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Seething liberals vow revolution in Democratic Party

The Hill logo The Hill 11/12/2016 Jonathan Easley
Seething liberals vow revolution in Democratic Party © Provided by The Hill Seething liberals vow revolution in Democratic Party

The Republican civil war was supposed start this week.

Instead, a ferocious struggle has erupted on the left over the smoldering remains of the Democratic Party.

Liberals are seething over the election and talking about launching a Tea Party-style revolt. They say it's the only way to keep Washington Democrats connected to the grassroots and to avoid a repeat of the 2016 electoral disaster, which blindsided party elites.

Progressives believe the Democratic establishment is responsible for inflicting Donald Trump upon the nation, blaming a staid corporate wing of the party for nominating Hillary Clinton and ignoring the Working Class voters that propelled Trump to victory.

Liberals interviewed by The Hill want to see establishment Democrats targeted in primaries, and the "Clinton-corporate wing" of the party rooted out for good.

The fight will begin over who picking a new leader for the Democratic National Committee.

Progressives are itching see the national apparatus reduced to rubble and rebuilt from scratch, with one of their own installed at the top.

And there is talk among some progressives, like Bill Clinton's former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, about splitting from the Democratic Party entirely if they don't get the changes they seek.

"The Democratic Party can no longer be the same, it has been repudiated," Reich said on a conference call with members from the progressive grassroots group Democracy for America.

"This has been a huge refutation of establishment politics and the political organization has got to be changed...if the Democratic Party can't do it, we'll do it through a third party."

Reich's view is far from universal in his party.

A number of liberal Democrats are fuming over pie-in-the-sky liberals who they say prized idealism over pragmatism.

In an election determined by enthusiasm, some blame Bernie Sanders supporters for either not showing up or for suppressing turnout by refusing to rally behind Clinton at an earlier date.

"The Sanders people should be mad at themselves," said one well-connected Democratic strategist. "If they had come out to vote, Donald Trump wouldn't be president. If they were trying to prove a point, all they've done is further damage everything they claim to be fighting for. It's somewhat typical of that crowd."

Sanders supporters reject that reading.

Jacob Limon, the Texas director for the Sanders campaign, said he voted for Clinton and followed Sanders' lead in rallying liberals to get to the polls for the Democratic nominee.

"Progressives showed up," Limon said, noting that the election in Texas was closer than it has been in 20 years. The problem, he said, was Clinton's trustworthiness.

Regardless, the left feels ascendant, with the party's biggest stars - Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren - carrying a mantle that even some Clinton allies acknowledge is more inline with the zeitgeist.

"One thing for sure is that the Democratic Party will lean more on Bernie than Hillary going forward," said David Goodfriend, a Clinton supporter and former Bill Clinton administration official.

To some liberals, that means a wholesale purging of the "corporate dominated" wing of the party.

"They'll hold on to the party mechanisms until you rip it out of their dying hands," said Jonathan Tasini, a Sanders surrogate. "It's all about power and money and influence for them."

The first fight over the party's future will play out in the race for DNC chairman.

Sanders has endorsed Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) - a Muslim and a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus - to be the new DNC chief.

For many liberals, nothing less than a wholesale gutting of that institution will do.

"Everybody in the building needs to be fired immediately," Cenk Uygur, the host of the progressive political commentary show The Young Turks, told The Hill.

After that, progressives are eyeing the 2018 midterm elections - and potential primaries for lawmakers they believe are gumming-up the works - as the next big fight.

It's a strategy Sanders has endorsed and his supporters are eager to take up.

"We have to install the playbook of the Tea Party," said Ohio state lawmaker Nina Turner, a Sanders surrogate. "The Tea Party had mainstream Republicans shaking in their boots. Even the ones that hung on knew they had to listen to what the grassroots was saying. Obviously, we don't want to govern anything like the Tea Party, but from a tactical standpoint, we have to run and support progressive candidates to keep the establishment honest."

That burgeoning fight is already frustrating some Washington Democrats, who are fearful that the left will hold them to the kind of rigid ideological purity tests that were once the domain of the right.

That would be counter-productive, said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.).

"I love [Sanders]," he said. "But I think his objective is very different from the objective of the Democratic Party as a whole...I think he tried to help, I think he did everything he could. But he cannot help if he's starting off from the wrong principle. And the wrong principle [is]: The enemy of the good is the perfect."

There are some areas of agreement among Democrats.

The party suffered a rout in the Rust Belt and Midwest states, as Working Class white voters abandoned them for Trump.

The Hill reached former Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), who was in charge of Clinton's White House transition team, as he packed up to leave Washington and return to his farm in Southern Colorado.

"There were people who felt left out of he economy over the last eight years who were never able to get back on their feet, blue collar men and women," Salazar said. "Donald Trump was able to capture them in terms of emotion and sentiment."

"Democrats have not done very well in rural America and I don't understand why that has happened. The broader question is how to have a Democratic Party that can attract those working men and women."

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