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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Sound Advice from a Republican: Dems Must Focus on Job One

Chris Truax, a self-described Republican opinion columnist, shares some unsolicited advice for Democrats at USA Today. Among his observations:

Like it or not, the Democratic party has had greatness thrust upon it. Every American who believes in the basic foundations of the American experiment, things like the rule of law, the Constitution and an apolitical Justice Department, now has a stake in who Democrats nominate in 2020. So please stop telling fellow travelers like me to mind our own business and start taking on board some of what we are saying. The next president of the United States is everyone’s business, and we can’t afford to screw it up. Again.

A fair point. It’s up to Democrats to pick their best candidate. But many non-Democrats have a stake in that decision. Getting down to the nitty-gritty of Electoral College considerations, Truax writes,

America needs you to focus. Democrats’ first thought in the morning and their last thought when they fall asleep at night should be, “How will this play in Erie, Pennsylvania?

There are four states that matter in 2020: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida. Win three out of four of those states and Trump is a one-term president. No matter how popular something might be with activists in Los Angeles or donors in Manhattan, it’s dead weight or worse if it isn’t a winner with Rotary Club members in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Those are, indeed key 2020 swing states with the most electoral votes as of this writing. You could substitute Arizona or North Carolina which have more EVs than Wisconsin, per Taegan Goddard’s interactive map flagged by Ed Kilgore yesterday. That could change some over the next 15 months, but probably not by much.

Here’s where Truax’s argument gets a little debatable for many Dems: “So don’t treat this like a base election. Democrats are already guaranteed a nominee that will excite their base and drive a big turnout. His name is Donald Trump.” That seems a little oversimplified. Dems can’t take their base for granted. Many factors could dampen base turnout. Besides, if Dems have a real shot at expanding their base in 2020 – and there is every reason to think they do – then they have to work it, as well as mine the universe of persuadable voters.

Truax also has some strong opinions about the real-world importance of energizing voters with “bold” policies:

Getting activists “excited” by bold policy positions is a waste of time. You could get every Democrat in California so excited that they all voted twice and it would make not the slightest difference to the outcome of the election. All that matters is getting voters in Michigan who have become uncomfortable and disenchanted with Donald Trump to vote for you once.

Sometimes the best Democrats can do is neutralize “soft” Republican voters to the point where they stay home on election day. Truax believes this presidential election is not one of those times. Try to get moderates, including some Repubicans, to vote for the Democrat, he argues:

The people you really have to motivate aren’t the Democratic base, they’re the people in the middle who have been unsettled by Trump’s presidency. They can see what Trump is and will happily vote for a reasonable alternative. But if Democrats offer what appears to them as a choice between death by hanging and death by firing squad, a lot of them will just give up and not vote at all.

Truax also has a warning for Dems, echoing some of the points made by Ruy Teixeira’s opinion data analysis at TDS in recent months:

Democrats could, however, easily expand this four-state map — for the Republicans. Want to put Minnesota, Colorado, Nevada and New Hampshire in play? Easy. Just run on policies like eliminating private health insurance, reparations for slavery, legalizing drugs and decriminalizing prostitution. Every one of these projects has been pushed by one or more Democratic presidential candidates. There may be things to be said for all of these issues. And someday, we should have a serious policy debate about them. Today is not that day.

Those legendary soccer moms are still out there and, by and large, they have had enough of Trump’s antics. But if you want to run on far-left positions like, say, resurrecting forced busing, they’re going to stick with the devil they know rather than vote for someone who promises to do things like send their kids on 30-mile bus rides every day.

I would add that America surely does need a serious discussion about slavery reparations, which is morally-justified. But the best time to address that issue with real reforms is after a Democratic landslide, when we can actually do something about it. Legalizing marijuana is already happening at the state level. I’m not sure what polls indicate about public sentiment for decriminalizing prostitution, but jailing women who turn to it out of economic hardship is also wrong. Eliminating private health insurance? Don’t even go there. Just make a public option so attractive that private insurance will gradually fade away, as a result of individual choices.

Not all policy-discussions are toxic, as Truax explains. “This doesn’t mean Democrats can’t run on progressive policies. Talk about fixing and expanding Obamacare, if you want. Talk about universal pre-kindergarten. Talk about guaranteed parental leave. If it’s OK with those voters in Erie, it’s OK with me.”

In a summary paragraph, Truax writes,

Democrats have one job in 2020: Beating Donald Trump. Nothing else matters. If progressives manage to mess this up by insisting on hard-left positions and ideological purity, they will own Trump’s second term. There is a time and a place for everything. When the ship is sinking and you find yourself in a lifeboat, you don’t argue about where you want to go, you head for the nearest land. Further travel arrangements can wait until you’re back in civilization.

My quibble with this is that something else does matter, besides “beating Donald Trump.” And that is winning a Senate majority. Dems have a real opportunity to win a landslide in 2020, the kind that can produce a governing majority, which can actually pass major social and economic reforms. That goal is highly compatible with “job one.” Trump fatigue is both wide and deep. If Dems play a good hand, they can win both prizes, plus take back some state legislative majorities and governorships.

One comment on “Sound Advice from a Republican: Dems Must Focus on Job One

  1. Victor on

    There are two aspects over the discussion over moderation/compromise that themselves need a compromise:

    1. On the one hand the Obama administration showed too much of a willing to compromise with Republicans. It didn’t achieve much. But it did offer in its compromises changes that would be against the interests of poor and working class people (an example being chained CPI and other measures regarding entitlement costs). Progressives feel that moderates compromise in ways that are unnecessary, not that any compromise is bad per se.

    2. Many of the more radical ideas being advocated by progressives legislators don’t actually have a huge constituency in their own districts. An example is the Green New Deal. If you want to put pressure on these legislators, instead of doing Op-Eds and threatening their staffs what moderate Democrats need to do is engage with district constituencies. The reason progressives have been able to win some primaries is because the Democratic party at the base level is completely disengaged.

    We need to be able to identify good kinds of compromises, talk about how they would work in the short, medium and long term. We would need to be able, just as moderates propose ruling out ideas they see as too radical, to identify ideas that are too centrist or outright reactionary (specially from a fiscal perspective).

    The debates inside the Democratic coalition seem petty and childish, even when they are over important issues.

    The role of this website is not the best in terms of trying to actually discern what unites people.

    Democrats support of such a wide variety of primary candidates for President shows there is wide variety of approaches to politics. Discussion in Manichean terms is misleading and unconstructive.


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