For all the marches and protests the left has generated since Election Day, the debate over who will lead the Democratic Party in the early stages of Donald Trump’s presidency is underscoring the divisions still lingering within its ranks. During last week’s debate among the eight candidates to head the Democratic National Committee, this division was on full display.
The candidates struggled to define a vision of how they would effectively counter Trump’s administration and break through in clear opposition to his message.
The two leading candidates appear to be former Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison. They cannot agree on how vigorously the party should oppose Trump, or how to settle divisions within their own ranks.
Ellison said Trump’s actions so far “legitimately raise the question of impeachment.” Perez said, “We have seen from the get-go that this person wants to turn the clock back, and the Democratic Party needs to take the fight to Donald Trump.”
But another candidate cautioned against focusing too much energy on Trump. Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, called Trump a “computer virus in the American political system.” He said, “Yes, we’ve got to take the fight to him. But we can’t let him dominate our imagination, because it’s our values and our candidates that matter.”
The central challenge for Democrats is to recover from the bitter split of the 2016 presidential primary. The wounds of that race were ripped open at the debate, over a question about whether the race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton was “rigged.” Some candidates sidestepped the question, while others took either side. Buttigieg said Democrats don’t want to make the mistake of reliving the 2016 race. “We can’t allow this to devolve into a fractional struggle,” he warned.
The candidates also disagreed over future primary contests, with some pushing for their party to match new Democrats against incumbent Democratic senators up for election in 2020.
At the Forefront
Perez and Ellison are at the forefront of an eight-candidate field. Both have racked up an impressive list of party endorsements. But neither has the votes to win the job. The debate will continue as the Democratic Party seeks to heal its wounds, bridge its divide, and become competitive once again.
About the Author
Eric Bradner is a reporter for the Cable News Network.