Friday, January 20, 2017 is a cold day in Washington, DC. The scene outside the Capitol building is familiar to many political aficionados, although the cast of characters is somewhat different. It is now Hillary instead of Bill raising her hand to take the oath of office, and the faces around her are more diverse than before. After thumping Republican nominee Donald Trump (yes, that actually happened), the Democratic Party is full of optimism. After electing the first African-American president and reelecting him four years later, the presidency can now no longer exclusively use the pronoun “he”. Democrats are the party of diversity and progress, as astounding numbers of Hispanics and African-Americans carry Hillary to the White House.
On this date, it is easy to fall into the Democratic talking points of an ascendant party, one that will control at least two branches of the government in the near future with maybe the Congress within reach. However, if this future occurs, it will be a house built on sand, to borrow a biblical phrase.
Regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, the facts are stark. In this period of liberal enlightenment, the Democratic Party has lost 912 legislative seats and 30 state chambers since 2010. With President Obama in the White House, Democrats gained, then lost the House and Senate with only the Senate within reach of being regained. By the time President Hillary runs for reelection in 2020, the state legislatures will be preparing the next round of redistricting. As of today, Republicans have unified control of 25 state governments while Democrats have only 7. Even if there is a Democratic wave, the overwhelming number of Republican controlled states means the uphill battle for Democrats to start offsetting their edge in elected officials and states could be further redistricted to the GOP’s advantage.
This lack of depth at the state level means fewer quality candidates who can run at the next level. When a pick-up opportunity arises, especially in a red state, there will be few if any candidates to seriously run in it. As DFLA has pointed out, in Illinois the Democratic Party was unable to put forward two candidates to run in gerrymandered districts. This problem could exacerbate in the coming years, especially if the party refuses to expand its recruiting beyond the same check-the-box candidates.
The Democratic Party very well could retain the White House this fall and the easy response would be to see the Democratic Party as one of destiny. However, looking deeper into the election, the party needs to realize “business as usual” may succeed against billionaire megalomaniacs, but it is not the path to serious political competitiveness.