It feels as though an age has passed since Trump won the election, shattering years if not decades of conventional political wisdom and leaving the nation as a whole more confused and divided than ever. No one was more shocked and surprised than the Democrat Party who had hoped for something, anything, resembling a victory. Since then, the aim has been simple: stop Trump from destroying the country long enough to take back power.
Now, the Democrats are having to swallow the new bitterness of defeat with the special election of Georgia. In five elections since the start of 2017, the Democrats have failed to dislodge their Republican rivals. Ossoff’s defeat is a particularly hard since, despite a close race, a cautiously optimistic campaign and the nosedive in Trump’s approval rating, a Republican now holds the seat.
As expected, there has been a great deal of navel gazing and much uncertainty about the direction the Democrats must now take. Much criticism is directed at the Senate Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, a figure who is considered to be ill-suited to lead the Party. Others see the elections as proof that the Democrats need to seriously re-think their strategy.
Deeper questions are being asked though: which direction should the Democrats take?
No doubt some will look back on the campaign of Bernie Sanders and wonder whether leaning leftwards is the best way to go. In his campaign, Sanders echoed the real and present concerns held by many in the USA: unemployment, wealth inequality, healthcare for all, better opportunities for the young. Either Sanders or Elizabeth Warren might aim for a more radical solution to America’s problems, something different so that the American people will have an actual choice. Of course, there are plenty of voters who will spurn any idea of a socialist surge in both Republican and Democrat states. Besides, for all Bernie’s charm, the last thing America needs is deeper division through simple populist phrases.
On the flip side, the centrists will insist that America needs moderation, not radicalism. Bernie did well, but Hilary did better or so goes their argument. In their minds, they will aim for the center, looking to appeal to the majority of the people and hope that Trump and his administration will implode to the point where the Republican Party is unable to recover. While it’s true that America desperately needs moderation, it’s rarely as simple as installing Hilary Clinton 2.0 and praying for a national scandal. In fact, it would probably be worse.
Both sides may perhaps look more closely at the recent snap election in the UK where Jeremy Corbyn, one of the most left-wing politicians in recent British history, defied expectations. Everything from his manifesto to his style of clothing was derided by many as a throwback to the 1970s. He was a walking calamity to his own party and a joke to his rivals. Yet a vegetarian socialist in his mid-sixties with his radical manifesto, turned a predicted landslide for the right into a pyrrhic victory, leaving most, including me, gobsmacked at the result.
Can we do better?
It’s still too early to write off the Democrat failures as defeats. There are lessons to be learned from Georgia for both sides. That a relative unknown can get so many votes in an essentially Republican state should worry other Republican hopefuls. The investigations on Trump are still ongoing, the administration’s position is precarious and his subterranean poll ratings seem to be no flash in the pan. Add in the disastrous new Deathcare bill and the Democrats may have less to worry about than one might suppose.
At the moment they can enjoy their moral victory in Georgia. But moral victories do not lead to a party to government. Silver linings aside, the Democrats need to step up their game as the party tries to choose between principles, pragmatism, and power.
The Democrat Party will be studying their defeats closely and their next efforts might be more cautious. The Democrats will be watching the next elections in November for any sign of a pulse. They know that they need a good showing in the mid-term elections next year and, much like Corbyn, they can’t simply rely on their opponent to mess things up themselves. The political terrain gets better as 2018 rolls up, but it will be small comfort to those leading the vanguard.
Whether they embrace the left-wing populism of Sanders or stick to their centrist guns, the Democrats will need to turn themselves around if they have even a hope of getting back into power. Further losses will turn discouragement to despair and the Democrats, like their UK counterparts, can’t afford to lose ground or time dealing with internal struggles.
Either way, it looks like it’s going to be a long, hot summer for both sides.