“Talking Heads” is an ongoing dialogue among campus political groups that serves as an open forum for discussing major national issues. All political groups are welcome to participate in a respectful manner that is representative of their party’s platform. Each edition of The Point News will feature a new topic of discussion. This edition’s topic is election reflections. Responses were provided by Simon Kolbeck and Brendan Benge of the College Democrats (D) as well as Grayson McNew of the College Republicans (R).
TPN: How did your party’s rhetoric influence their campaign/the outcome of the election? What changes (if any) will be made to this rhetoric in the future?
D: In one of the most nasty and divisive election cycles in American history, we as Democrats have been proud to stand on the side advocating for unity, respect, and hope for the future of our country. While it is true that the Democratic Party deserves its fair share of the blame for some of the ugliness surrounding this election, in general, we believe appeals to a higher decency, such as Michelle Obama’s now famous quote, “When they go low we go high,” will tell the story of Democratic rhetoric in 2016. However, while the tone of the Democratic Party this election cycle may have been a model for future candidates, our message to voters fell utterly short. For too many people, it seemed as if the Democratic Party and Secretary Clinton were out of touch with ordinary Americans.
R: There’s no sugarcoating Donald Trump’s rhetoric; it was disgusting, childish, and blatantly insulting to everyone. What I can say about him, is that Trump tapped into a vein of America that has not been struck for some time. He gave hope to millions of Americans—including some longtime Democrats—that they could “Make America Great Again.”
Many people questioned “Has America ever been great?” To those who voted for Trump, the answer is yes. The blue-collar white voters that voted for Trump have fallen from the middle class after offshoring made it cheaper for the companies they work for to outsource labor. They left these workers with nothing; they felt betrayed by their government who sat by and did nothing, even promoted it. Data show that it was these people who carried Trump into the White House, and if the Republican Party wishes to change this divisive rhetoric that is occurring, then we must stop pretending that these people no longer exist. They need to be represented, and it is that feeling of underrepresentation that led them to vote for Trump.
TPN: What challenges did your party encounter in this election, and how will they respond to similar future challenges?
D: In hindsight of this thoroughly disappointing election, we Democrats failed in our appeal to white working class voters in states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio. Additionally, it seemed as though the Democrats and especially the DNC were unprepared to harness and channel the energy generated by the Bernie Sanders campaign.
R: The Republican Party faced one of its greatest challenges yet, Donald J. Trump. He was an outsider with moderate to extreme rightist ideas who ran with no political experience and won. Trump beat two parties in this election; firstly, he beat the established Republicans and won their nomination, and secondly, he beat Hillary Clinton and the Democrats to secure the White House. This signifies a greater problem for the Republican Party, but to gain more perspective on this problem, you must also look at the problems facing the Democrats. Bernie Sanders, a Democrat only in name, won 45 percent of the votes cast by Democrats in the primaries, relatively the same percentage of voters that Trump won in the Republican primary. After the General Election, Democrats only managed to hold onto five state house legislatures and lost the House and Senate once again.
While [there are concerns] about the fate of the Republican Party, which is now headed by a man who only calls himself a Republican, [there also concerns] about the fate of the Democrats. [It is probable that] both parties will undergo significant changes over the next couple of elections in order to pick candidates that better represent their constituencies.
TPN: What has your party learned from this most recent election cycle?
D: Democrats need to argue better and listen more. First off, while more arguing may sound like the last thing anyone wants to do after such a bitterly divisive campaign season, the Democratic message of progress, equality, tolerance, and compassion has clearly failed to reach many Americans. As a result, rather than give up on or water down these principles which reside at the very foundation of who we are as a party, we simply need to make more compelling arguments for why other people should also believe in them. For example, as one suggestion, we can start by returning our arguments to the basic belief that when we invest in our people and that when we strive for a society without racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other fear of an individual’s identity, we can build stronger communities. With stronger communities, we can all lead more prosperous lives.
Accordingly, along with arguing better, the Democratic Party has to listen more. The shocking defeat dealt to our party this election cycle exposed a much more alarming structural weakness in the Democratic Party at all levels of government. For instance, taking into account local, state, and federal elected positions, Democrats now control their lowest number of seats since the 1920s. Consequently this historic rejection of the Democratic candidates should wake our party up to the fact many Americans feel our party is out of touch. Therefore, moving forward, Democrats need to recommit ourselves to listening to what people across the country really have to say and what we can do in politics to improve their livelihoods.
R: Republicans everywhere have learned that Americans want change. Whether this administration is capable of carrying out that change, we do not know. What we do know is that Donald Trump is now the President-elect of the United States of America and we cannot continue to let his divisive rhetoric continue to divide us as a nation and prevent us from accomplishing effective work. Democrats and Republicans everywhere need to put wedge issues behind them and work together to achieve a common goal.
TPN: In what direction do you see your party moving?
D: Moving forward under a Donald Trump presidency, the Democratic Party will most likely head in one of two directions. On one hand, the Democrats minority in the House and Senate may actually work with President Trump on some shared policy goals, such as investments in infrastructure and child-care, while opposing the Trump Administration on other policies including immigration and tax cuts for the one-percent. Alternatively, Democrats may decide to uniformly oppose all of President Trump’s policy priorities—similar to what Republicans did in 2010.
Additionally, the Democrats are split into two camps, one being the more moderate and centrist wing and the other being the progressive wing of the party. We will see in the coming months whether the party leadership will continue to favor the centrist status quo or give more voice to the more progressive elements of the party. Given the failure of the centrist message in this election, we believe that the progressive elements in the party will gain traction and push the party further in that direction.
R: In this election we saw the blue wall fall. This is another indicator that a major party shift could occur within our lifetime. The Republicans need to find their new “true base” to move forward in order to unify and prevent another outsider candidate from becoming its nominee. They need to work together to better represent all Americans in the next election, and they must not hold onto the principles of old which have led the party for so long and which have created the situation we are in.
Stay tuned for the next installment of “Talking Heads” when the topic will be the federal budget.