US News and World Report
By Susan Milligan
June 09, 2017
Rallies. Canvassing. Demanding answers at congressional town halls. Voter registration, organizer training and candidate recruitment.
It sounds like it could be some sort of political rehab plan for Democrats, who found themselves losing what most agree was a very winnable presidential race last year, despite having a more experienced, conventional and more traditionally organized nominee. Democrats are calling it Resistance Summer, a season they hope will mark the transition from the shock-and-awe reaction to Donald Trump’s inauguration as president to a more focused strategy that will result in more than just abandoned protest signs and deflated balloons.
But can Democrats and their allies morph the backlash against Trump into a movement with actual results, such as the Tea Party Patriots did in 2009-10? Or will they just go the way of Occupy Wall Street, a movement filled with passionate, determined people who failed to sustain themselves as an effective, ongoing political force?
The answer may determine whether Democrats can take advantage of White House scandals, abysmal Trump approval ratings and feuds inside the GOP to recapture the House (and less likely, the Senate) in 2018. And it may also bring Democrats closer to figuring out its own identity crisis, with players arguing over how to appeal to disparate groups of minorities, working class whites, LGBT people and women.
“I see Resistance Summer as the next phase of the resistance to Trump, and to the people in Congresses or statehouses and corporations who are supporting him or standing on the sidelines,” says Victoria Kaplan, organizing director for MoveOn, a progressive group. “It’s a natural next phase, and it’s a great next phase as this movement grows, matures and recommits itself for the long haul.”
The official Resistance is being run by the Democratic National Committee, which is working with state parties to take the energy now being directed at GOP lawmakers at town halls and turn it into something more tangible. The party is giving matching grants to state affiliates under the program, which the DNC expects to top seven figures by the time it’s done. Already, the party has subsidized on-the ground efforts, including activating black, Latino and Asian-Americans who did not vote in the congressional primary in Georgia’s sixth district special election, and who could make a difference in the general election contest Tuesday.
In New Mexico, party officials just completed training for 1,000 female volunteers, community organizers and down-ticket candidates. And in South Dakota, party workers are on a project to engage the native American community, which votes heavily Democratic when its members actually show up to vote.
“This is us investing in the grassroots and giving them the tools they need to succeed,” says DNC spokesman Eric Walker.
Meanwhile, other groups are engaged in their own efforts to supplement the DNC project. MoveOn has received 2,800 applications to be a Resistance Summer MoveOn Mobilizer, and started its first round of training for those positions.
The group Indivisible, founded and run by former congressional staffers, has penned a guide to “resist Trump’s agenda.” And has been very active in badgering members of Congress at town hall meetings, even holding shadow town halls when lawmakers shy away from hosting their own. Nearly 6,000 local organizations have registered with the group, says spokeswoman Helen Kalla – with at least two, and an average of 13, in every single congressional district.
Kalla says the group can already claim an early victory of sorts, with the House-passed American Health Care Act, the measure meant to replace Obamacare, all but dead in the U.S. Senate. And it’s not just Democrats in the group, either, Kalla says. “I think the shock and dismay at the Trump administration so far has really united Americans of all kinds – Democratic, Republican and independent,” she says.
Meanwhile, a plethora of other groups is operating on separate but interlocking anti-Trump agendas. EMILY’s List is training a record number of women who have reached out to the group to express an interest in running for office. Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America are mobilizing voters on reproductive rights issues. Meanwhile, specific Trump agenda items are being targeted by a wide swath of groups, including the ACLU (civil rights and refugee protection), America’s Voice (DREAMers and other immigrants) and the Human Rights Campaign (LGBT rights). Oftentimes, the groups weigh in on others’ issues.
It looks formidable, on paper. But is it enough to make a difference at the polls – the only place, other than in the courts, where anti-Trump forces can get results?
Brad Bannon, a Democratic consultant, is hopeful but unconvinced. “From what I can see, the anti-Trump forces are still kind of disconnected,” Bannon says. “It could become a potent political force, like the tea party, which seems to me to have completely taken over and transformed the Republican Party. But I don’t think we know yet – it could go either way,” Bannon says.
Without a clear mission, the “Resistance” movement risks being another hashtag effort – such as “#bringbackourgirls” was with the kidnapping of Nigerian girls in 2014. Republicans are hoping internal fights between the progressives and establishment wings of the party will doom the broader resistance. “The Democrats can’t organize a picnic, never mind a functional unity tour,” says Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Veteran operatives say the party needs to meld both elements of the anti-Trump movement – the grassroots and the professional strategy side – and use them to reach out to two constituencies Democrats can woo: minorities who didn’t turn out in big enough numbers in 2016, and disaffected white, working class voters who either cast votes for Trump or stayed home.
“This really has to do with profound population changes and racial inequality. Trump rode a backlash to those changes into power, and yet Democrats have continued to be ambivalent about going all in with these racial and cultural changes,” says Steve Phillips, founder of Democracy in Color and an advocate for embracing what demographers call the Rising American Electorate. “They continue to be anxious and worried about alienating potential Trump voters.”
Other Democratic veterans stress that it does not have to be either-or, but can be “either-and,” with the resistance movement reaching out to all kinds of voters, from disaffected whites longing for manufacturing jobs to Latinos hoping to make a new life in America.
“Here’s where it will get real. If the Democrats can put up candidates that can articulate the aspirations and the courage of their resistance,” says Jamal Simmons, who has worked on many Democratic campaigns, including Bill Clinton’s presidential race. “That is the place where I am concerned, that the Democrats won’t put forward candidates that are showing the courage and vision the resistance is looking for. There is still this debate over whether Democrats should be going to the left or the middle. The answer is not the left or middle,” but rather picking local candidates who are opinion-leaders in their communities, not more traditional candidates, he says.
Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder and national director of the Tea Party Patriots, is skeptical of Resistance Summer – not because of the liberal message but because, she says, its message is negative instead of positive.
“I don’t know what they’re for. I know they hate Donald Trump. But you have to be for something,” Martin says. “What is the solution when you hate a president?” It’s a solution the Resistance is hoping to find in the hot months ahead.
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