What are Democrats going to do once Donald Trump leaves office?

What are Democrats going to do once Donald Trump leaves office?
© Getty Images

Democrats may be focused on 2020 and removing President TrumpDonald John TrumpMnuchin knocks Greta Thunberg's activism: Study economics and then 'come back' to us The Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial MORE from office, but after the election is over and all the votes have been cast, the party of Barack Obama has a problem that even winning the White House will not solve. Democrats do not have a plan after Trump leaves office. His constant manipulation of the media and unnerving ability to dominate the news cycle have united Democrats in opposition, but they need a critical debate over the direction of the party moving forward. Democrats have been able to delay the inevitable policy battle between the progressives and moderates in the party, but that will not always be the case.

Even President Obama, a modern icon of the party, faced harsh criticism from the progressive wing for not going far enough in terms of his policy proposals and for his attempts to work with Republicans during his time in the White House. Heading into the election, voters are finally starting to see the divide spill over into the Democratic primary and potentially lead to an all out fracturing within the party. Unfortunately for Democrats, the questions that they must ask themselves are not easily answerable.

Are Democrats the party of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, avowed socialists willing to take the fight to Wall Street and upset the status quo? Or are they the party of Joe Biden and Barack Obama, more measured and moderate politicians, looking to change Washington from the inside? Democrats have avoided an ugly battle for the better part of the last two decades, but time is not on their side. The longer they avoid addressing the policy and messaging differences within the party, the more of a chance Republicans will have to define Democrats as out of touch.


Democrats can resonate with both progressives and moderates. It comes down to messaging. Instead of allowing Republicans to paint socialism in a negative light that taints the party and distracts voters, Democrats have to explain that many policies with broad support from Americans of all affiliations are rooted in the foundation of socialism. Social Security, Medicare, unemployment, and aid to farmers are all socialist programs that both parties support. By explaining that some socialism is good, Democrats can begin to alleviate the fears that Republicans have sent across the country through cable news and conservative talking points.

Democrats are known as the big tent party and their views should reflect that. What works for Gavin Newsom in California will not work for Andy Beshear in Kentucky. Purity tests and the nationalization of every single campaign is a surefire way to turn the big tent party into a weakened party. Democrats should elect candidates who reflect the views of the district or state they are running in. There is nothing wrong with that.

Forming a circular political firing squad does the work of Republicans and will no doubt cause irreparable harm to the party, especially given the minor differences between progressives and moderates. When it comes to foundational issues such as universal health care, climate change, early education, and income equality, there is unanimous agreement. While there are some measured differences on the policies to solve these issues, those differences can be resolved without burning the entire party down.

Time is running out for Democrats to avoid making the same mistake that Republicans have made over the last decade. Democrats cannot continue to avoid the antagonistic tendencies between the two wings of the party. Doing so will only make the inevitable reckoning more difficult. Like a dispute in any relationship, the longer you avoid a difficult conversation, the more the conversation becomes less about the original dispute and more about other things. As a wise person once told me, “Avoidance is not deliverance.” With demographics shifting more in their favor each day, Democrats need to do the hard work of building a party that can last.

Democrats will eventually lose Trump as their foil. When that happens, whether in 2020 or in 2024, they will be forced to figure out what their central message is and who will lead them. The inability of Republicans to answer these questions and have an honest discussion about shifting demographics and an emerging nationalist message is what led to Trump. Democrats cannot allow the same to happen to them. As Republicans have proven, a fractured party is ripe for a takeover. Democrats do not have a plan after Trump leaves office. He will not be around forever to distract. An honest dialogue is the only way to solve this problem.

Michael Starr Hopkins is the founding partner of Northern Starr Strategies. He served on the Democratic presidential campaigns for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Delaney. Follow him on Twitter @TheOnlyHonest.