Editors Note: This is the first in a series of articles coming to us from guest columnists and folks who may not necessarily agree with TFS’ editorial policy but have something thoughtful to say about the Democratic Party. This is the first of multiple submissions from Dave Trotter.
By Dave Trotter
I was only fifteen years old on Election Night in 1988. After Michael Dukakis lost, I remember that Democrats were scared. Eight years of a Ronald Reagan presidency was to be followed by four more years of a George H.W. Bush presidency. Many Democrats thought that we have started a cycle similar to the Republican dominance of the late 19th Century. Problems only compounded when the Persian Gulf War’s success led to a 90% approval rating for Bush in February of 1991.
This thought scared Democrats, and many in the party knew it. We were so desperate for change in the Democratic Party, many tried to turn the party in a different direction in order to win. Out of this started the New Democratic movement. Starting with the Democratic Leadership County, and soon followed by the comically named Progressive Policy Institute, the New Democrats offered a different direction, one of center politics and moderation. Early cheerleaders for the movement were Al Gore and Bill Clinton.
During the 1992 presidential primaries, Democratic voters remained scared. However, the Clinton campaign and the DLC were able to make a convincing argument. Over the last two elections, Democrats nominated Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis, very liberal candidates. The DLC argued that the left wasn’t the way to go, and the moderate way was the only chance Democrats had in November. Democrats bought the argument and gave Bill Clinton the nomination. As our reward, we won the presidency. On the night of the election, Governor Ann Richards said that she “hoped that the old image of the Democratic Party as we know it is gone” to NBC’s Tom Brokaw.
Since 1992, the Democrats have operated the same way. Democrats tossed aside who they wanted to vote for, and instead decided to vote for who they thought would win. In 2004, we saw this out in full force. Howard Dean was the candidate many supported in the primary. However, day after day, the Kerry campaign hammered away at Dean being “angry” and that he could not win in November. Voters listened to that message and went with the candidate that they thought could win instead of the candidate that captured their hearts. And, of course, we lost.
In 2008, we went a different direction. Instead of going with the moderate Hillary Clinton, the Democratic voters went for the skinny black kid with the middle name Hussein. If we were to look at demographic, as well as what we have been taught in the past, there is no way this candidate could win in November. Democrats went with their heart, and Democrats were awarded with a two-term president.
In 2016, we reverted back to our old ways. During the primary election, in which I was a Bernie Sanders supporter, many Hillary supporters used the same line as they did back for Bill in 1992…she is the only one that can win. Even though poll after poll showed that Sanders would defeat any Republican candidate by a larger margin than Clinton would have, she still stuck with the message. In the end, the fear of losing an election led to Hillary Clinton being the nominee.
With the exception of the 2008 presidential election, the Democratic Party has been put in a Stockholm Syndrome situation since 1988, where Democratic Party elites have told us which candidate can win the general election. These elites know that the 1980s scared us, and they have used this to influence our vote over the last 25 years. However, in 2016, it seems as if we have finally been released from our hostage situation. This year, we continued to follow the path. We did everything we were told to do. Those of us who were Bernie Sanders supporters united behind Hillary Clinton so that we could win the election. However, the ‘most electable’ candidate lost to the ‘most unelectable’ candidate. Democrats were not awarded with a presidency. We now know the elites are wrong.
On both the state and national level, the shackles of the DLC have finally been removed. At the national level, Keith Ellison is showing the former bosses that we are now in charge. And, honestly, some of the bosses (like Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid) are open to hiring a new manager. There seems to be an understanding that the ways of the early 1990s no longer win in 2016, and the national party elites are willing to turn the party over to a new generation.
National Democratic elites are learning their lessons. Will Florida Democrats be able to do so as well?