The Democratic Party strategy for winning the presidency and Congress in 2020 should follow the same formula that won them 40 additional House seats in the 2018 election – make health care the number 1 issue, support broad based likeable candidates, and target independents and moderate Republicans in purple and red states and districts. Moderate Democrats, many of them women and people of color, were the largest factor in flipping 40 Republican held seats to give Democrats a huge majority in the House of Representatives. They will also be the key to winning in 2020.
While much of the media focus has been on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her Socialist Democrat movement and Sen. Bernie Sanders Our Revolution movement, the Washington Post reports that “progressive populism and democratic socialism underwhelmed in the primaries and were close to shut out in the general election.” The far-left progressives did somewhat better in the primaries in solid blue states but did not win a single seat in a red state in the general election.
Health care was the number 1 issue that the 2018 Blue Wave of candidates ran on – however, it was not necessarily Sanders Medicare for All Act, but rather the strengthening of the Affordable Care Act. Mainstream and pragmatic Democrats ran away from the Medicare for All Act after it became clear that voters didn’t like the $32 trillion price tag and the fact that “single payer” meant that employer and private based plans would cease to exist.
For the 2020 election, Donald Trump has elevated health care to an even higher priority by his use of the Justice Department and the courts to try repeal the entire Affordable Care Act. That would be devastating to the 21 million Americans who would be at the mercy of the insurance companies or lose coverage. Nevertheless, Trump’s actions on this passionate issue will increase Democrats’ chances for the presidency but also the Senate. The Supreme Court could render its decision in mid-2020 making it the single most controversial issue for the 2020 election and a potential winner for Democrats.
For the both the presidency and Congressional seats in 2020, DNC Chairman Tom Perez’s 50 state winning strategy is to broaden the party’s demographics by supporting left-center candidates that can appeal to voters in red and purple districts and states. This means supporting candidates whose views often align more with their red state constituents than the hard line party progressives, a contentious point in the party and a feud reminiscent of the Clinton-Sanders philosophical divide in the 2016 election.
For the 2020 general election, we cannot have a repeat of the 2016 election when overly ideological or disenchanted Democrats abstained, voted third party or even voted for Trump putting him over the top to eke out wins in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania and gift wrap him the presidency. Despite differing political philosophies and worldviews, it is incumbent on the losing candidates to demonstrate unity by getting solidly behind the party’s final choice.
Other than health care, the most electable candidate for president must also be likeable because emotions always play a large role in a voter’s choice. The freshman class of 2018 House Democrats is certainly likeable and impressive, displaying leadership traits, intelligence, charisma, confidence, and motivation, in articulating their visions and proposals while listening to the concerns of constituents. For those of us who have seen them in their new House roles, they are genuine and authentic -- traits that obviously won over their constituents, and the “kind of people we would like to drink a beer with”.
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidates display diversity in gender, gender preference, race and ethnicity, age, political worldviews, and ideas, and likewise appear likeable, although their authenticity will be tested in the months ahead.
At stake in the 2020 general election are future and existing government policies, future Supreme Court justice nominations and critical Congressional House seats after reapportionment and redistricting based on the 2020 census. Having a strong presidential candidate on the ballot can enhance Democratic voter turnout and increase chances for Congressional seats, state legislatures and governorships.
The most electable candidates will stay on message and not be distracted by the negativity of the Trump campaign -- a daily onslaught of politically incorrect Trump Tweets, lies, exaggerations designed to provoke anger and hate against the candidate. Trump will be a formidable candidate, and Democrats should not underestimate what it will take to defeat him. If the election were held today, some prognosticators predict a Trump landslide based on the current strength of the economy and low unemployment rate. The state of the economy on election day will play a large factor in the general election...but also the state of health care legislation.
The most electable candidate must appeal to a broad electorate
All Democratic candidates call themselves “progressives” to varying degrees, but those with political philosophies closer to the center (i.e. the pragmatists) have electorate appeal that extends beyond the Democratic Party to many independents and moderate Republicans who are turned off by Trumpism.
Independents comprise the largest voting force in the nation with 43 percent of Americans identifying as Independent versus 30 percent for Democrats and 26 percent for Republicans.
Gallup polling of American political ideology shows that “35% of Americans on average describe themselves as conservative, 35% as moderate and 26% as liberal.” On a party basis, 47 percent of Democrats identify as either conservative or moderate, while 51 percent identify as liberal. That corresponds to 26 percent of Republicans who consider themselves as moderate or liberal. Gallup does not use the word “progressive” in its survey.
What the polls suggest is that many independents and moderate Republicans, given a choice between voting a mainstream Democrat or casting their vote for Trump, will more likely vote for the mainstream Democrat. That was the telling difference in the 2018 election where moderate Democrats flipped House seats in purple and red districts and states.
If the choice is an extreme left Democrat (e.g. socialist label) then they will more likely vote for Trump. While an extreme left Democrat can certainly become the party’s nominee, the chances of winning in the general election are diminished by the lower support from Independents and moderate Republicans.
The defining issues for the 2020 election.
The most electable candidates in 2020 must have well thought out proposals on affordable health care for all, good paying jobs, rebuilding our infrastructure, combating climate change, reducing economic inequality, expanding education, fixing immigration policies, promoting social justice, reforming campaign finance laws, reining in military expenditures, addressing the veteran issues, fixing America’s foreign policy problem, and more. Of these, health care, climate change, and taxation policies capture the most attention
Health care will continue to be the number one issue for Democrats, but also the most difficult as Obama’s passage of the Affordable Care Act showed. Congressional Democratic members have put forth eight alternative plans (see Kaiser Family Foundation comparison chart) for affordable and universal health care coverage, some of which strengthen the Affordable Care Act and others that build on Medicare. Senators Kaine and Bennet are introducing Medicare X, a public option plan that would be purchased on the health care exchanges.
Up to now, only one plan, Sanders single payer Medicare for All Act, is seemingly capturing a populist appeal, but support is declining with more publicity. It is also the most encompassing, costly and controversial of the plans. Despite the populist appeal, polling also shows that only 13 percent of Americans understand what the act entails; and that 160 million Americans who have private or employer based plans would lose those plans. Candidates would do well to study a similar Medicare for all plan, Colorado Care, Amendment 69, as to why it was so soundly defeated, 79 to 21, in 2016. There are lessons learned from that failed attempt that should not be dismissed. Medicare X might be an easier plan to sell and administer since it just builds off the existing Medicare and Medicaid plans.
The New Green Deal likewise has many features that all Democrats can embrace, but as the resolution is written and was hastily rolled out, it has been misinterpreted and criticized. “I’m afraid I just cannot see how we could possibly go to zero carbon in the 10-year time frame,” Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist and secretary of energy under President Barack Obama, told NPR. “It’s just impractical. And if we start putting out impractical targets, we may lose a lot of key constituencies who we need to bring along to have a real low-carbon solution on the most rapid time frame that we can achieve,” Moniz said.
Climate change initiatives like the New Green Deal are extremely important and should be vetted by experts before being put as out as populist resolutions, implying a Democratic Party consensus. The New Green Deal should be reworked during the primary process to be more presentable to a broader segment of the American people, and take lessons learned from President Obama’s attempt at comprehensive climate change legislation. “President Barack Obama signed a prototype Green New Deal into law in February 2009, pouring an unprecedented $90 billion into clean electricity, renewable fuels, advanced batteries, energy efficiency, a smarter grid and a slew of other green initiatives.” But it was also “politically debilitating for Democrats.”
New Mexico’s “Energy Transition Act” being touted by the Union of Concerned Scientists might be a good state model for Climate Change reform with its more achievable goals and expectations.
Democrats likewise have put forth many progressive tax proposals to reduce economic inequality including a 70 percent marginal income tax rate for upper income earners, increasing the estate taxes, increasing corporate taxes, increasing capital gains taxes, and a wealth tax. That marginal tax rate of 70 percent is often cited in a populist campaign for tax reform. However, it must not be considered in isolation. A more modest measure might have appeal within a much broader initiative of comprehensive tax reform including the closing of tax loopholes. "It’s not about chipping at this piece or that piece, it’s about a comprehensive look at what our tax policy should be for the future," Nancy Pelosi said.
I use these examples not to take a negative or defeatist attitude on important progressive ideas but to illustrate how important it is to have wide input from the diversity of the party members and to develop consensus on proposals before they are rolled out and promoted to the wider electorate under the Democratic Party umbrella and eventually the Democratic Party Platform.
All the differences between the idealists and the pragmatists can be worked out over the months ahead and with full contributions by experts and constituents to impart objective fact-based reality into the proposals, resulting in a scaling down of some of the big bold ideas to make them more marketable to a wider audience of Americans. The two sides of the party and the many factions need each other to make things happen, and with that cooperation the “most electable” presidential candidate and Congressional candidates to flip more red and purple districts will emerge -- moderate pragmatic Democrats.
“Elections belong to the people. It's their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” -- Abraham Lincoln