If Democrats want to become a relevant party again, the path forward is simple, according to former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders: win back the working people.
The Vermont senator, who mounted a surprisingly strong challenge to front-runner and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primaries, outlined the steps he thinks his party needs to take during an interview with Democracy Now's Amy Goodman.
The first step toward winning back the country, Sanders told Goodman, is to move on from identity politics and tell the electorate that everyone is welcome back into the former "big tent" party.
That includes the disaffected voters who chose President-elect Donald Trump over Clinton, Sanders said.
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While other Democrats blamed uneducated voters, poor whites, white women who defected to Trump during the last days of the campaign season, and other groups they say contributed to Trump's win, Sanders said the Democrats should be working to bring those voters back into the fold -- and didn't mince words when he criticized his former political rival Clinton, who famously referred to Trump's supporters as a "basket of deplorables."
"There are some people who think that everybody who voted for Donald Trump is a racist, a sexist or a homophobe or a xenophobe," Sanders told Goodman. "I don’t believe that. Are those people in his camp? Absolutely. But it would be a tragic mistake to believe that everybody who voted for Donald Trump is a 'deplorable.' They’re not. These are people who are disgusted, and they are angry at the establishment."
Sanders didn't sugar coat the overall grim picture for Democrats, either. At the federal level, Republicans control both legislative bodies in addition to the presidency, with 248 Republicans to 192 Democrats in Congress, and 54 Republicans to 44 Democrats in the Senate.
But at the state and local levels of government, the situation is even more bleak for Democrats. After the 2016 election, Republicans gained control of a record 67 percent of state legislature seats across the U.S., and control more than twice as many legislative majorities as do Democrats, CNS News reported.
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Republicans control about 1,000 more state legislature seats than they did before President Barack Obama took office, according to The Hill. They control both legislative chambers in a total of 32 states. And of the 50 state governors in the U.S., 33 are Republicans.
The result is a massive loss of power and influence at all levels of government, a trend Sanders said the Democrats should be worried about -- and focusing on -- instead of rehashing the 2016 presidential race and coming up with new narratives to explain why Clinton lost.
"So I think any independent assessment, without casting any blame, says the current approach has failed," Sanders told Goodman. "All right? When you lose, you know, it’s like they always say about the football coach: You know, if you’re zero and 10, you’re not doing well. Well, the current approach clearly is not succeeding, and we need a new approach."
That new approach, Sanders explained, is "to create a 50-state strategy." That means Democrats should challenge Republicans even in traditionally red states, and pressure the GOP to defend its home turf.
Without mentioning Clinton by name, Sanders also took aim at the perception that she was beholden to special interests, particularly Wall Street, saying Democrats must form a coalition "where the most important people in the party are not just wealthy campaign contributors, but working people, young people, people in the middle class" who will contribute new ideas to the party.
With the strength of his campaign, Sanders, a self-described socialist, pointed out that Democrats had lost touch with entire cross-sections of their base, and there are signs the national party recognizes that. Following the election, Sanders was named the party's new outreach director and, in a USA Today story about his appointment on Nov. 17, Sanders touched on many of the same themes he brought up in his interview with Goodman.
The interview wasn't limited to exploring the Democrats and their flaws. Sanders said part of his job going forward will be to keep a close eye on president-elect Trump, and fight the businessman-turned-politician if he tries to dismantle social safety nets or push an agenda that infringes on the rights of Americans.
"We’ve got every statement that Trump made during this campaign," Sanders said. "And we are going to hold him accountable. Every person in this country will know what he said and what he is doing."