If Democratic Party leaders aren’t re-watching last week’s debate in Houston, they should. If they have watched it and aren’t freaking out over what they see, it’s fair to ask whether they actually want Donald Trump to win a second term. That session was a debacle for the party and the field: Nearly three tortuous hours of tails wagging dogs, petty sniping, and a lack of vision all the Lasik surgery in the world couldn’t cure.
The knock from Republicans, Never-Trumpers, and moderate Democrats is that most of the 2020 candidates are too far to the left and out of touch. Last week’s display confirmed it. This was a definitive example of a party controlled by its fringe elements, preferring purity over victory.
Houston featured a grab bag of turn-offs for independent voters. First, the elitist policy prescriptions put forth by most of the candidates have the dubious distinction of being out of step with most Americans while also being hugely expensive. Next, the field displayed an inability to understand that their words will reach the ears of all who will vote next November, not just those that show up to snowy Iowa churches in February.
Hewing to the base during primary season is nothing new. The new twist this election season is that most of the candidates leave themselves with almost no escape hatch back to the middle. It’s as if they don’t want one. Two of the three Democratic front-runners, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are staking their candidacies on extraordinarily progressive stances on issues such as health care, the environment and the economy.
When moderators pressed Warren on whether middle-class taxes would go up, she bobbed and weaved to avoid an answer. Matching the unpopularity of your platform with a lack of candor about who will pay for it is rarely a path to electoral success.
Not to be outdone on the planetarily out-of-touch scale, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow D.C. Democrats are reportedly planning to target President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as prime examples of how the Republican Party disrespects all three branches of government.
This seems to be the type of data-driven, glossy argument that Beltway politicians and consultants love. After all, everyone in America hates Trump, McConnell and Kavanaugh, right? Maybe. Or maybe they don’t know them all that well (aside from Trump) and after all the terrible 30-second attack ads, voters will be in the same place they started: These guys may (or may not) be bad actors, but what are you offering instead? More bull about how the “process” matters? Yes, process and institutions matter, but for folks whose Job 1 is getting through the day or worrying about their kids’ welfare, better government is a byproduct of vision and leadership.