Monday, July 22, 2019

Common Sense Democrats: A Modest Proposal

Looking forward to 2020, Democrats have a lot of very important questions that can reasonably be debated, from the specific candidate to nominate to which issues to emphasize to the best campaign tactics. But there is a need for political common sense to undergird these debates. If polling, trend data, campaign history and/or electoral arithmetic make clear that certain approaches are minimum requirements for success, they should be front-loaded into the discussion. That way discussion can focus on what is truly important instead of endlessly relitigating questions that are essentially settled.
In other words, start with common sense and then build from there. There will still be plenty of room for debates between left and right in the party, but matters of common sense should be neither left nor right. They are simply what is and what anyone's strategy, whatever their political leanings, must take into account.
Let's call practitioners of this approach "Common Sense Democrats". Here are 7 propositions Common Sense Democrats should agree on.
1. Of course, Democrats need to reach persuadable white working class voters. There is abundant evidence that such voters exist, that they were particularly important in the 2018 elections, that such voters have serious reservations about Trump and that they are central to a winning electoral coalition in Rustbelt states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Shifts among such voters do not have to be large to be effective.
2. Of course, Democrats need to target the Rustbelt. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were the closest states in 2016, gave the Democrats big bounceback victories in 2018 and, of states Clinton did not win in 2016 currently give Trump the lowest approval ratings.
3. Of course, Democrats need to promote as high turnout as possible among supportive constituencies like nonwhites and younger voters. But evidence indicates that high turnout is not a panacea and cannot be substituted for persuasion efforts.
4. Of course, Democrats need to compete strongly in southern and southwestern swing states like Arizona, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. Recent election results, trend data and Trump approval ratings all indicate that these states are accessible to Democrats though less so than the key Rustbelt states. As such, they form a necessary complement to Rustbelt efforts but not a substitute.
5. Of course, Democrats need to run on more than denouncing Trump and Trump's racism. One lesson of the 2016 campaign is that it is not enough to "call out' Trump for having detestable views. That did not work then and it is not likely to work now. Democrats' 2018 successes were based on far more than that, effectively employing issue contrasts that disadvantaged the GOP. Trump will be happy to have a unending conversation about "the squad" and those who denounce his denunciations. Don't let him.
6. Of course, Democrats should not run against Trump with positions that are unambiguously unpopular. These include, but are not limited to, abolishing ICE, reparations, abolishing private health insurance and decriminalizing the border. Whatever merits such ideas may have as policy--and these are generally debatable--there is strong evidence that they are quite unpopular with most voters and therefore will operate as a drag on the Democratic nominee.
7. Of course, Democrats should focus on what will maximize their probability of beating Trump. By this I mean there are plenty of strategies that have some chance of beating Trump--if such and such happens, if such and such goes right. You can always tell a story. But the important thing is: what maximizes your chance of victory, given what we know about political trends and the current state of public opinion. In this election, we can afford nothing less.
Common Sense Democrats. Go forth and multiply.

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