Reemerging after defeat, Clinton urges fight for 'big hearted' America

In her first public remarks since conceding the election to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton urged supporters to 'never, ever give up.' That challenge calls for strategic changes, many Democrats believe.

Cliff Owen/AP
Hillary Clinton addresses the Children's Defense Fund's Beat the Odds celebration at the Newseum in Washington on Wednesday.

Wednesday evening, in her first remarks since conceding the presidential election to Donald Trump last week, Hillary Clinton called for her supporters to keep up the fight for the inclusive, accepting United States they want to live in, despite the national divisions the election has thrown into sharp relief.

"I know many of you are deeply disappointed by the results of the election. I am too, more than I can ever express," Mrs. Clinton said at a Children Defense Fund event honoring scholarship winners. "But as I said last week, our campaign was never about one person or even one election. It was about the country we love, and building an America that is hopeful, inclusive and big-hearted."

After winning the popular vote, but losing the Electoral College vote to Mr. Trump, Clinton used the Children's Defense Fund speech to encourage Americans worried about the election results to stay engaged in fighting for the America they envision.

"The divisions laid bare by this election run deep, but please listen to me when I say this. America is worth it, our children are worth it," Clinton said. "Believe in our country, fight for our values and never, ever give up."

But in order to do so successfully, and broaden its base, however, many critics feel the Democratic Party is overdue for some changes.

In nominating Hillary Clinton, whom plenty of Americans viewed as a symbol of "the establishment," the Democratic Party may have failed to assess just how strong the national appetite was for a new approach to politics – as shown by the victory of Trump, a man with no record of public office or military service, as well as the liberal enthusiasm surrounding presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont.

When Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York was elected to be the new leader of the Senate Democrats, he added Senator Sanders to his leadership team, signaling support for the progressive wing of the party.

Indeed, many see that as the party's path forward.

"I think that the Democrats need to be Elizabeth Warren's party, in shorthand, right? Bernie Sanders' party," the former Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman, John Walsh, told Boston public radio last week.

In that vein, there have been calls for Rep. Keith Ellison (D) of Minnesota – an African-American, a Midwesterner, and the first Muslim to be elected to Congress – to be the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, an increasingly visible role after former DNC chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida stepped down following a WikiLeaks scandal earlier in the campaign.

Taking up a focus on income inequality and increasing the minimum wage, causes championed by progressive liberals during this past election season, could also help to make the party more appealing to those voters who feel abandoned by politics' status quo, many Democrats say.

"I firmly believe the Democrats simply have to come up with a more robust economic frame and message," Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told Politico two days after the election. "We're never going to win those white blue-collar voters if we're not better on the economy. And 27 policy papers and a list of positions is not a frame. We can laugh about it all we want, but Trump had one. It's something that we absolutely have to fix."

But any meaningful change will depend on the party's ability to harness the power of grass-roots organizing to keep up the civic engagement during Mr. Trump’s presidency. This would not only keep the voters mobilized and educated, but help the Democratic Party win legislative seats – something it has struggled with in recent years – to drive change and offer the future party a "deeper bench," as The Christian Science Monitor's Linda Feldman reported last week.

"It's time for soul-searching within the Democratic Party," Sanders told reporters Tuesday morning, at a Washington, D.C., breakfast hosted by the Monitor. 

"Without offending anybody in the room," he said, "the real action to transform America is not going to take place on Capitol Hill," but in "grass-roots America."

This report includes material from Reuters.

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