Even in private there’s no American politician more intense than Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
He’s all about control. And when he doesn’t have control — of his message, of events — he clenches his jaw and all but bites through his cheek.
Emanuel, famous for taking that steakhouse knife and stabbing the table while shouting the names of Democratic enemies, is probably the last person you’d think would tell angry Democrats to “take a chill pill.”
But that’s what Emanuel is doing because, he says, Democrats won’t take back power in 2018.
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“It ain’t gonna happen in 2018,” Emanuel said Monday at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in California. “Take a chill pill, man. You gotta be in this for the long haul.”
Emanuel’s call comes just as the hard Democratic left has been using anger — some might call it hysteria — to wrest control of the Democratic Party apparatus away from party insiders who lost everything to President Donald Trump.
The Democratic establishment lost on national and local levels. But the left is having success organizing the party’s base, keeping them on message, even engaging in loud and angry theater. All of this is not just about organizing against Trump.
More importantly, it’s being used to drive the old Democratic establishment off the stage.
And that establishment, wounded and frightened at loss of control, doesn’t like it.
Democratic Party insiders — those who stacked the deck against Sen. Bernie Sanders to protect Hillary Clinton — are trying to do one thing:
Hold onto power.
But they’re doing everything wrong. The Republican establishment did everything wrong too, including trying to co-opt and herd the conservative tea party movement. That backfired. It led to Trump.
So put principle aside and be pragmatic, Emanuel tells Democrats.
That might be smart politics, but in the end, asking people to put their principles aside to let their opponents maintain power is a recipe for disaster.
There is no passion to it. Democrats found this out with Clinton in November.
But Emanuel isn’t the only one who has told party activists to put principle aside for pragmatism. If you think you’ve heard it before, you’re right.
Trump is not a cause. He’s a symptom, an effect, a consequence of the GOP establishment manipulation of the Republican base for decades. Finally, the Republican base had enough.
The GOP crackup was well documented, with many media references over the years to what journalists saw as an unsettling phenomenon: the angry voter.
Establishment biscuit eaters who characterized the angry voter as irrational were simply protecting their masters. But when Trump came along, they couldn’t see what was happening to them.
There is nonsense circulating now about a tea party of the left, but that is a dream of a Democratic establishment hoping to herd them. There is no tea party of the left.
But there is an “angry voter” of the left, angry about Trump, yes, but also angry at Democratic insiders who led them into the wilderness, where, Emanuel says, the party will wander for years. And they’re determined to push the party further to the left.
Emanuel wants the Democratic Party to return to a time when it pretended to exist in the political center of a center-right America. But that was back when the Clintons were in the White House, cutting deals with congressional conservatives for welfare reform and more cops on the streets. There is no going back.
Emanuel argues for middle-of-the-road candidates, be they athletes, veterans and so on. But this strategy isn’t about ideas. It is tactical, about selecting actors to play certain types.
Americans are motivated by their wallets, yes, but also by ideas. What they’re not motivated by are insiders holding on.
It is something the establishment Republicans were forced to learn. It cost them dearly. And establishment Democrats are learning it now.