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Why both Democrats and Republicans could be happy with Ellison as DNC chair

Some Republicans see Rep. Keith Ellison’s candidacy as a boon to their chances at building a permanent majority.

For Democrats, Rep. Keith Ellison’s willingness to be a partisan bomb-thrower is an important quality, and many expect he’d take the fight directly to President Trump.
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley

In the wake of the dumpster fire that was the 2016 election for Democrats, the next chair of the Democratic National Committee will have to do more than work on the party platform or fund-raise. Democrats need a complete makeover, an overhaul of every component of the party’s infrastructure and messaging.

This responsibility may very well land on the shoulders of Rep. Keith Ellison, who in the past decade has become one of the most prominent voices inside the party.

That Ellison is even in this position is remarkable, given that he traded his legislative seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives just 10 years ago, and that his path from the state Capitol to the U.S. Capitol wasn’t easy. In 2006, remember, Ellison faced a heated battle for the DFL endorsement and primary, besting numerous candidates before he finally prevailed to represent Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District. 

His path to become the next chair of the Democratic National Committee also isn’t going to be easy, and — perhaps not surprisingly — his candidacy has attracted both supporters and critics on both sides of the aisle.

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Yet Ellison has also united both Democrats and Republicans, if for very different reasons.

Steve Timmer, who blogs at left.mn, is among many progressives who believe Democrats would be foolish to pass on giving Ellison the chance to lead the party. “If the Democrats fail to elect a progressive as the new DNC chair, they will be like the Restoration Bourbons,” said Timmer. “They will have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.”

For Democrats, Ellison’s willingness to be a partisan bomb-thrower is an important quality, and many expect he’d take the fight directly to President Trump. And with the possibility of Trump proposing some form of a Muslim registry, Ellison — as the first Muslim elected to Congress — would be in a strong position to fight back.

On Thanksgiving Day, for example, when many families were hoping to avoid discussing politics or the past election, Ellison sent out numerous tweets attacking Trump.

While some may be critical of Ellison’s tweet storm, or at least the timing of it, in the context of the political jousting between Democrats and Republicans it is completely within bounds, and it shows why he is probably perfectly suited for the job. He is someone who will fan the flames of partisan sniping to the benefit of Democrats across the country. 

At the same time, the prospect of Ellison becoming the leader of the Democratic Party has some Republicans giddy, as they see Ellison’s candidacy as a boon to their chances at building a permanent majority.

“As Democrats continue to struggle across rural America and lose their foothold in the suburbs, I’m thrilled their reaction is to run a Minneapolitan who is one of the most liberal members of Congress for DNC Chair,” said Republican strategist John Rouleau. “Ellison will be an excellent asset to Republicans as they work to expand their majorities across the nation.”

All of which means that if Ellison is elevated by Democrats as the face of resistance to President Trump, the partisan embers of 2016 will be mild compared to the fire that will burn in 2017.