Immediately following the 2016 elections liberals coalesced around two competing positions about how to survive and thrive in a Trump-led Washington.
Some argued that the path to power was to “reject the siren calls of the left” and move back to the center. As Mark Penn and Andrew Stein argued in the New York Times, Democrats were making the same mistakes as they made in the early 1990s, when “Democrats relied on identity politics, promoted equality of outcomes instead of equality of opportunity and looked to find a government solution to every problem.” These stances, they argued, left working-class voters feeling not just abandoned, but “penalized for maintained the basic values of hard work, religion and family.”
Others argued the exact opposite, that for Democrats the way to reclaim the White House was in becoming more progressive, not less. As Steve Phillips argued (in condescending fashion) in the Times, “there is little evidence that Democrats can do significantly better with those white working-class voters who are susceptible to messages laces with racism and sexism.” Others on the left worried about “normalizing” the president and should instead “drop the subject of [bipartisanship], and fight like hell instead.”
The latter view of combative #resistance has captured the collective hearts and voices of the activist Left, drowning out any of the moderating influences in the party that would otherwise prefer to allow Washington to govern. As a result, the faces of the party have been pulled leftward too, fighting to out-liberal one another in an effort to court the political forces that will be crucial to capturing the Democratic nomination in 2020.
Elena Schor reports on the race to the left for Politico:
It used to be that Bernie Sanders was an ideological lone ranger in the Senate. Now, a whole host of potential presidential hopefuls are racing to represent the liberal grass roots on their issues of the day — and pulling the Democratic Party’s center of gravity further to the left.
The trend was apparent throughout the fall among the half-dozen Democratic senators drawing the loudest buzz for 2020 — aside from Sanders (I-Vt.), the group includes Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
First they flocked to Sanders’ single-payer health care proposal. And then, almost in unison, they adopted two other stands popular among the Democratic base: Refusing to vote for any budget plan that didn’t include help for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, and calling for Donald Trump’s resignation over sexual harassment claims leveled against him last year by multiple women.
Although this strategy may work to generate enthusiasm amongst the small-cadre of disproportionately loud activists, it could also operate to push moderate mid-term voters away from the party. For instance, Democrat presidential hopefuls were tripping over themselves to be the first to publicly endorse Senator Bernie Sanders’ Medicare-for-all idea. Ultimately, Sen. Harris won the race, but she was immediately followed by Booker, Gillibrand, Merkley, Warren and Harris.
Although the push was cheered by liberal activists, 32 of the Senate’s 48 members rejected cosponsorship, in no small part because they recognized the risk of lining up behind an idea that American voters don’t support. As Perry Bacon Jr. wrote for FiveThirtyEight, the issue “is hardly guaranteed to be a winning idea in either the primaries or the general election, leaving those who embrace it vulnerable to being attacked by more moderate rivals who argue the approach is too expensive and impractical.”
Other issues, such as threatening to shut down the government unless the government funding bill includes a DACA fix, similarly open up the left flank of they party to significant attack.
Interestingly, they don’t seem to care. As of now, they are content to give up on kitchen table issues like the economy and wages, and are even jettisoning long-held views like growing the manufacturing base, in order to follow the script being laid out by the left-most elements of the party. These few are not chasing the road to relevance, they are attempting to navigate a path to the Democrat presidential nomination. And their party will suffer greatly for it.