If a Republican is offering free advice to Democrats on how to get back in power, don’t take it.
The Democratic Party’s steady move to the left in recent times, particularly in the past year and a half, is one of the most important developments of this era in American politics. And inevitably, the concern trolls are out, telling the party that it will waste an opportunity if it goes too far to the left.
While that may seem perfectly logical if you’re a political junkie, in the real world it seldom works. The reason is that most voters don’t think in ideological terms. They aren’t maintaining a running tally of positions candidates have taken, then assigning each candidate a score (plus 1 for her positions on abortion and health care, minus one for her position on NAFTA), then seeing which candidate’s total comes closest to the ideological score they’ve assigned themselves. That’s just not how voters make decisions.
Nobody understands this better than Republicans. After all, it’s the reason they can keep winning elections despite the fact that most of the things they want to do are absurdly unpopular. Tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, stopping any increase in the minimum wage, taking away protections for people with preexisting conditions, opposing even universal background checks for gun purchases? These are not popular ideas. Yet Republicans don’t spend a lot of time worrying about whether they’re moving too far to the right, because they find ways, like stoking culture war issues and playing on racial resentment, that push them over the finish line.
The purpose of the trolling is to push the Democrats back into their corner and start generating waves of “Dems in Disarray” columns and segments by George Will and Chuck Todd. “Don’t get too cocky or arrogant, and by all means don’t come up with candidates who push back as hard as the right-wingers push you. It degrades the civil discourse. We’ll be right back after this message from Viagra.”
The sad part is that the Democrats start to believe it themselves, which is a disconnect from reality and politics as it’s playing out in the Interregnum of Trump. As Michelle Goldberg points out, the Republicans are running a slew of neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, and plain old Nazis. But we should be freaked out because a candidate for Congress in New York wants to give us Medicare for All?
Liberals are too afraid of their own shadows of the past — universal health care, gun control, reproductive rights, fair taxation — despite the fact that those are overwhelmingly popular with the electorate, including Republicans. Let someone scream “Socialist!” at a Trump rally and ten Democratic state chairmen start clutching their pearls and warn their local candidates to back off from advocating for those socialist values such as clean water, clean air, safe public schools, and equal rights under the law. That is not how to win an election, and especially now when we have a majority party made up of those who don’t take a stand against their own fascists and a president that threatens democracy with his thumbs on the Twitter keyboard.