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Democrats Lack a Plan to Harness Anti-Trump Protests

Anti-Trump protests this weekend (and last, with the Women’s March) are exposing Democrats’ lack of preparedness to embrace this energy.

Trump Protesters Airport

The day after Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, millions flooded the streets of cities across the country in what was a billed as a “Women’s March” that opposed Trump’s treatment of women, minorities, and other groups.

One week later, Trump signed an executive order that set off a firestorm:

President Trump’s executive order on immigration indefinitely barred Syrian refugees from entering the United States, suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days and blocked citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, refugees or otherwise, from entering the United States for 90 days: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Again, thousands flooded the streets and airports in major U.S. cities including Seattle, Dallas, Los Angeles, Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, New York, and Washington, D.C.

Democrats, the party cast out into the political wilderness in the 2016 elections following nationwide losses, are scrambling to find ways to capitalize on the anti-Trump protests and turn that energy into political leverage against the president and Republicans.

By most accounts, Democrats have no idea what to do next:

There is little dispute that the backlash against Trump has engendered a tremendous opportunity for the Democratic Party. But from the onset, there’s been confusion and disagreement over what the best posture should be. Elected officials settled on a hybrid approach: firm opposition to much of Trump’s agenda, with a notable willingness to compromise on select issues like infrastructure. For the base, such nuance glossed over the unique moral threat that Trump represented. Resist isn’t a hashtag for them; it is the cause.

So when the DNC candidates showed up at the Florida fundraiser instead of marching in D.C., they faced blowback for misguided priorities. And when Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) ― two progressive stalwarts ― voted to move forward with Dr. Ben Carson’s nomination for secretary of housing and urban development, they were charged with helping legitimize Trump. 

The progressive group Democracy for America, which endorsed both Warren and Brown for reelection before the Women’s March, got complaints from its members who were disappointed over the Carson vote.

Democratic protesters’ zero tolerance policy for Trump prompted Paste Magazine to declare Warren’s vote for Carson the latest in “the continuing collapse of the Democratic leadership.”

Meanwhile, other Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are making outlandish claims about Trump nominees like Education Secretary pick Betsy DeVos just to score points with the angry masses. DNC Chair candidate Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) told a group of students last week that Trump’s actions are “sowing the seeds of American fascism” and even “evil.”

Some have been quick to compare the protests to the rise of the Tea Party in 2010 that fueled political wins for the GOP in several election cycles. But while many are eager to embrace that energy among their base voters, Democratic Party leaders would be wise to remember the political casualties that came with the Tea Party, too:

Addressing activists on Sunday at a rally in Lower Manhattan, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, shed tears as he lamented Mr. Trump’s refugee ban as an affront to democracy and pluralism. Later, he was met with chants of “vote down his nominees!” and a scattering of hecklers shouting “vote Schumer out.”