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After Clinton's Loss, Rep. Grijalva Says Democrats Need To Rework Message


Before Tuesday's election, many predicted it would be the Republican Party that would do some soul-searching about now. Now, with Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton and the GOP winning both chambers in Congress, it's the Democrats who are now wondering what went wrong. Among them is Congressman Raul Grijalva. He was a Bernie Sanders supporter in the primaries before rallying behind Hillary Clinton. We reached him on his cellphone in his district in Arizona.

Good morning.

RAUL GRIJALVA: Good morning. How are you?

MONTAGNE: Fine, thank you very much. Now that you've had a little bit of time to take in this loss to your party, what are you thinking?

GRIJALVA: Well, it's not a question of doing too much soul-searching, to be honest with you, Renee. I really believe that we have to look at our infrastructure. We have to look at the DNC.

MONTAGNE: Democratic National Committee.

GRIJALVA: Yes. And the committee needs a change in leadership. We need to rework our message. And you need new faces, new attitude, new methodology about how we approach elections. Otherwise, we're doomed to make the kind of mistakes that we've made up to this point.

MONTAGNE: What are you talking about when you say rethink how we work things?

GRIJALVA: Here's the issue to me. Let's just look at the issue of economics. We had an opportunity to make the whole economic picture part of the ownership of the Democratic Party. We didn't do that. If we're going to build a constituency that did give us that plurality, Renee - young people, people of color - and recapture the working folk, you're going to need a whole new message, and you're going to need a whole new set of faces and consultants to be able to carry that out.

MONTAGNE: Well, an example of a whole new message, what - what would that be?

GRIJALVA: The whole new message would be we become champions around the issue of income inequality. We become the real advocates for the minimum wage. We become the real advocates about a tax code that is fair for everyone. Making that the thematic point, I think, is important. And it would have put us in a position where, you know, the impression that Trump was the only one that cared about those issues, whether it was trade or whether it was folks whose economic well-being wasn't secure, we had a counter-message that was as strong, if not stronger, and we didn't do our job there.

MONTAGNE: Well, there have been some who've said in these last couple of days that the Democratic message was very compelling, but that the carrier of that message was not. In your opinion, would things have been different if the Democratic nominee had been someone other than Hillary Clinton?

GRIJALVA: You know, I've thought about that, Renee. And what if it would have been Bernie? What if it would have been Warren? What if it would have been someone else? Is it Hillary's fault that we're not in the White House? I can't be harsh enough to say that it is her fault. But there was a lack of connection. Whether it's the candidate or the infrastructure, this is built up over years. And the reason I'm talking about the Democratic National Committee is because that's the infrastructure, that's the vehicle. And I think that's where we begin.

MONTAGNE: Well, though, let me ask you - you say Donald Trump was beatable. But as an example, the Latino vote - first, Latinos voted pretty big this time around, and yet Clinton got even less of a percentage of that vote than Obama. Something like 30 percent voted for Trump.

GRIJALVA: Yeah, 28, 29. For those middle-class working folk, the appeal was the same across the board. I think that's where Trump had strengths, in that he was talking about security and he was talking about the fact that you were not going to lose your job either to trade or to someone coming in and taking it from you for lesser pay. And that included Latinos, African-Americans and others.

MONTAGNE: Well, the Republican Party did what they called a political autopsy when Mitt Romney lost four years ago. Should the Democrats do the same - a formal autopsy of what went wrong?

GRIJALVA: Well, I - quite honestly, I think we - we, as a party, have to be more assertive, and we have to be advocates for things that are in our platform and things that Democrats represent. I don't think it takes too long of a time to realize that the Democratic National Committee, in order to do that, has to move in a different direction - a new chair at the top. If this is going to be our vehicle, and it should be, then it's going to have to be a vehicle that is not only just robust in terms of fundraising, but robust in terms of candidate preparation and, more importantly, honed in on a message that's going to help us in the midterms.

MONTAGNE: Democratic lawmaker Raul Grijalva of Arizona, thank you very much.

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