U.S. Politics

Democrats won the most votes in the election. They should act like it.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images


Democrats need to be an opposition party, not a minority party.

More Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. More Americans voted for Democratic Senate candidates than for Republican Senate candidates.

So why aren’t Democrats acting like it? Why aren’t they trying to force Republicans, the media, and the emergent Trump White House to act like it?

This is not an argument that the election was rigged, or that Trump’s win is somehow illegitimate. The president is chosen by the Electoral College. The Senate is built to favor small states. Gerrymandering is legal. America does not decide national elections by simply tallying up votes.

But the will of the voters still matters, or at least it should. Thus far, Democrats have slipped comfortably into the position of minority party. They aren’t demanding that Trump put forward compromise candidates for key posts. They aren’t laying out a proactive agenda that would serve as their basis for negotiations with Trump and the Republicans. And they aren’t, in their public messaging, emphasizing that most voters opposed Trump’s agenda, and that both Democrats and Republicans need to take that seriously.

Democrats have confused the reality of being out of power with the idea of being in the minority. This lets the Trump administration and the Republican Party confuse the reality of being in power with the idea of having a mandate for their agenda.

As grim as the situation is for Democrats — and it is grim — it’s not going to take long for Republicans to recognize their peril. They’ve lost the popular vote in six of the past seven elections. Their president-elect is less popular than any incoming president in the history of polling. It’s the out-of-power party that tends to gain in midterm elections.

If Trump were wise, he would govern with some humility. The question he faces is how to turn his minority into a majority. The answer is to reach out to the majority of Americans who didn’t vote for him and don’t approve of him — to show them, in word and deed, that they were wrong about him.

But that’s not going to happen. In his every move since winning the election, Trump has shown he’ll govern as the most extreme version of himself. So far, he has made Breitbart’s Steve Bannon his chief strategist, RNC Chair Reince Priebus his chief of staff, and retired Gen. Michael Flynn his national security adviser, and announced that Sen. Jeff Sessions will be his attorney general.

So far, there’s been no effort, at all, to reach out to the other side, or to play against type. There’s been nothing akin to Barack Obama’s announcement, which came this very week in 2008, that he intended to retain George W. Bush’s defense secretary, Robert Gates.

All of which leaves an opening for Democrats. If Trump doesn’t intend to represent the majority of the country, then they can. They don’t hold much power in Congress, but they hold more than Republicans did in 2009, and Republicans were able to cause plenty of problems for Obama’s agenda.

U.S. President Obama meets with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders - DC

Remember the Obama-Boehner fights, and negotiations? They seem quaint now, don’t they?Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

Democrats should insist, in both appointments and legislation, that Trump govern with some consideration for the majority of Americans who voted for someone else. That should be the cost for their cooperation. Democrats should force both the media and Republicans to take seriously the fact that Trump is governing without a majority, or even a plurality, of the American people behind him, and that that carries with it a responsibility to govern modestly.

This is nothing more, and nothing less, than asking Trump to absorb the weight of the office he holds, and the message of the election he won. Trump is now president of the entire United States of America, not just the people who voted for him, and he needs to act that way. It’s the opposition party’s duty to remind him of that.

So far, there’s been little evidence that the media, the Democrats, or the Republicans really appreciate this. The media is still trying to understand how Trump won. Democrats are still trying to understand how Clinton lost. And Republicans are thrilled that they’re now in power. Everyone is so shocked by the election’s unexpected outcome that they’ve overlooked the actual results.

There’s been a lot of talk about “normalizing” Trump, but this is more fundamental: To ignore the election results and act like the strongest possible version of Trump’s agenda was endorsed by most voters re-historicizes Trump. It makes the election into something it wasn’t, and gives Trump license to govern in a way he shouldn’t.

Elections decide who wins power. They don’t decide how it should be wielded. If Trump governs in a way that respects the center of opinion in the country — a center Democrats appear to hold — Democrats should work with him. If he isn’t, then they should keep pointing that out, and force him to govern alone. They owe their voters nothing less.

Correction: An earlier version of this post said that Democrats looked likely to overtake Republicans in total House votes. That was based on bad information — Republicans are up by about 3.6 million, and while votes are still being counted, Democrats look unlikely to close that gap.

Watch: It’s up to America’s institutions to check Trump

4 thoughts on “Democrats won the most votes in the election. They should act like it.

  1. I seriously doubt that Democrats would be able to do much. Being out of the White House, and in the minority of the Senate and the House, a Senate filibuster is pretty much the only tool they have, and only until GOP majority decides that they like their agenda more than the rule requiring 60 votes to stop the filibuster.
    And I’m sure that no matter how much Democrats talk about their majority support, they’re not going to convince the Republicans to support Democratic agenda.


  2. “More Americans voted for Democratic Senate candidates than for Republican Senate candidates.”

    Misleading: While some democratic senators won by overwhelming majorities counted nation wide as quote indicates, nation wide the republicans won more races and kept control of the senate.

    “with it a responsibility to govern modestly.” What does this mean? Be a kind of half way president ? If major overhauls take place he will need democratic votes because he won’t get all whack jobs of the rep right support so that will be consensus governing with dem inclusion, not “other party” exclusion. I think we will see an astonishing amount of cooperation – he’s a deal maker, remember ? “If Trump governs in a way that respects the center of opinion in the country — a center ” He will absolutely do this or fail completely.

    Trump really is not a dem or rep. He has no play book to do just rep. He is pragmatic without ideology. One thing that always mystified me was why should the party in minority be the opposition party. The gridlock is because each party blocks the ideas of the other party just because those ideas are from the other party. It is step by step, point by point opposition. It seems neither party thinks the other party has good ideas. That’s crazy.


    1. There are some things that both parties agree on in general, but opposition parties sometimes choose to oppose these ideas when they think that they would rather not let that idea implemented than let the ruling party get the credit for that implementation (for example, infrastructure projects, veterans healthcare). Republicans have been pretty good at this for the last 8 years.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s