The election of Donald Trump will haunt Democrats until we prevail

Nov. 8, 2016 was a devastating day for Democrats. Not only did we suffer an embarrassing defeat, but most of us never saw it coming. We had tossed around the “what ifs” but had never seriously considered that a Trump presidency was even a remote possibility. As a member of the Clinton campaign, I can’t count the times I dismissed Donald TrumpDonald TrumpUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Heller won't say if Biden won election MORE as a national embarrassment and looked ahead to other potential match ups. It just seemed like common sense.

I wasn’t the only one. Democrats assumed that Trump’s temperament and offensive rhetoric would disqualify him as a reasonable choice for an overwhelming majority of Americans. We on the campaign assumed that given the choice between Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHeller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 MORE and Trump, Americans would make the rational choice. We assumed incorrectly.

While more than three million Americans voted for Clinton over Trump, that victory amounted to nothing more than an answer in the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle. Trump won the electoral college by an overwhelming majority and was sworn in as president of the United States. It was a shocking defeat, which I freely admit, shook me to my core.

A year later, the loss to Trump still haunts me. Infighting between the Clinton camp and Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Manchin: Biden told moderates to pitch price tag for reconciliation bill Biden employs flurry of meetings to unite warring factions MORE wing still threatens the viability of Democrats in 2020. A lack of a cohesive message threatens the party’s ability to rebrand itself. A lack of a charismatic leader threatens the party’s ability to excite the base. Unless drastic changes are made, Democrats risk making the same mistakes in 2018 and 2020 as we did in 2016.

Tom PerezThomas PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE and the leaders of the Democratic National Committee should be running ads every week with testimonials from the party’s voters, explaining exactly why the forward thinking policies of progressives are better for the nation and the American people. Anything less than a strong campaign is political malpractice.

If the president is going to run a four-year election strategy, then Democrats must do the same. The gloves must come off. Punching with kid gloves can no longer be a responsible or reasonable strategy. For far too long, Democrats have communicated their message based off a world they wished we lived in. It’s time for Democrats to base their policies on sentiments of the country we occupy today.

Democrats have to explain to voters why the party is the best option. Relying on disgust or apathy from voters will not be enough to win back Congress or the White House. Voters may think Trump is a horrible person and even worse president, but unless Democrats can unite the party, he will certainly win reelection. As Clinton proved, relying on “the better of two evils” argument is a losing proposition. Instead, Democrats must take Republicans head on.

It’s not enough for Democrats to criticize Republican candidates running for reelection. Had Barack Obama and his charismatic campaign not won the nomination in 2009, Democrats would have been living with at least 20 consecutive years of Republicans occupying the White House. The consequences of which would be devastating for middle and low income Americans. Democrats should not shy away from exposing the effects of Republican leadership.

Historically, the economy has seen a decline under Republican leadership and an improvement under Democratic leadership. That is a fact, not an opinion. Democrats cannot be afraid to constantly remind voters of such. Democrats cannot be afraid to look into the camera and speak honestly about the problems our country faces or the solutions that need to be put in place to solve them. It’s time to put away the talking points and speak from the heart. As toxic as our political system may be, Americans appreciate honesty and authenticity. They want to hear the truth.

If Democrats are serious about winning elections, their long term strategy must include a jobs bill and funding for higher education. Americans dream of two things for their children, which are a good education and an even better job. This country is desperately in need of more electricians, plumbers, and technology professionals. Americans who wants to attend community college and learn a trade should have that option, regardless of income. If we can afford to cut the business tax, then we can afford to prepare our youth for a 21st century economy.

When Americans get the opportunity to lift themselves up and provide their families with a better life, they overwhelmingly do so. What Democrats must do is ensure that every American has that opportunity. Donald Trump may be the loudest person in Washington, but he should not be the determining factor as to how Democrats move forward. A year after a devastating loss to Republicans, Democrats must do things differently. The same approach will not work.

Russia may have played a factor in the election of Trump as president of the United States, but it was not the sole reason Clinton is not the 45th president. Democrats must take responsibility for their loss. Democrats must be prepared to talk about how to provide opportunity to all Americans, whether it be in the mountains of Montana or in the southside of Chicago. President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTo Build Back Better, improving Black women's health is a must Rahm Emanuel has earned M since leaving Chicago's city hall: report 60 years after the Peace Corps, service still brings Americans together MORE was able to inspire Americans on both sides of the aisle. President Clinton was able to speak to middle America, black America, and everything in between. The former first lady couldn’t.

If Democrats have learned anything from the election of 2016, it should be that no vote is a sure thing. Every vote must not only be earned, but fought for like it could be the deciding vote. That fight can’t just take place on MSNBC or in safe havens like New York. Democrats must go to Republicans and Independents and make their case directly. Democrats must be willing to be uncomfortable. Democrats must be willing to fight back. Democrats must be willing to meet voters where they are.

Without a strong reason to come out to the polls in 2018 and 2020, Democrats risk a further slide down from bringing about change for country unless drastic changes are made. Democrats aren’t just fighting a battle for the direction of their party, they are fighting a battle for the conscience of America. A year after the election of Donald Trump, the country needs a strong Democratic Party now more than ever.

Michael Starr Hopkins is an attorney and former member of the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He regularly appears on Fox News and CNN to talk about national politics. You can follow him on Twitter @TheOnlyHonest.