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2016 Presidential Campaign Revealed Deep Divisions In The Democratic Party


We talked elsewhere on the show about how Republican - how the Republican Party has fared in this election. Now we're going to talk about the Democrats and their future post-election. We're joined once again by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hello.


MCEVERS: So the tensions inside the Democratic Party have been nowhere as near as dramatic as what we saw in the Republican Party. But in the primaries, the Democrats were also surprised by a kind of populist rebellion led by Bernie Sanders. Have they been able to unify since then?

LIASSON: They certainly have. It's true that Bernie Sanders did present a much stronger than expected challenge to Hillary Clinton during the primaries. She moved to the left to embrace this new energy in the party on trade, on college affordability. But the biggest difference with the Republicans, as you said, is that the Democrats were able to unify quickly and strongly. They all got on one page during the general election campaign.

And you can just see that when you look at the mighty army of surrogates from all wings of the party who are out there stumping for Clinton every day, including Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, as opposed to Donald Trump, who's more or less a one-man band and has the largest number of members of his own party not supporting him ever.

MCEVERS: One of the big questions out there now for Democrats is what happens to the so-called Obama coalition and the Obama legacy?

LIASSON: We'll find out tonight because the Obama legacy is on the ballot. That's why the president has been out there working his heart out for Hillary Clinton. This is a change election, and Hillary Clinton is the status quo candidate campaigning explicitly to keep the Obama legacy alive. And that's a hard thing to do because usually, after eight years, parties don't get a third term in office. Since World War II, only George H.W. Bush has pulled that off. So if she wins, she's going to make history in that regard, too.

But the Democratic Party has something that the Republicans don't have. They have a base that is growing - young people, minorities, single women, college-educated voters, Hispanics. This is the Obama coalition. That's opposed to the Republican Party, whose base is filled with groups that are shrinking. Clinton's challenge tonight is to see if she can turn her groups out.

MCEVERS: If Hillary Clinton wins, can she also get enough seats in Congress to get legislation through Congress if she is president?

LIASSON: That's a good question. And so far, we have seen no signs of a wave like in 2006 and 2008 when Democrats swept in to take the majorities in Congress back. It's possible for Democrats to get the Senate by a hair tonight and to shrink the Republican majority in the House. But to legislate in a country as divided as ours, you need some pretty big majorities. And I think her ability to legislate will depend on reaching out to Republicans in a way that won't alienate the left wing of her own party. And right now, the Republicans are unified only by antipathy to her.

MCEVERS: And, you know, without Donald Trump out there, you know, would Democrats continue to be so united? Would she be able to keep them on board?

LIASSON: That's a very good question because a lot of Clinton's support comes from people who don't want Trump to be president. Of course, the bigger her margins, the easier time she'll have balancing the need to reach out to Republicans while keeping her own left wing happy.

There really isn't anything on her agenda that she wants to do right away that would split her party - immigration reform, raising the minimum wage, doing something about college debt and tuition. She's already given up on free trade for the moment. Maybe some more infrastructure investment. Those are things that her party is unified behind. So I think if she wins, initially her problems won't be with her left wing. They'll be with the Republican Party. And if she wins, she's going to assume office with very low approval ratings. There probably won't be a honeymoon period for her.

And we have a Republican Party who - as I said, their only unifying force is animus to her. And they, Republicans, are already mentioning impeachment, years of hearings and, in the Senate, talk about blocking every Supreme Court appointee she puts forward. So I think that kind of opposition will help keep her own party united and, at least for now, probably dwarfs any blowback from her left.

MCEVERS: National political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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