quite a long time.