February 02, 2017
Democrats, by their own admission, are leaderless right now, and it is showing as the party struggles to settle on a coordinated strategy to combat the early moves made by President Trump.
Left without a consensus point man or woman since former President Obama left the political spotlight last month, Democrats have taken more of a mob approach to opposition, throwing up roadblocks on almost every issue, embracing fights large and small.
They’ve rallied outside the Supreme Court, boycotted committee hearings, erected procedural hurdles, voted against both Trump and congressional Republicans’ agenda and generally vented anger at every turn.
“Every act of resistance you’ve seen from Democrat congressional leadership has been in response to the organic, nationwide wave of public pressure to fight President Trump rather than work with him,” said Christy Setzer, a Democrat strategist. “The liberal grass roots has a zero-tolerance policy for Trump that’s every bit as vitriolic and engaged as the one you saw fighting Obama.”
The message, though, is often unfocused and, occasionally, amateurish.
When House and Senate Democrats rallied at the Supreme Court on Monday, they timed their event to coincide with the evening newscasts. But they spent minutes struggling to get the microphone working.
“Is someone going to deal with this?” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wondered. She then led her colleagues in singing a patriotic hymn until the microphone started working.
Trump took to Twitter to mock them, calling their event “a mess — just like Dem party!”
“Democrats face a challenge because they don’t have a single leader,” said Darrell M. West, director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. “Many people are speaking on behalf of the party, and the risk is this muddles the message and leads to conflicting perspectives. It always is difficult for the party out of power to compete with the bully pulpit of the president.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who was his party’s vice presidential nominee last year, told MSNBC the party doesn’t need a single person shaping efforts.
“I think it’s old-time thinking to think you got to organize this in a pyramid with one person at the top,” he said.
But Kaine pointed out that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is, in effect, the most powerful Democrat official in the U.S., thanks to the powers granted to the minority party in the upper chamber.
Democrats are staging the fiercest opposition to any president’s nominees seen in modern political history, and have demanded investigations into Trump’s executive orders, particularly Friday’s extreme vetting policy imposing a temporary ban on visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries.
Trump, however, appears to be holding his own in the public relations battle, with polls showing many voters are happy that he is following through on his campaign promises.
And there are also lingering questions over whether Democrats will be blamed for adding to the gridlock in Washington that many voters rejected — particularly heading into the 2018 election, when a number of red-state Democrats will be fighting for their political lives.
Setzer said that in order for Democrat lawmakers to be successful against Trump, “they need to be on the same page as their grass roots, singing from the same hymnal.”
“There’s a tremendous opportunity for members who want to step up and fill that void — these pockets of resistance will be rewarded — but the current vacuum in leadership is handicapping our ability to craft a unified response at a dark and scary time,” Mr. Setzer said.
Democrat lawmakers, meanwhile, say the public marches and protests against Trump have energized them and given them hope that they can overcome the void left by Obama.
“I mean there must be some spiritual leader somewhere orchestrating this or it is the way the American public feels at this moment,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois.
“I feel there is leadership,” Gutierrez said. “There is leadership in this basic principle that we think Donald Trump is basically unfair and his executive orders are dangerous, and people are ready to fight against that.”
Others, however, say the party is still playing catch-up after being caught off guard by Trump’s victory.
“It is going to take some time for the kind of new reality and new world to set in,” said Rep. Joseph Kennedy III. “I do think there is a wealth of talent across the House and Senate and in governors’ offices and statehouses across the country, and now the silver lining out of this is that now there is time for those leaders to actually step forward and make their case and start to lead the way back.
“That is just a process that has to play out, and there is some strength in that — allowing individuals to make their case and earn it,” the Massachusetts Democrat said.