Democrats in the Wilderness: Inside a decimated party’s not-so-certain revival strategy.
Standing with some 30,000 people in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia the night before the election
watching Hillary Clinton speak, exhausted aides were already worrying
about what would come next. They expected her to win, of course, but
they knew President Clinton was going to get thrashed in the 2018
midterms—the races were tilted in Republicans’ favor, and that’s when
they thought the backlash would really hit. Many assumed she’d be a
one-term president. They figured she’d get a primary challenge. Some of
them had already started gaming out names for who it would be.
“Last night I stood at your doorstep / Trying to figure out what went
wrong,” Bruce Springsteen sang quietly to the crowd in what he called
“a prayer for post-election.” “It’s gonna be a long walk home.”
What happened the next night shocked even the most pessimistic
Democrats. But in another sense, it was the reckoning the party had been
expecting for years. They were counting on a Clinton win to paper over a
deeper rot they’ve been worrying about—and to buy them some time to
start coming up with answers. In other words, it wasn’t just Donald
Trump. Or the Russians. Or James Comey. Or all the problems with how
Clinton and her aides ran the campaign. Win or lose, Democrats were
facing an existential crisis in the years ahead—the result of years of
complacency, ignoring the withering of the grass roots and the state
parties, sitting by as Republicans racked up local win after local win.