Theda Skocpol — the Harvard social scientist who has studied the Tea Party and the anti-Trump resistance, among many other things — has a new op-ed in USA Today that argues that the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are ignoring the lesson of 2018. By doing so, Skocpol says, they are increasing the chances that Trump will win re-election. As Democrats prepare for their second round of debates this week, I think Skocpol’s message is worth hearing.
“The first 2020 primary debates were a case in point,” she writes. “Thrilling as it was to see female contenders do well, the debates were chaotic and dominated by simplistic questions about topics of little concern to most Americans. The ostensible winners embraced ultra-left issue stands — like calls to abolish private insurance and give free health care to migrants — that would sink them in the general election.”
These stances may help Democrats run up even larger margins in blue states like California and New York. But the presidency isn’t decided by the popular vote. And two of the smartest election analysts — Nate Cohn of The Times and Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report — have both written pieces recently that explain how Trump could lose the popular vote by an even wider margin than he did in 2016, and still win re-election.
Skocpol writes: “U.S. politics is not a national contest. Victories in Congress, state politics and the Electoral College all depend on winning majorities or hefty pluralities in heartland states and areas that are not big cities. Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 mainly because she was whomped in non-urban areas where Obama had lost by far smaller margins.”
“In the United States, the road to national power does NOT run primarily through California, Massachusetts, or the TV studios of MSNBC in New York City. It runs through middle-American suburbs, cities and rural counties. To win in 2020 and beyond, Democrats have to organize everywhere and project a national message that resonates widely.”
Words of wisdom indeed.