“The truth is,” he added, “I am not a big relitigator of 2016. I am really more concerned about 2018 and 2020 and how we reform this party so it can actually win again. The electoral history of the last seven or eight years is pretty abysmal. America’s oldest political party may go the way of the Federalists. It needs to reconnect with grass-roots supporters.”
Credit Branden Camp/Associated Press
The split among Democrats underlines the tension over how to challenge Mr. Trump, what issues to emphasize and which voters to focus on to gain winning majorities. Many in the progressive wing say that candidates need to appeal to the party base rather than try to win over a diminishing pool of swing voters.
Democratic unity will face a fresh test on Tuesday in the governor’s race in Virginia, where Republicans have not won a significant statewide election since 2009. This week, in a sign of continued friction, a progressive group, Democracy for America, criticized the Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, and said it would not work directly to help him. At the same time, his principal challenger in the primary and a favorite of progressives, Tom Perriello, is running a political organization that is campaigning vigorously for Mr. Northam.
The race reflects a larger debate in the party, one that will start to take shape in the 2018 midterm elections and will almost certainly drive the fight for the 2020 presidential nomination.
“There is a feeling among some of the base of the Democratic Party that the party needs to be more bold and vivid in its agenda and that reflects the Sanders thinking, sharper lines against corporate excess and Wall Street, and more advocacy for things like single payer on health care,” said David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama.
“That is certainly a vein of thought,” Mr. Axelrod said. “And the thing that probably unites the anti-establishment forces on the right and left is the sense that the system is rigged and there is an inside game in Washington in which both parties are complicit. But I must say, it also gives rise to a kind of absolutism that makes governing very difficult.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago expressed his surprise that anything other than Mr. Trump was getting attention from Democrats.
Credit Win Mcnamee/Getty Images
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Mr. Emanuel said. “You have a president of the United States who is supporting one of the most regressive tax proposals in memory, on his way to Asia, having diminished America’s leadership and undermined the independence of our justice system and we are talking about the D.N.C.? Focus on the country. Focus on what matters to the American people and stop relitigating an election we should have won.”
But supporters of Mr. Sanders still want to be persuaded of the party’s intentions.
In a concession to Mr. Sanders’s backers during the 2016 convention, the Democratic National Committee created the Unity Reform Commission to examine the party’s nominating process. Mr. Weaver, a member of the commission, said that while there had been progress on issues like the number of superdelegates in the party and the primary calendar, he was waiting to see how the party responded to the panel’s recommendations, expected in early December.
“How this plays out in the next month or two is really going to be indicative of the direction that current leadership of the D.N.C. wants to go,” Mr. Weaver said.
Thomas E. Perez, who was elected as the party chairman in February, has been trying to bring its factions together. On Friday, he sent an email to Democratic National Committee members, mindful of the need to assure the party’s progressives in light of Ms. Brazile’s revelations.
“Even a perception of impropriety — whether real or not — is detrimental to the D.N.C. as an institution,” Mr. Perez wrote. “I care about culture change. I talk about it a lot, and I mean it. You have my commitment that 2020 will be a transparent process. That is why I want to make sure that the primary debate schedule is decided well ahead of the presidential primary process and why I stand by the essential work of the Unity Reform Commission — created by both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns — to strengthen the process moving forward.”
Progressive groups remain skeptical.
“We have a party that has had a rough go for the last eight years, lost over 1,000 seats, with a lack of a big policy vision or the problem of targeting the mythical swing Republican voters who don’t exist rather than mobilize our base,” said Charles Chamberlain, the executive director of Democracy for America.
Asked how backing away from supporting Mr. Northam helped Democrats, Mr. Chamberlain said: “We don’t want Ed Gillespie to win and that’s exactly why we came out. Today the Northam campaign still has five days to course correct. They need to spend the next five days rabidly engaging the Democratic base. We are the canary in the coal mine saying, what you are doing is going to lose.”