Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday advised his fellow Democrats to “take a chill pill:” The party he loves didn’t get to its current political low point overnight, and it’ll take Democrats a long time to climb out of it.
Emanuel has engaged in other post-mortems since Donald Trump’s stunning upset over Democrat Hillary Clinton, the mayor’s candidate.
But, none were as brutally honest and, therefore, pessimistic as the assessment he gave at Monday’s View from the Top event at Stanford University’s School of Business.
“Democrats are at the lowest level since 1928 in the House of Representatives and the lowest level since 1925 in the state houses. … It is hard to imagine it getting lower,” the mayor said.
“It took us a long time to get this low. It ain’t gonna happen in 2018. Take a chill pill, man. You’ve got to be in this for the long haul. And if you think it’s gonna be a quick turnaround like that, it’s not. You have to be part of this for the long haul. … You’re gonna have a success here and a success here, and then you’ll build a critical mass. But it’s worth fighting for. And I think this country is worth fighting for.”
Emanuel then talked about what’s wrong with the Democratic Party by harkening back to his days as a North Side congressman who put himself on a path to be speaker by helping engineer the 2006 Democratic takeover of the U.S. House.
“I got a lot of crap for recruiting Iraqi war vets, football players, sheriffs, business people. I said, ‘Well, they’re running in Republican districts.’ I wanted to take cultural issues off the table and I wanted to present economic issues,” the mayor said.
“We, as Democrats like to walk around [talking about ideals]. No. You’ve got to be ruthless enough. We recruited people who matched the districts. If you’re running in a Republican district, you’ve got to get somebody who can win in a Republican district.”
Emanuel then sounded a bit like the legendary former Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi.
“Winning is everything. If you don’t win, you can’t make the public policy. I say that because it’s hard for people in our party to accept that principle. Sometimes, you just gotta win,” he said.
“Our party likes to be right, even if they lose. I don’t go to moral victory speeches. I can’t stand them. I’ve never lost an election. It’s about winning because if you win, you then have the power to go do what you need to get done. If you lose, you can write the book about what happened. Great. That’s really exciting.”
Like a Monday morning quarterback, Emanuel then outlined his game plan for the long climb back to power for the Democratic Party he loves.
- “Get on top of re-districting: I want it all handled by courts and commissions. Get the state legislatures out of it because we haven’t done it the other way and they have. Got to change that.”
- Get a farm team.
- Stop the blame game. “Democrats love doing a firing squad in the circle. Stop it: ‘They’re too moderate.’ Forget about it. This guy [Trump] and these people are about to do something on the tax code, the regulatory environment and things that are more threatening than what a fellow Democrat might slightly disagree with you on,” Emanuel said.
- Pick your battles. “Not every pitch has to be swung at. … We don’t have the power to swing at everything, so you have to pick what is essential,” the mayor said.
- Go slow. “Time is not the incumbent party’s friend. Time is the opposition’s friend. Slow. Go slow. They want to rush. We want to go slow. Real slow.
- Drive a wedge every chance you get. “Whenever there’s a disagreement among Republicans, I’m for one of those disagreements. I’m all for it,” the mayor said. “The President wants Russia? I’m with John McCain and Lindsey Graham. I’m for NATO. Why? Wedge. Schisms have to be wedges. Wedges have to be divides and divisions. …We’ve got to lower the President? Why? Because they are strong enough to get him than us. We’re not strong enough.”
Throughout the campaign, then-Republican nominee Donald Trump used Chicago and its skyrocketing murder rate as a political punching bag — so much so that the City Council voted to punish Trump by taking down the honorary sign outside the riverfront hotel and condominium that bears his name.
The political pummeling has only intensified since Trump took office, with the President tweeting threats to “send in the FEDS” if Emanuel can’t stop the bloodshed.
Emanuel has also promised that Chicago is and always will be a sanctuary city, despite Trump’s threat to cut off funding to Chicago and other cities where immigrants can access city services and live without fear of police harassment.
It’s not clear what impact, if any, Emanuel’s game plan for a Democratic comeback will have on his relationship with Trump.