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The State Of The Democratic Party After Election Day Sweep


Let's talk about the Democrats now. They won big governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia and tight mayoral races in Charlotte, N.C., and St. Petersburg, Fla. And all this comes after reports of real dissension within the party about its direction and many observers questioning whether Democrats can figure out how to remain competitive in the era of Trump.

And one of those observers casting a critical eye was Susan Glasser, Politico's chief international affairs correspondent. She had only recently written in The New Yorker about turmoil in the Democratic Party, so we thought we'd invite her back onto the program to see what she has to say this week. Susan Glasser, thanks so much for speaking with us once again.


MARTIN: So when you were last on the program, it looked as though the Republican, Ed Gillespie's embrace of some of the Trump approach could help him beat Democrat Ralph Northam in Virginia's governor's race. And then former DNC head Donna Brazile had just released excerpts from her book suggesting that Hillary Clinton rigged 2016's Democratic primaries. And then now, you know, a near - a near-clean sweep of races from New York to Florida. So, you know, how did this happen? And does any of this kind of change your earlier analysis?

GLASSER: I just read something that kind of sums it up. A year after the Trump upset, the laws of political gravity still apply. The bottom line is that both Virginia and New Jersey actually went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. So on some level, it's actually not a shocker that they would vote for Democrats for governor in 2017. But there were a lot of very nervous Democrats, in particular about the Virginia gubernatorial race. One of the things we're learning is that turnout is very unpredictable in this new era, and there was a big turnout. So that's one factor.

But I don't think people should be under any illusions that it means that there's no debate inside the Democratic Party. The same debate that existed a week ago still exists now, and it's primarily a strategic debate and a debate about, you know, how far left should the party go? Does it speak to identity politics or the economy, the economy, the economy, as Stan Greenberg summed up in that New Yorker piece of mind that you mentioned? And I think that debate is going to be with us for a long time.

MARTIN: Well, it's interesting because in a - it's just - sticking with the Virginia race for a minute, I mean, Donald Trump made the argument that Ed Gillespie lost because he didn't fully embrace Donald Trump. You know, others are saying that the - Ed Gillespie couldn't win because the Trumpism without Trump doesn't work, that you really need the combination of his, you know, hard-edged policies with his hard-edged personality in order to make that work. What do you think about that?

GLASSER: Look, I think that most observers I've spoken with - Democrats and Republicans, by the way, aside from the most hardcore Trump supporters, but even many smart Republicans - think that Donald Trump was the liability that sank Ed Gillespie in Virginia. He actually outperformed in some areas of the state. Arguably, he campaigned in a strong way, but Trump is a huge liability in particular among these suburban voters. His approval ratings as you know are at a historic low.

And, you know, the bottom line is we often spend a lot of time talking about the angry white working-class voters who are Trump's base. But there are a lot more middle-class suburban voters than there are voters like that across America. And that, I think, is why Republicans are very nervous looking at the 2018 midterm elections and beyond.

MARTIN: That's Susan Glasser. She's a contributing writer for The New Yorker and Politico's chief international affairs correspondent. Susan, thanks so much for speaking with us.

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