The Democrats swept to power in Congress by campaigning in a way that has been successful for Democrats for generations. “Republicans will take away your health care,” they said, after having focus-grouped it. Now we are preparing for a 2020 campaign in which Donald Trump and Republicans can as easily advertise to the public: “Democrats will take away cows, and your car.” What happened to Democrats?
Back in November, it looked like Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic House caucus had found the perfect plan for their party in the era of Trump: Avoid talking about impeachment and stick to simple bread-and-butter issues. Don’t tell swing voters that they are deplorable for having supported Donald Trump, instead, promise to protect the most popular features of Obamacare. Also, remind voters that Republicans cut taxes for the rich. Except for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who ran in a deep-blue district, most of the boundary-pushing progressive candidates lost their elections. All signs pointed to the idea that Democrats just had to be the normal party, and the upper Midwest would snap back in 2020.
But progressives have decided to push the envelope anyway. Fearing a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, blue states such as New York, Rhode Island, and Virginia set about passing expanded legal protections for various later-term abortions. This led to the governor of Virginia’s unforgettable discussion about providing “comfort” to a child born out of a botched abortion before “a decision” is made about whether that child should live or be made to die.
The presidential campaign’s beginning has also involved a giant lurch to the left. Bernie Sanders consistently scores as the second-most popular candidate, and his competitors are trying to outbid him on the left. And so half of them have rushed to co-sponsor Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s non-binding resolution proposing a “Green New Deal” that promises to upgrade every building and vehicle to renewable energy and remake America as a Nordic social democracy in the bargain.
This is an absolute coup for Ocasio-Cortez and for the activists and advisers that have flocked to her. The Green New Deal was, until very very recently, talked about only in small policy groups led Democratic Socialists of America. Now leading candidates for the presidency are trying to adopt it as their own agenda.
However, it is also very likely a misreading of the electorate and the progressive outlook. Bernie Sanders is a man of the left, but his policy program and even his persona are in many ways nostalgic. They are the realization of a mid-20th-century version of liberalism. Sanders is still willing to say that open borders is a plutocrat’s agenda, not the penance America must perform for its cultural sins. The Sanders agenda would increase taxes, but his primary goal is to deliver more services to Americans, not try to bully them with regulation and progressive nudges into ditching their cars, moving to cities and giving up meat.
It should be easy for Democrats to run against a president with Donald Trump’s approval ratings and his mixed record of accomplishments. Nancy Pelosi seems to understand how easy it should be. If their message is “We’ll protect and enhance the features of American life that you love,” they can win. But Democrats are overreaching before they’re even in power. They’re announcing that the lifestyle of the deplorables must be targeted for destruction. Until they recover their sense, Republicans will rally.