Knowing what happened, it’s a little hard to recall how confident Democrats were that 2016 would have a happy ending.
Party leaders thought they couldn’t have handpicked a more desirable opponent than Donald Trump. They thought he would be such a drag on the GOP that, along with winning the presidency, Democrats might be able to win back the Senate and the House, a feat thought impossible in the pre-Trump era. “I think we could, today, win everything. Bless his heart. Donald Trump is the gift that keeps giving to us,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in June. And with the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in February, Democrats began to imagine the potential of a liberal Supreme Court. “It would enable a revival of a dramatically different role for the court: as an institution that drives social change instead of halting it,” Linda Hirshman wrote in an opinion essay for The Washington Post.
But, of course, 2016 didn’t work out that way. Now the Democrats may be effectively locked out of power in all three branches of government for years. At the state level, after last month’s elections, they’ll control only 16 governorships and 13 legislatures.
This year, punctuated by Hillary Clinton’s loss, exposed the remarkably shallow depth of the Democratic bench. The size of the Republican primary field — for which the GOP was relentlessly mocked — was also a sign of the party’s health up and down the ballot. Democrats simply didn’t have the political talent to put forward 17 candidates (or even seven). That’s partly because there’s been limited opportunity to move up in the leadership ranks. Pelosi (Calif.) and Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) and James E. Clyburn (S.C) have had a death grip on the party’s top congressional slots for a very long time. It’s also partly because the Democratic farm system is hurting.
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