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Here the right provides an object lesson. With Democrats in control of the White House and Congress in 2008, the Tea Party insurgency, fueled by the dark money of rabid right-wing billionaires, went after sitting Republicans as well as Democrats. The Tea Party produced some embarrassing candidates—remember Christine O’Donnell and Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin?—that kicked away a few Senate seats that Republicans might have won. And yet in 2014, the insurgents took out House majority leader Eric Cantor in a stunning upset. Pundits argued that the Tea Party would doom the Republicans to permanent minority status, and the party establishment raised millions to contain the damage. But eventually, GOP politicians started to listen. Now, the Republican Party holds more power than at any time within memory, while championing an agenda far more reactionary than anything Ronald Reagan would have imagined.
On our side, the drive to put forth a program for reconstruction has already begun, led by progressive senators like Warren, Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, and Sherrod Brown. In the House, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, energized by new members like Pramila Jayapal and Jamie Raskin, can provide a voice calling for infrastructure investments, tax reform, balanced trade, and more. Blue states and cities are already building parts of the progressive alternative, particularly in efforts to raise the minimum wage, drive a green-jobs agenda, and increase taxes on the rich to pay for public investments. Meanwhile, the activists of Our Revolution have begun mobilizing to take over state chapters of the Democratic Party. Groups like Our Revolution, People’s Action, and the Working Families Party, plus networks like Democrats for America and MoveOn.org, will hopefully coordinate to recruit and support candidates at every level of government. As the fight against Trump escalates, DINOs—Democrats in name only—will face greater pressure from these activists, and perhaps primary challenges as well.
Much of the party’s establishment, backed by some very deep pockets, will decry these efforts as divisive in the face of what they see as Trump’s unifying threat. This is a denial as purblind as Trump’s denial of climate change. Democrats need to fight, but they need to fight for something, not just against the barbarians. They need to be the party of fundamental change, not the party of restoration. For that to happen, the activist base of the party has to challenge sitting officeholders not simply to stiffen their opposition to Trump, but to get with the program.