Tom Perez, the former Secretary of Labor, hugged his supporters after being elected as the new Chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Now the hard part begins.
Perez takes over a Democratic Party in turmoil and he is facing many challenges in the months ahead.
Democrats are still reeling from an embarrassing loss after President Donald Trump ruined Hillary Clinton’s dream of becoming America’s first woman to win the White House.
There is still anger, anxiety, and outright confusion. And there is enough blame to go around. Clinton, many Democrats say, was arrogant, dismissed some critical states down the stretch, like Pennsylvania, for example, which hadn’t supported a Republican president since 1988. And she angered millions of blue-collar voters with her big-money speeches to high-profile corporations.
Perez, the first Latino to lead the Democratic Party, acknowledged that Democrats failed to connect with low-wage workers who were desperate for change and he vowed to reach out to disenchanted voters from all walks of life.
Perez didn’t exactly earn a mandate; he beat Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota by a slim margin, 235 to 200. Ellison, the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, was dogged during the campaign by his previous association with the Nation of Islam and some of his critics said his Muslim faith was too controversial for the high-profile job as DNC chair. Ellison represents an emerging liberal faction of the Democratic Party.
Losing the White House was tough for Democrats and there are other cracks in the armor: Since 2009, Democrats have lost nearly 1,000 state legislative seats, a trend that shows a distinct ideological shift across America.
Perez must now tap into the anger surging across the county: Trump supporters who insist they have been dismissed by government under the Obama administration. He must also rally young voters who are resistant to the Democrats’ old guard.
“I need to tell you folks at the outset: I know that I have more questions than answers,” Perez told the crowd in a victory speech, reaching out to those who opposed his bid. “As a team, we will work together.
“We should all be able to say … the united Democratic Party led the resistance and ensured that this president would be a one-term president,” he said.
There is hope: Many Republicans are packing town hall meetings sponsored by Republican congressional leaders; they are asking hard questions about health care and jobs and shouting at GOP legislators who are dodging the questions.
Perez criticized Trump and the “know-nothing movement,” and promised that Democrats will beat Trump in 2020.
Right now, that’s a tall order. What Democrats need is a viable, charismatic candidate.
“We are one family, and I know we will leave here united today, no doubt about that,” Perez said. “We are indeed the party that turns hardship into hope. We are the party that turns doubts into dreams.”
In what I consider a smart move, Perez immediately appointed Ellison as Deputy DNC Chair. The decision by Perez acknowledges the ideological division within the DNC – the progressive movement led by Ellison and Sen. Bernie Sanders, and the establishment faction loyal to Hillary Clinton and backed by former President Barack Obama, who convinced Perez to run against Ellison.
“Congratulations to my friend Tom Perez on his election to lead the Democratic Party, and on his choice of Keith Ellison to help him lead it,” Obama said in a statement. “I know that Tom Perez will unite us under that banner of opportunity, and lay the groundwork for a new generation of Democratic leadership for this big, bold, inclusive, dynamic America we love so much.”
And President Donald Trump just couldn’t help himself.
“Congratulations to Thomas Perez, who has just been named Chairman of the DNC,” he wrote. “I could not be happier for him, or for the Republican Party!”
Trump’s not-so-subtle message is that the Democrats’ tailspin will continue under Perez’s leadership.
Meanwhile, Perez is focused on Trump’s replacement.
“We are at a ‘where were you?’ moment in American history,” Perez told the crowd after his victory in Atlanta last weekend. “Where were you in 2017 when we had the worst President in U.S. history?”
Perez has three years to unite his fractured party; rally disenfranchised voters, win back nearly 1,000 state legislative races from Republicans — and find a formidable candidate to beat Trump in 2020.
So much work to do, so little time.
What do you think?
PHOTO: Department of Labor official headshot