Hot Take, here we go! So I wanted to talk about the future of the Democratic Party, and the rapidly escalating 2020 Democratic presidential primary is a great way to frame this discussion. Also, I haven’t gotten any angry emails yet, so what better way to change that then by trashing your favorite politicians?
Admittedly, trashing isn’t really the right word. I quite like Bernie Sanders. However, he is not representative of the future of the Democratic Party, and he is not a good candidate for president. Now, before I continue, I would like to emphasize that while connected, “being representative of the future of the Democratic Party” and “being a good Democratic candidate for president” are not the same thing. Please do not conflate them.
Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way first: Bernie Sanders is old and white in a party whose voter base is anything but. The problem is more than surface level though. Despite recently making strides in the right direction, Bernie has still failed to find substantial support from women and people of color. Furthermore, he represents the far left wing of the Democratic Party. It is true that mainstream Democrats have moved to the left, and it is possible for a politician to be liberal and still representative of the party. However, in our hyper-liberal bubbles, it is easy to forget that Democratic voters as a whole are not that liberal. Polling consistently shows that the majority of Democratic voters want to see their party move in a more moderate direction, not a more liberal one. Ultimately, Sanders is an ideological warrior. He is not known for compromise or moderation; he is known for being a socialist. This is not what holds together the Democratic Party.
I think that people tend to vastly overestimate Sanders’ electability. He certainly performed well in 2016, but he is simply not what people want. Like Donald Trump, Sanders received a massive boost from the unpopularity of Hillary Clinton, but he still solidly lost the primary. Meanwhile, old age and socialism are two of the least desirable traits voters look for in a candidate. Now, you might say to me, “Bernie is actually a democratic socialist, and that’s totally different,” or “Bernie isn’t really a socialist,” and you would be right. However, I can assure you that the greater American public could not care less. For more concrete evidence, we can turn to the 2018 midterm elections. The Sanders-inspired OurRevolution movement supported numerous Bernie-esque candidates, and nearly all of them failed. The idea that Bernie Sanders would be able to turn reliably Republican districts blue was proved false. Instead it was moderate Democrats who led the party to its house majority.
Now that I’ve angered half of you, I’ll anger the other half by telling you that Beto O’Rourke is also neither representative nor a good candidate for the Democratic Party. Unlike Sanders, he is young and more subtly progressive. However, also unlike Sanders, he hasn’t staked out hard policy positions. In short, Beto gives good speeches, but it is nearly impossible to figure out what he actually stands for. His previous voting record is uneven, and he falls behind nearly all other current candidates when it comes to staking out policy views. As I mentioned previously, the success of the Democratic Party hangs on pushing specific policy. Broad ideological battles and speeches are the territory of Republicans. O’Rourke may be inspirational, and I’ll take him over Cruz or Trump any day, but he will not be able to effectively hold together the Democratic coalition.
Besides 2020 electability, what does the future of the Democratic Party look like? In addition to the surface level visuals, like more representation of women, POC, and young people, it’s about being willing to compromise and reach out. It’s about taking concrete policy positions and, when in a position to do so, working to make gains on these even if it means compromising. In our era of polarization and constitutional hardball it’s easy to forget that bipartisanship and cooperation are not just good politics, they’re what Democratic voters are looking for. Being liberal is okay, but that can’t be all that you have going for you. Instead it’s about putting your stake in concrete policies rather than an ideology.
If you’re curious what current primary candidate is best, I’m afraid I’m not ready to put that down in writing just yet. Should you really want to know, you can come ask me in person, but I’m saving my official endorsement for some time closer to the actual primary. I hope you all have a great summer! Hopefully I’ll be back in the fall to talk about the future (or potential lack thereof) of the Republican Party.