Elections

No More Chastened Democrats

From left: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Kamala Harris during the second night of the first Democratic presidential candidates debate in Miami, Fla., June 27, 2019. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
Freak flags flew for two nights in a row.

Chastened Democrats win elections. In 2006, 2008, and 2018, Democrats humbled themselves before moderate and even conservative voters and triumphed. Arrogant Democrats lose these voters. Nancy Pelosi must have been watching the past two nights of Democratic primary debates in horror.

In the 2018 midterm elections, Pelosi’s Democrats far outdid Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance. Pelosi’s Democrats won the popular vote over Republicans by 6.7 points nationwide. How? By relentlessly talking about pocketbook issues, particularly the Democrats’ commitment to protecting voters’ existing health-insurance arrangements. Attack ads against Republicans in 2018 focused on the provision of a bill that would have weakened protections for those with preexisting conditions. Pelosi’s Democrats said Republicans would “raise your premiums” and “kick you off your health-care plan.” For good measure they accused Republicans of “doubling the debt.” Pelosi and Chuck Schumer tried to tamp down the story of the migrant caravan then traveling through Mexico, calling President Trump’s focus on it a distraction from health care. Pelosi’s Democrats retook the Rust Belt districts that Donald Trump had won in 2016.

Her operation reminded me of the last time Democrats had been humbled: after the 2004 elections. In the following midterms in 2006 and the election of 2008, Democrats ran against Republican radicalism. Just twelve years ago, Democratic candidates for president competed with each other on how tough and realistic they could be on illegal immigration. The leading candidates for president advertised not just their opposition to same-sex marriage but also their opposition to drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants. Dennis Kucinich quoted from the Bible.

Over the last two nights, we saw a completely different Democratic party. Several leading candidates, including Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris, vowed to kick 100 million Americans off their private insurance plans in favor of Medicare for All. This is a position supported by less than 15 percent of Americans. Just a tiny fraction of that number of cancellations in the wake of Obamacare caused an electoral earthquake for Democrats in 2010.

Democratic candidates have committed to decriminalizing illegal entry, rendering it a civil offense. Those caught entering would be released and told to come to court at a future date. Democrats also say they would not deport anyone whose sole offense was illegally entering the country, because illegal immigrants are Americans.

Taken together, these reduce illegal immigration to a speeding violation on the way toward guaranteed residence. That’s not quite open borders, but it’s close. In addition, every candidate on the debate stage of night two promised free health care for illegal immigrants, and some candidates have emphasized that free health care includes abortion.

Trump promised a wall. Democrats are promising an inviting turnstile.

Trump was hardly mentioned at all in the Democratic debates, despite the fact the job they are interviewing for is defeating Trump. Trump is an unusually unpopular incumbent even in a strong economy. Where were the inventive putdowns? Kamala Harris made some efforts at contrast when she promised, “I will release children from cages.” Though, given her history as a prosecutor, I think she just intends to have fun catching them as truants later.

The only candidate who spoke clearly about winning over voters who went for Donald Trump in 2016 was the fascinating fringe candidate Andrew Yang. He received just two minutes and 18 seconds of air time.

Of course, we should have expected some freak flags flying. The people tuned in to the primary this early tend to be activists and highly engaged donors. And the electorate in 2020 will be younger and more progressive than the one that Nancy Pelosi had to win over in 2018, because turnout rises in presidential-election years.

But as the hands went up unanimously for extremely disruptive and extremely unpopular policies, the thought kept coming to me: “This is why you’re gonna get Trump.”

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