During the second night of the first set of Democratic Party debates, the candidates were asked to raise their hand if their government healthcare plan would cover illegal aliens. Every candidate, including “moderates” Joe Biden, Michael Bennett, and John Hickenlooper, raised their hands. This primary has already seemed like a race to the left, but these debates showed that truly every candidate is onboard, and centrism is a thing of the past for the Democratic Party.
Donald Trump’s approval rating has been surprisingly low despite a strong economy. His base has been frustrated with him over his inconsistent foreign policy, and centrists (especially suburban whites who typically vote Republican) are pushed away by his tariffs and rhetoric. This should be an easy steal for the Democrats, so long as they run someone moderate and civil. So far, they have shown interest in the opposite. Democrats have been following the lead of far-left “slacktivists” on Twitter, endorsing every “free” policy they can think of except free ponies. Their divisive rhetoric on race will drive away suburban white voters and alienate white blue-collar workers in those Rust Belt states that we saw hand Trump the victory in 2016.
The Democrats aren’t stupid, as hard as that is to believe. They know they will have to change their messaging in the general election if they want to take on Trump. The problem is that it’s still eight months until Iowa. We have to witness 11 more debates in this primary, with the next one coming at the end of July in Detroit. If the eventual nominee has to voice support for free healthcare for illegals in Detroit, where a city collapsed and the union workers felt left behind by the Democrats, how are they going to claim those Americans are their priority next fall?
Kamala Harris is already walking back one moment from the debate. When asked to raise their hand if they would abolish private healthcare, Harris raised her hand (along with only Bernie Sanders, whose plan she supports). On Friday, the morning after the debate, she said her plan would still allow “supplemental insurance.” Obviously a lot of health insurance workers would lose their jobs if the Sanders plan (which does ban private, competitive options) took effect, and those people are probably pretty unlikely to vote for someone who supports it. You can read a whole write-up of Senator Harris’s flip-flopping from NBC’s own staff here.
My point is that primaries are about extremism, generally. You have to win Democratic voters to win the Democratic primary. I get that. But how far are these candidates willing to go to win the primary, and will it sabotage them in the general election? This image from the New York Times on the ideological shifts of the two major parties over the last two decades seems to indicate that it has to.
Democrats simply have moved too far left, and you cannot appeal to the far-left and the blue-collar workers they left behind at the same time. If Donald Trump can move in and pick up the voters who he risked losing (namely the white, suburban, middle-class voters who delivered Democrats a sweeping victory in 2018) while they are dejected by the state of the Democratic primary, and remind them in the general election of these couple of months, he will have an easy reelection. If Democrats cannot move past identitarianism and genuinely-socialist policies, they won’t have a shot. Maybe this assumes too much of the voters’ memories, too much of Donald Trump’s political prowess, or too little of the Democrats’, but that is how it seems now.
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