- The Washington Times - Friday, January 27, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Democratic lawmakers gathered for their annual meeting this week, and it was great fun.

The location: West Virginia. A state that President Trump won by 42 percentage points over Hillary Clinton, and its sitting Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, is up for re-election in 2018.

The talk focused on how Mr. Trump won the election and what the party needs to do to rebuild itself for both the midterms and the next presidential contest. The entire two-day event was closed to the press, and even residents of Shepherdstown weren’t allowed on the grounds of the Bavarian Inn, where the meeting was held.

But they did rally outside, and videos taken of the senators, who came out to address them, showed a fascinating scene.

Progressive rock-stars Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren jointly fired up the crowd with their socialist rhetoric, and urged grass-roots support for the party, as anti-Manchin chants from the crowd erupted.

Then Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar took the reigns — and the tone was decidedly different.

She defended Mr. Manchin and said the Democratic Party had lost its footing, and needed to reconnect with Midwestern voters in states like Ohio and Michigan.

And that’s their problem in a nutshell: Should Democrats be trying to rally their progressive base — which gets fired up on issues like transgender bathroom access — or re-engage with their more rural and forgotten voters?

Some more diplomatic Democrats, like the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, which includes Reps. Keith Ellison from Minnesota, and Reps. Mark Pocan from Wisconsin, suggest doing both.

The party is just having a tough time coalescing around a single effort to do just that.

Compounding their problem is Mr. Trump — whose populist message defies party lines.

This week, Mr. Trump met for an hour and a half with union leaders in the Oval Office — one of the key bases of the Democratic Party — and by all accounts, won them over.

“I think it’s important to talk about the fact that [Trump] picked up the message that’s been our message [that] the Democrats did not emphasize,” Teamsters President James Hoffa told Neil Cavuto on Fox News on Wednesday. “It’s about jobs. It’s about people being left behind.”

“He’s not just going to be the big business president; he’s going to be the president of everybody here,” Mr. Hoffa said. He admitted “it’s amazing a Republican is doing this” regarding Mr. Trump’s executive action ending the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but Mr. Hoffa said he was very optimistic about the future.

Mr. Trump gave the union leaders free reign in their meeting with him on Monday, and to some, like Terry O’Sullivan, the general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, it felt liberating.

“The president treated us with respect, not only our organization but our members,” Mr. O’Sullivan on a conference all after the meeting. “The whole meeting was about middle class jobs, how do we create more?”

None of the unions endorsed Mr. Trump, but they did feel a sense of appreciation at being met with all of Mr. Trump’s staff, including vice president Mike Pence, for such a long period of time.

Mr. Trump has promised jobs, and it looks as though he’s intent on delivering them. In his first week in office, he signed approvals for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, said American steel should be used in both endeavors, tore up trade deals, and met with manufacturing CEOs in an effort to get them to reinvest in the U.S.

There’s no guarantee that Mr. Trump’s plans will work — indeed, in four years we could be worse off than we are today.

But — if somehow Mr. Trump pulls this off and delivers on what he promises, then it could be lights out for the Democrats. They will have lost their blue-collar union base altogether. The 10 Senate seats they need to defend in 2018 in states where Mr. Trump won? Gone. All on a message, that was originally theirs.

You better believe that’s keeping them up at night. And that’s why, it’s been so difficult, getting them together.

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