Originally published on February 10th, 2019
It’s only February and the 2020 presidential field is already crowded. With the announcement by Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar that she is running for president, the number of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination is now up to ten. In addition to Klobuchar, the list includes Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey senator Corey Booker, California senator Kamala Harris, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama Administration Julian Castro, New York senator Kirsten Gilibrand, South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg and Hawaiian congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.
By the end of the month we could see former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, California congressman Eric Swalwell, Colorado senator Michael Bennet, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and Ohio senator Sherrod Brown announce their candidacies. And let’s not forget the 800 pound gorilla in the room: former VP Joe Biden. The man who many now feel should’ve run in 2016 has said he will make his decision on whether to run in 2020 soon. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if by the end of March there are 20 or more Democrats in the ring. And while I haven’t officially weighed in on the various strengths and weaknesses of each of these candidates, I am starting to see a disturbing pattern emerge among those who have declared that could be potentially fatal. To put it succinctly, most of these candidates are running way to the left of where the party needs to be to defeat Donald Trump in 2020.
While the Medicare for all pledge that the frontrunners have adopted will no doubt be music to the ears of progressives, the fact is that in 2009, when Democrats held 60 seats in the Senate, they couldn’t even get a public option to the floor for a vote, much less a single payer. Serving up red meat to the base may deliver some lucky person the nomination, but it could also deliver Trump a second term in the White House.
Clearly there is a split within the party between the centrists and the progressives, and I fear that the progressives may end up with the upper hand. And that would be tragic. The gains Democrats made in the House primarily came from suburban districts that are anything but liberal. Many of these districts voted for Trump in 2016 and they could end up voting for him again in 2020 if Dems overreach.
That is why it is imperative that more moderate Democrats like Bennet, Brown and Biden decide to run. They could pull the party back to the middle, which is where it needs to be to prevail in a general election. Brown, in particular, knows a thing or two about how to run and win in a state where Democrats are about as popular as a mosquito at a picnic. While he has supported Medicare for all in the past, he has recently stated that it’s “not practical.” Instead, he supports lowering the age that people can get Medicare to 55.
Bennet, likewise, has criticized plans to push for a single payer system, calling it “a bad opening offer.” He has proposed, along with Virginia senator Tim Kaine, a public option that would allow people to keep their private insurance if they are happy with it. And Biden, perhaps more than any other Democrat, knows all too well that pie-in-the-sky politics doesn’t necessarily translate into legislative accomplishments. It is no coincidence that Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were both widely criticized by their base for striking deals with Republicans while in office. It’s also no coincidence that both won reelection rather handily.
That’s because governing is a lot more difficult than campaigning; a fact that often appears to be lost on many progressives these days. While liberals still decry the Affordable Care Act as a sellout to the insurance industry, it nonetheless passed because Obama was pragmatic enough to realize that a little bit of something was better than a whole lot of nothing. You can call it selling out or incremental politics; it depends on your point of view.
Another potential disaster in the making is the proposal by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to impose a 70 percent tax on the rich. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not opposed to the top one percent paying more in taxes. The idea that if you raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires they will lose all incentive to succeed is a fantasy concocted by conservatives that even wealthy men like Warren Buffet have denounced. But ultimately, it’s a distraction that can come back to bite Democrats in 2020.
Rather than pledging to raise taxes on the wealthy, the better move would be to pledge to restore the deductions that were taken away (i.e., stolen) from millions of middle-class families in the Republican tax scheme of 2017. As we speak, many of these people are discovering what any first-year accounting major could’ve told them: that they got screwed. And, as is typical for them, not a single Democratic presidential candidate has mentioned it. Running as a champion of the middle class is a winning hand that Trump and the GOP will have no answer for. It should be priority one in the party platform at next year’s convention.
Promising the moon is not the way to win over the electorate. We already have a snake oil salesman in the White House who sold a bill of goods to a lot of gullible and frustrated people. And while those people are still frustrated, they’re not nearly as gullible as they were four years ago. Many of them have caught on to Trump’s lies and are reconsidering the Democrats. The best way to ensure they vote blue in 2020 is by providing them with workable and practical solutions to their everyday problems, not conning them again.
Put it this way. When Kennedy, in 1961, promised to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, America couldn’t even get a rocket off the launch pad that didn’t explode. But NASA, step by step, constructed a series of rockets that not only attained orbit, but eventually made it all the way to the moon and back. Patience and perseverance was what made the difference.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s wrong with the country. Trump did that brilliantly in 2016. The real trick is knowing how to make it right.