WASHINGTON — Still reeling from a devastating defeat in last week’s election, Democrats are beginning the process of charting the direction of their party in the Donald Trump era.
With Hillary Clinton and her team staying out of the public eye, liberal politicians have begun jockeying for control of the party’s future. While they all backed Clinton, they’re now pushing for a serious shift in the party’s policy positions, financial resources and grassroots organizing to focus more on an economic populist message that could win back white working class voters who went for Trump.
The soul searching took a more urgent tone on Monday, when some party activists, donors and politicians began advocating for changes in leadership.
Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison announced his candidacy to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee on Monday afternoon, joining a crowded field of candidates seeking to head up the party’s national organization.
In the House, a group of largely younger Democrats is pushing to postpone leadership elections in an effort to force a discussion about the direction of the party. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer have led the caucus for more than a decade.
Wealthy Democratic donors, gathered in Washington for a three-day strategy session, began laying plans for what they hoped would be a resurgence of the party, starting with its economic message.
“There’s a general feeling that the Democratic party itself needs some serious reform and has grown very distant from the kind of communities it represents,” said Gara LaMarche, president of the Democracy Alliance.
After losing the White House and Congress — and likely the ideological tilt of the Supreme Court — the Democrats’ new chief will be one of the party’s most visible faces in politics, making the role a far more influential post than it was during the Obama administration.
Already, around a dozen Democrats’ names have been publicly floated to succeed interim chairwoman Donna Brazile.
Ellison, a prominent progressive and the first Muslim elected to Congress, has emerged as an early contender, backed by much of the party’s leadership wing.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean announced his intention Thursday to reclaim a post he held during the Bush administration. Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, DNC National Finance Chairman Henry Muñoz III, and South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison have also said they’re considering bids.
The contest comes at a time of deep unrest for the party. Anti-Trump protests continued this weekend and post-election polls showed a significant minority of Clinton backers question the legitimacy of Trump’s win.
The future looks even grimmer. In two years, Democrats will be defending about two dozen Senate seats, including at least five in deep-red states. That election could hand Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a filibuster-proof majority, further clearing the way for a conservative policy agenda.
“I come from the white working class, and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to the people where I came from,” tweeted Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who mounted a fierce challenge to Clinton in the primary.
Top party leaders are urging Democrats not to despair.
“It’s time to brush ourselves off, get back in the arena, and get ready to fight,” President Barack Obama said in an email to supporters inviting them to join a call with him on Monday evening.
Clinton, meanwhile, has offered little advice to supporters after her concession speech on Wednesday. On a weekend call with top donors, she blamed her loss largely on the FBI’s decision to revive its examination of her email accounts.
She’s expected to address House Democrats on a Monday afternoon call.