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Bernie Sanders is right, Democrats should be 'humiliated'

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Losing an election is bad enough, but losing an election and not learning the right lessons from the loss is potentially devastating. And right now, the Democratic Party is at a fork in the political road, faced with two very distinct choices about where it goes from here. The good news is enough of the post-election data is in for the Democrats to learn the right lessons and take the right road going forward.

And simply put, that road is the economy, stupid. The bad news is a significant number of the party faithful are doubling down on what we can call the loser's road of identity politics, elitist/celebrity-driven condescension and racial fear-mongering hysteria.

Let's start with the right road that some Democrats are seeing very clearly. Senator Bernie Sanders said it best this week when he told CNN that he is "deeply humiliated" that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats as a whole lost the white working class vote. The funny thing is that had Sanders been the Democratic nominee, it's unlikely that he would have lost that demographic.

After Clinton narrowly edged him in the primaries for the nomination, her campaign clearly focused on attacking Trump on personal issues and politically correct orthodoxies. The messages from the Sanders movement and its enthusiasm for economic change were basically ignored by the Clinton campaign.

Clinton seemed more worried that criticizing economic conditions would offend President Obama and thus risk losing his needed support. And her campaign also didn't seem to mind continuing to take massive donations from Wall Street and accepting very visible and vocal support from a steady stream of super rich celebrities. As they say in public relations, "the optics" weren't good for a party that's always done best when it sticks with an identity of standing up for the "little guy." Beyonce and Jay Z didn't sway the election after all.

To his credit, Sanders isn't falling into the same trap even now. He's reiterating his dislike for much of what he thinks President-elect Donald Trump stands for, but he's reminding everyone that they do have some common economic ground and he's willing to work with Trump on those issues. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer have made similar comments, peppered with some not quite over-the-top Trump bashing. There's hope for them if they continue along this path and make the bet that if they let Sanders show the way, they might be able to reconnect with the middle and lower middle classes that abandoned them in this election.

"Too many Democrats and liberals are doubling down on the behavior, comments, and delusions that put them in this mess."

But too many Democrats and liberals are doubling down on the behavior, comments, and delusions that put them in this mess. The most overwhelming message we've heard from the Left since Election Day is that the Trump movement was a "whitelash" or comprised of angry whites pushing back against changing racial demographics and sexists who wouldn't accept a woman president.

This sentiment not only fails to help the Democrats reconnect with potential working class voters, it insults and further alienates them. And besides, it's just not true. Trump did better, not worse, among black and Latino voters than Mitt Romney did in 2012. And Trump won six states Barack Obama won four years ago for many reasons, none of which included the swing voters in those states suddenly remembering they were racists.

Moreover, this kind of demonizing non-minorities doesn't make sense mathematically. So-called experts have told us for years that racial minorities, especially Latinos, were growing so fast in America that soon the white vote would be obsolete. And yet, according to a report this week in RealClearPolitics, Trump won more votes from white evangelical voters than Clinton received from all African-American and Latinos combined.

That's not because the number of Latinos in America isn't growing, it is, it's because racial minorities aren't voting in monolithic blocks as much as the Democrats and a lot of cynics think they do. Thankfully, America is not like Iraq where no Sunni votes for a Shia candidate and vice versa. Precisely because we really are a melting pot nation, attempts to balkanize voters along racial, religious, or ethnic lines will ultimately fail.

Also failing are the large and loud numbers of Democrats, led by outgoing Senator Barbara Boxer and former Attorney General Eric Holder, who are pursuing a Quixotic movement to eliminate the Electoral College or even to get the current Trump electors to switch their votes to Clinton when they cast them officially in Washington on December 19th. Instead of listening to the concerns of the voters who sent Trump to victory in 30 states with 306 electoral votes, these Democrats are loudly and stubbornly telling everyone they literally prefer to negate their votes and not listen to them at all.

Again, looking at the Sanders movement from the primary season is essential if the Democrats want avoid this failed reaction to the election. The crowds Sanders drew earlier this year were filled with younger voters and people from all economic backgrounds. That's like an electoral goldmine. And his speeches were not filled with attacks on voters and ordinary citizens, but on corporate and Wall Street elites. And here's something else you probably noticed: Trump's speeches were not all that different. In the end, a populist and not a racist won this election. Sanders seems to understand that. His colleagues? Not so much.

How else can we explain the push to make Rep. Keith Ellison the new Chairman of the Democratic National Committee? Yes, Ellison was an early Sanders supporter. But his calling card nationally is the fact that he's the leading Muslim-American in Congress. Democrats aware of the growing number of Muslim voters in America are betting that he'll draw in this group in opposition to Trump's hostile messages about potential Muslim immigrants and refugees.

Again, this is more balkanization instead of crafting an economic message appealing to the middle class. It will fail, and not because Americans are anti-Muslim. It's because they're against race and ethnic-based politics. Ellison simply doesn't have the economic chops to make that connection regardless of his religion. In the DNC job search, the Democrats need to keep looking.

Of course the Republicans were in the same boat for years. Ronald Reagan was really the last Republican president or presidential candidate who connected with all Americans. Both the Bush presidencies and the GOP Congress since 1994 drifted further and further from the middle class over time. It's strange that a billionaire real estate and reality show icon from New York like Donald Trump was their ticket to reconnecting to Middle America, but that just shows how far off the mark the Republicans have been for decades.

How the Democrats deal with President Trump as the opposition party will depend on a lot of factors. Cooperating with him is clearly not an imperative, as the Republicans proved they could thrive and multiply in Congress despite not collaborating much at all with President Obama.

But working and reconnecting with the voters is an absolute imperative. It's what needs to be their Job No. 1, as opposed to orchestrating a general freakout over Trump's decision to bring Steve Bannon on to his team. The working class voters of America have never heard of Steve Bannon, and don't care about the "alt right," (whatever that really is). Sanders has the right idea about what Democrats should be freaking out over and that's crafting a message for and interacting again for real with the common voters. And that's no going to happen if too many in his party just continue to try to demonize and divide them.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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