Monday, September 9, 2019

David Leonhardt Throws Down the Gauntlet

And I throw it down with him. Let's hypothesize that it will not be easy to defeat Trump in 2020 (not to mention taking back the Senate). Let's also hypothesize that a second term for Trump will be a huge disaster for the country and the world, making genuine progress on most progressive goals essentially impossible.
If these hypotheses are true--and I sure as hell think they are--one might further hypothesize that Democrats would be obsessively focused on crafting the probability-maximizing strategy for defeating Trump. No unforced errors. No risky position-taking that would push the public far out of its comfort zone.
But one would be wrong about this third hypothesis. Democrats are not, in fact, focusing obsessively on the probability-maximizing strategy of defeating Trump. Oh sure, there are many strategies that could possibly win under the right circumstances, with luck and just the right reactions from the voting public. You can always make a case.
But that's different from the probability-maximizing strategy: the strategy that will make it most likely that Trump with lose if the Democrats run a reasonably competent campaign, have reasonable luck and run on ideas that can reasonably be expected to elicit positive voter reaction.
In a lot of cases, that ain't what we got. Leonhardt:
'You would think that Democrats would be approaching the 2020 campaign with a ruthless sense of purpose. But they’re not, at least not yet. They are not focusing on issues that expose Trump’s many vulnerabilities. They have instead devoted substantial time to wonky subjects that excite some progressive activists — and alienate most American voters....
Over the past two decades, incomes for most Americans have barely grown. Median wealth has declined. Americans are frustrated, and a majority supports a populist agenda: higher taxes on corporations and the rich, expanded government health care and financial aid, a higher minimum wage, even a Green New Deal.
The Democrats are on solid ground, substantively and politically, by pushing all of these issues. They should be casting Trump as a plutocrat in populist’s clothes, who has used the presidency to enrich himself and other wealthy insiders at the expense of hard-working middle-class families. It’s a caricature that has the benefit of truth....
The mistake that Democratic candidates have made is thinking that just because they should activate their progressive id on some issues, they should do so on all issues.
There are two main examples, both of which have received a lot of airtime during the presidential debates. The first is the idea of decriminalizing border crossings, so that the illegal entry into this country would be only a civil violation. Most top Democratic candidates — Cory Booker, Juli├ín Castro, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — support the idea. If illegal entry weren’t a crime, they say, Trump couldn’t lock people in cages.
Supporters of the idea make intricate, technocratic arguments about how decriminalization won’t make the border less secure. But most voters tune out. They don’t buy the long explanations for why the policy doesn’t mean what it certainly seems to mean: less border enforcement. In an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll, 67 percent of registered voters called decriminalization “a bad idea.”
The second example is a proposal to eliminate private health insurance and require people to have Medicare. Sanders and Warren back it. Again, supporters offer complex arguments about why Americans will love this idea (especially if it’s phrased in just the right way) — and, again, most Americans say no thanks. They’re dealing with enough economic anxiety, without having their health insurance taken away and replaced by something uncertain.
The shame is that both health care and immigration should be Democratic advantages. Most voters recoil at Trump’s racist immigrant-bashing, and most want the option to join Medicare. And if Democrats want to reverse Trump’s policies, they need to beat him, not offer policies, like decriminalization, that would hypothetically constrain him."
Got it? We gotta beat Trump and any strategy/policy proposal has to be evaluated in that light. Will it reduce or increase the probability that Trump will be defeated? Activists that can't plausibly make the case that their proposals will increase that probability should stop pushing them and Democratic candidates should have the courage to start ignoring them.
Nothing else will do. This election is too important for self-indulgent progressive grandstanding.
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