WASHINGTON — Still reeling from a devastating defeat in last week’s election, Democrats are beginning the process of charting the direction of their party in the Donald Trump era.
With Hillary Clinton and her team staying out of the public eye, liberal politicians have begun jockeying for control of the party’s future. While they all backed Clinton, they’re now pushing for a serious shift in the party’s policy positions, financial resources and grassroots organizing to focus more on an economic populist message that could win back white working class voters who went for Trump.
“I come from the white working class, and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to the people where I came from,” tweeted Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who mounted a fierce challenge to Clinton in the primary.
The soul searching took a more urgent tone on Monday, when some party activists and politicians began advocating for changes in leadership.
In the House, a group of largely younger Democrats is pushing to postpone leadership elections in an effort to force a discussion about the direction of the party. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer have led the caucus for more than a decade.
“The difficult situation in which our Caucus now finds itself requires a much more extensive conversation,” a group of about 25 members wrote in a letter sent to Pelosi.
The Democratic National Committee, the last bastion of party power in Washington, is emerging as another battleground. Sanders backers called Monday for the immediate resignation of interim chairwoman Donna Brazile.
After losing the White House and Congress — and likely the ideological tilt of the Supreme Court — the Democrats’ new chief likely will be one of the party’s most visible faces in politics, making the role a far more influential post than it was during the Obama administration.
Already, around a dozen Democrats’ names have been publicly floated to succeed Brazile, who replaced Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in July after she was caught up in a hacking scandal.
Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, a prominent progressive and the first Muslim elected to Congress, has emerged as an early contender, backed by much of the party’s liberal wing.
He’s also picked up support from several key Democratic leaders, including outgoing Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and Reid’s likely replacement, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer. His supporters argue that Ellison’s faith would send an important signal about the party’s commitment to inclusivity during the Trump administration.
In interviews on Sunday talk shows, Ellison pushed back on concerns that he’d be unable to balance party responsibilities with the politics of his day job in Congress — a problem some Democrats believe hampered Wasserman Schultz.
“There’re a lot of places that I can serve,” he said, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” ”I’m looking for a place to be of use and benefit. And every single Democrat in this country better be thinking the exact same way.”
Ellison is far from the only contender for the job. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean announced his intention Thursday to reclaim a post he held during the Bush administration. Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, DNC National Finance Chairman Henry Muñoz III, and South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison have also said they’re considering bids.
Others are pushing for a Latino leader, arguing that the growing demographic group is crucial to the party’s future and should be represented at the highest levels of its leadership. Outgoing Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego and California Rep. Xavier Becerra are said to be weighing a bid. Jason Kander, an Army veteran who lost the Senate race in Missouri to Roy Blunt on Tuesday, is also said to be considering a run.
The contest comes at a time of deep unrest for the party. Anti-Trump protests continued this weekend with thousands of demonstrators turning out in cities across the country. Post-election polls showed a significant minority of Clinton backers question the legitimacy of Trump’s win.
The outlook looks even grimmer. In two years, Democrats will be defending about two dozen Senate seats, including at least five in deep-red states. That election could hand Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a filibuster-proof majority, further clearing the way for a conservative policy agenda.
Top party leaders are urging Democrats not to despair.
“It’s time to brush ourselves off, get back in the arena, and get ready to fight,” President Barack Obama said in an email to supporters inviting them to join a call with him on Monday evening about moving forward.
Clinton, meanwhile, has offered little advice to supporters after her concession speech on Wednesday. On a weekend call with top donors, she blamed her loss largely on the FBI’s decision to revive its examination of her email accounts.
She’s expected to address House Democrats on a Monday afternoon call.