As the Trump administration stumbles from one crisis to the next, the Democrats and Democrat-leaning voters face a crisis of their own. Hillary Clinton’s defeat and the slue of GOP electoral victories have left Democrats asking what went wrong and what they need to do next. Popular movements are forming all over the country, from the unprecedented Women’s March to grassroots left-wing activists running candidates in local districts. It’s no surprise left-leaning and moderate voters are looking for leaders in the established Democrat party.
Just like the Tea Party in 2009/10, anti-Trump activists feel let down by politicians who are supposed to represent their interests. Supporters of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein were severely disappointed in Hillary Clinton’s positions; rank and file Democrats, as well as traditional supporters outside the party, worry that the aging, closed door leadership of the party can’t hope to defeat triumphant Republicans. Democrats need new leadership and fresh ideas – and Senator Al Franken has emerged as an unexpected choice.
Since Donald Trump took office less than a month ago, Franken has seen his profile rise both in news media and among grassroots activists. It’s not hard to see why. Franken is a credible, measured politician who exudes quiet confidence. His questions to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos were devastating in their simplicity.
Franken is far more comfortable in the media spotlight than Hillary Clinton ever was. Though Bernie Sanders remains very popular on the left, he often appears curmudgeonly and dismissive, and he remains hugely divisive among moderates. By contrast, Franken rarely loses his cool, maintains a sense of humor but cuts straight to the point of key issues. Unlike many of his colleagues in both parties, Franken rarely hedges his answers – he appears genuinely honest.
The Minnesota senator’s background is also an asset. Unlike so many lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Franken didn’t follow the traditional path into politics. He isn’t a lawyer, he didn’t work as a political adviser. He didn’t hold any elected office until winning a narrow victory in 2008. Instead, Franken spent years mocking politics as an actor, writer and comedian, most notably on Saturday Night Live. Franken’s unusual path to Washington gives him a unique perspective and an attitude to government that is closer to the average, cynical voter than a party insider.
The United States is in a new age. A celebrity businessman is president, his closest advisers include the former head of a right-wing, conspiracy-peddling website and a daughter who makes money from jewelry sales. There is a growing mass protest movement on the left, calls for Democratic obstruction in Congress and a political awakening among young people. In this atmosphere, an affable former comedian who asks the right questions could go far. Whether Franken is ready for a new role is up to him.