Thursday, July 5, 2018

Looking Toward 2020: What's the Correct Path for the Democrats?

Ron Brownstein argues in a new column on the Atlantic site that Democrats have a choice to make as they head toward 2020. He puts it this way:
"Almost halfway through Donald Trump’s tempestuous first term, Democrats are divided between two visions of how they can dislodge the Republican dominance of Washington and most state governments. One camp believes the party’s best chance will come from targeting mostly white, Republican-leaning voters who are recoiling from Trump on personal, more so than policy, grounds. The other camp believes the biggest opportunity is to turn out more voters from the groups most intensely hostile to Trump, in terms of both his style and agenda: Millennials, nonwhites, and white women who are college educated or unmarried. One camp bets mostly on persuading swing voters, the other on mobilizing base voters.
In practice, Democrats inevitably will need to do some of both. It’s a truism that whenever a political party seems to face an either/or choice, the right answer is usually both/and. That’s especially true in the 2018 midterm election. This fall, the party will be fielding dozens of candidates who subscribe to each theory, largely (but not completely) sorted between nominees who focus on persuasion in mostly white, Trump-leaning, or purple areas, and those emphasizing mobilization on more Democratic-leaning and racially diverse terrain.
But in the selection of their 2020 presidential nominee, Democrats will face a genuine crossroads. Few, if any, potential candidates would be equally effective at both energizing the party base and reassuring swing voters. Candidates who tilt mostly toward reassurance might include former Vice President Joe Biden, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Those best positioned to mobilize could include Senators Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, two younger lawmakers who embody the party’s growing racial diversity, as well as Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, two graying lions of the left.....
It may well be the safest course for Democrats to choose a 2020 nominee whose primary strength is their ability to reassure older and mostly white Americans who vote reliably, but do not reliably support Democrats. A strategy focused on mobilizing less consistent, but more liberal, younger and nonwhite voters would likely require Democrats to accept some vanguard policy positions that could rattle swing voters. Signs at the L.A. rally, for example, called for abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, and speakers occasionally railed against the “imperialist, white supremacist … patriarchy.” That’s not a program, or tone, designed to soothe suburban voters outside Philadelphia or Charlotte.
But it was impossible to miss the kinetic energy at the [recent Los Angeles] rally when [Kamala] Harris delivered a short, dynamic speech that had the crowd chanting, “We are better than this!” as she denounced Trump’s immigration policies. Reassurance may be the path of least resistance for Democrats against Trump in 2020. But that doesn’t mean mobilization might not represent a better bet."
This is a fair representation of the kind of choice Democrats may face when it comes time to select a 2020 Presidential candidate. But no matter who is selected, how that candidate chooses to run will also be very important. In that sense, the selection of a given candidate may not mean as sharp a strategic choice as that outlined by Brownstein. Harold Meyerson reminds us in an excellent piece in the new issue of Dissent:
"Democrats are finding that opposition to the tax cut is one of their most potent issues even in white, working-class districts. A recent survey by longtime Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg of 3,100 likely voters in twelve states that will have gubernatorial elections this year found that the most effective message Democrats could campaign on—and one that would increase support not just from the Democratic base but also from white, working-class swing voters—was to attack GOP “politicians and their huge tax giveaways to the big corporations and the richest 1 percent, which will blow up and endanger our future. We need to invest in education and infrastructure, not cut them.”
Indeed, such was the lesson of the revolt of Kansas Republicans last year, when they overrode their own party’s governor’s vetoes of a tax hike to better fund Kansas schools. Such has been the lesson of the red-state teachers strikes this spring, which compelled Republican legislators in four states to break with decades of opposition to tax hikes and increase funding for schools. In a sense, Democrats are merely responding to economic realities—the stratospheric rise of the rich at the expense of education, affordable healthcare, and decent-paying jobs—so obvious that even Republicans, at least when forced to confront the decline of public schools, have been compelled to address them.
Which is why Democrats need to learn the lesson that Tammy Baldwin offers them: Going left on economics not only plays in the Madisons of this nation but also in many of the suburbs and on a number of the farms. It’s the key not just to boosting turnout in cities but also to not getting destroyed when they venture out of town.
None of this is to argue that the Democratic Party’s commitment to gender and racial equality, to immigrant naturalization and cultural liberalization, should be relegated to the margins of its agenda. But the party has already demonstrated its understanding that not every Democrat can run on that platform—and that it’s okay if they don’t. In his special-election campaign in a Pennsylvania district that Trump had carried by 20 percentage points, Democrat Conor Lamb attacked the GOP’s tax cut as relief for the rich, and deviated from most Democrats’ positions on issues like gun control without provoking anything resembling an uproar on the party’s left.....
As Lamb’s campaign made clear, it would be a serious mistake to underestimate the potential of a progressive economic outreach to the white working class, at least outside the South. Perhaps the most remarkable data that came out of the Republicans’ failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was that fully 80 percent of Americans opposed efforts to slash Medicaid—the government’s program of medical assistance to the poor. For decades, Republicans had railed against, and when in power, reduced, Medicaid allotments, since they assumed that doing so stirred white resentment against blacks, who were popularly viewed as the main Medicaid recipients. Politically, that attack had worked when the white working class was doing well enough that having to rely on Medicaid to help pay doctor bills wasn’t a plausible option. Those days had long since passed, however, when the Republicans targeted Medicaid in their efforts to repeal the ACA. It’s precisely that kind of shift among white, working-class voters that makes the Democrats’ outreach to them on progressive economics possible—and necessary.
As pollster Guy Molyneux has reported, roughly one-third of white, working-class voters are moderates whose votes are up for grabs at election time—if the Democrats know how to reach out to them. Defending Medicaid, lowering the age threshold for Medicare, perhaps even putting workers on corporate boards are all causes Democrats can plausibly embrace."
In my view, no matter who the nominee is, this is the correct approach Democrats should take to white working class America. One can only hope that the 2020 Democratic candidate appreciates this and thereby substantially enhances his or her chance of making Trump a one-term President.
About this article
Democrats can dodge a decision in 2018 over which voters they should prioritize. But by 2020, they'll need to make a choice.

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