How come only Democrats have to always agree with the public

Good column from Frank Bruni yesterday.  And I largely agree with him because he uses data to make his points :-).  The gist: Democrats need to be careful how far left they move:

But, you say, his racism must be called out. A demagogue must be branded as such. Not to condemn incipient fascism is to play midwife to the real thing.

That’s a virtuous take, but is there really any reason to believe that it’s the recipe for Trump’s demise?

We used all those words in 2016 — racist, demagogue, fascist — and he won. Voters saw indelible examples of this same behavior, and he won. The Wednesday rally wasn’t a new Trump, just a bloated one. And the coming election isn’t a referendum on his character, which voters have or haven’t made their peace with. Pointing at him and shouting the direst words from the darkest thesaurus will do limited if any good.

Stop talking so much about the America that he’s destroying and save that oxygen for the America that Democrats want to create…

It [2018 midterms] may have minted young progressive superstars like the congresswomen in the squad, but they aren’t especially popular beyond their progressive fan clubs. More important, their victories had zilch to do with why or how Democrats regained control of Congress and have dubious relevance to how Democrats can do the same with the White House in 2020. The House members they replaced were Democrats, not Republicans, so their campaigns weren’t lessons in how to move voters from one party’s column to the other.

Other first-term House candidates’ bids did offersuch lessons, so look harder at that crew. Lauren Underwood in the exurbs of Chicago, Xochitl Torres Small in southern New Mexico, Abigail Spanberger in the suburbs of Richmond, Va., and Antonio Delgado in upstate New York — these four defeated Republicans in districts where Trump had prevailed by four to 10 percentage points just two years earlier. None of them ran on the Green New Deal, single-payer health insurance, reparations or the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency…

Of the roughly 90 candidates on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s list of 2018 challengers with some hope of turning a red House district blue, just two made a big pitch for single-payer health care. Both lost. While first-time candidates endorsed by the progressive groups Justice Democrats or Our Revolution certainly won House elections last year, not one flipped a seat. The party did pick up 40 seats overall — just not with the most progressive candidates…

But that hasn’t stopped the leftward lunge of leading contenders for the Democratic nomination, several of whom want “Medicare for all” and many of whom support the decriminalization of illegal border crossings.

That puts them on shaky ground. Polling has shown that when voters are told that Medicare for all would mean an end to private insurance or an increase in taxes, support for it drops below 40 percent.

And according to a Politico/Morning Consult survey published a few days ago, 51 percent of voters support the sweeping raids by ICE that the president trumpets, while just 35 percent oppose them. That suggests that anything that smacks of open borders — which is how President Barack Obama’s secretary for homeland security, Jeh Johnson, described Democratic presidential candidates’ positions in a recent op-ed essay in The Washington Post — puts those candidates at odds with public opinion. Voters see them answering Trump’s extremism with extremism of a different kind.

I think (though I’m far from sure) that Bruni is basically right.  It is so damn important to defeat Trump that if moving too far left weakens those chances, we have to be really cautious against moving too far left.  We’ve just got to get Trump out to save our democracy.

That said, you know what political party is vastly out-of-step with Americans on a range of issues?  The Republican party, damnit.  From abortion, to taxes, to gay marriage, to environmental protection, the GOP keeps taking extreme, minority positions, and keeps winning office.  Can’t Democrats be out-of-step to the left on an issue or two?  I think maybe they can.  But, I don’t know if I want to risk a Trump reelection on that.  And, to be clear, I still think we need more evidence before we can definitively say that.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

4 Responses to How come only Democrats have to always agree with the public

  1. Mike in Chapel Hill says:

    This is why Trump will be reelected, unless by some miracle justice is served and he goes to jail. But the Democrats have almost completely already prevented that from happening. They have had all the evidence they need to impeach him, but they are holding out for some kind of magic bullet from Mueller. Either the evidence of Trump’s criminality is sufficient, or it is not. The weight of the evidence doesn’t hinge on public opinion. By dithering this long they have undermined the case for impeachment.

  2. R. Jenrette says:

    When a political party tries to remove a constitutionally elected President, it better have strong and widely understood charges. If the people don’t understand and support such a move, only trouble can come. By trouble I mean civic unrest, even open rebellion and certainly a disruption of the ability of the government to support peace and tranquility. If the people are uncertain they will be open to the defensive tactics of the President and his party.
    That is a losing proposition, especially with a certain failure to convict in the Senate. Democrats have been warned before about not letting the perfect get in the way of the possible. The possible is to educate the public about the acts of the President while hailing the great future of the country when back in the arms of Democrats who brought them Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid, all of which are threatened by a Republican victory.

    • Mike in Chapel Hill says:

      Meanwhile, rather than promoting a rallying cry of “Restore Our American Democracy” and bellowing the values of rule of law, honesty, and fairness, the gaggle of Democratic candidates are harping on about reparations, making it legal to sneak across the border, and free money for college. When the very legitimacy of political speech, an independent judiciary, a free press, and the co-equal branches of government are under attack this is what the Democratic candidates talk about? The inability to market a winning message is astounding. And thoroughly depressing.

      • Steve Greene says:

        Sadly, I think the evidence is pretty clear that ordinary of Americans– both left and right– really just don’t get and sufficient care about basic rule of law. Also, I don’t think they are actually talking about reparations all that much. Also, there’s value in standing up to the extremes of the base, but too few seem to realize that.

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