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Essay: Bad News for Democrats

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Christopher Gregory
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Getty Images
Business mogul Donald Trump points as he gives a speech as he announces his candidacy for the U.S. presidency at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015 in New York City. He is now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump is due to meet with Republican leaders in Washington today.  At issue is whether they can bridge the policy and personality divides between the candidate and the party rank and file.

But Lake Effect essayist Avi Lank believes Democrats have just as daunting a task ahead of them:

The selection of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee is bad news for the Democrats. If he wins, the consequences for the nation and world will be large, but they will be downright dire for the Democratic Party, which would have shown itself incapable of defeating the least probable presidential candidate in history. If, on the other hand, the polls are right and Democrat Hilary Clinton easily destroys Trump, and brings Democratic control of the Senate and perhaps the House with her, it would be great for her party, but only in the short run. In the long term, Democrats must face the forces that resulted in Trump’s nomination in the first place.

Trump, and Senator Bernie Sanders, who gave Clinton a stiff challenge in the Democratic primaries, have more in common than just being natives of the outer boroughs of New York City – neither was a regular member of the party whose nomination he sought. Trump has in the past supported Democrats, while Sanders served in the Senate as an independent, even if he caucused with the Democrats. Both, in other words, represented a repudiation of the status quo of a major party. After President Obama was elected, some Republican operatives were said to have been amazed because many of the people who voted for him had not been on the radar of the Republican Party.

This year, both Trump and Sanders have energized similarly long unrecognized groups. The result was an earthquake that toppled Republicans even if Clinton survived in a better-designed structure. Still, she is the epitome of the Democratic establishment and her election will make party leaders cocky, insulating them from the kind of intense self-examination that the Republicans will almost certainly go through in the wake of a Trump debacle. But no matter the election’s outcome, Democrats ignore a similar self-examination at their peril. And there is more than just current political fashions for Clinton to fear if she takes the oath of office next January.

American history has not been kind to presidents elected to succeed members of their own party who had been elected to two terms, as would be the case with Clinton and Obama. That has happened seven times. The cases of James Madison and James Monroe can be disregarded, as they served at during a period of small differences between parties. Of the five remaining, four – John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren and George H. W. Bush – lost reelection bids. And the fifth, Rutherford B. Hayes, was such an historical cypher that he did not even seek reelection.

So Democratic Party leaders should temper their glee at Trump’s nomination -- in the longer run, if history is a guide and if they ignore the pressures building up blow them, it could presage disaster for their party.

Avi Lank was an award-winning reporter and columnist at the Milwaukee Sentinel and Journal Sentinel for more than 35 years and is the co-author of The Man Who Painted the Universe, the story of a planetarium in the north woods of Wisconsin, published last year by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.