Will a Latino take a bruised and fragmented party on the path to success after a bruising election?
Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez was elected as the next chair of the Democratic National Committee, making him the first Hispanic to hold the leadership position. But his selection hit a nerve with party members still trying to cope with the trauma of a President Donald Trump.
Perez takes the reigns of the party at a contentious time, and the question now is whether or not Perez can harness the incredible energy on the ground following Trump’s election and direct it into a coherent effort to rebuild the party.
This is what Perez must do and must not do to begin that process.
There are three tiers to party building Perez must focus on: the party infrastructure, support for issue-oriented organizations and grassroots organizing.
Democrats have long assumed that demographics and numbers would eventually overwhelm the Republican Party. In some sense they are right. Despite the loss by Clinton, a down year in participation still netted three million more voters for the Clinton than for Trump.
However, the Republicans have steadily organized around this assumption as well, focusing instead on mobilizing their base through a network of carefully crafted organizations and working the electoral system to their advantage so that they can maximize the votes of their members come Election Day.
Democrats need to counter this strategy by supporting the party with substantial resources down to the committee level. The focus on party building needs to not only be granular but it has to invite those who have been motivated to participate by Donald Trump’s assault on civil rights, immigrants, the environment, the LGBTQ community, public education, and labor. This will not only form a feedback loop on up the chain but serve as a necessary breeding ground for new leaders to rise.
Support for issue-oriented organizations forms an important source of influence and guidance for the party, as well. Already President Trump's policies are generating strong mobilization on everything from the environment to reproductive rights to immigration rights. Nurturing these groups is essential, as well as building a broad agreement on the overarching values governing the coalition. This requires vision and delivery from the party, but it also requires the flexibility to adjust as information, data and synthesis occurs.
Finally, the vast numbers of volunteers, activists, and organizers on the ground are the lifeblood of the party. Bernie Sanders supporters put their efforts into Keith Ellison in the hopes that his leadership would transform the party in the image of his mentor, and Perez had emerged as the establishment candidate drawing support from Hillary Clinton, President Obama, and others among the party leadership.
It's important that Perez not see his election as an endorsement of establishment politics, but as a call to be fair in integrating new thinking into the party.
Appointing Ellison as Deputy Chair just moments after winning the top position was a positive gesture in acknowledging the dissatisfaction of the anti-establishment sentiment of the party.
In a way, choosing a new leader was bound to be a disappointment. The wounds of the election are still fresh.
With Sanders supporters playing Monday morning quarterback, arguing that Bernie would have beat Trump, and with Clinton supporters casting the stink eye to disloyal factions of the party who did more to validate Trump voters throughout the election, Perez is going to need to find a way to get all sides to focus. The goals are clear: Democrats need to build a successful infrastructure at all levels and fight back against an emboldened Republican party under Pres. Trump.