Opinion: Moderate Democrat Needed to Defeat Trump
By Steven Gibbs, Guest Columnist
Between the longest government shutdown in history, the looming special council probe, and the faux-crisis at the border and subsequent executive overreach to acquire border wall funds, President Trump continues to dig a deeper grave for himself. By all outward appearances, the stars are perfectly aligned for a democratic president in 2020. Unfortunately, the Democrats are currently mired in their own grave-digging.
Recently, self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders has thrown his hat into the ring for democratic nominee for president. Despite not winning the nomination in 2016, Sanders proved to be quite popular among younger and far-left Democrats and netted over 40% of the primary vote against Hillary Clinton. Upon his 2020 announcement, he managed to raise almost $4 million from individual donations in just half a day; more than double the runner-up, Kamila Harris, with $1.5 million in 24 hours. He is also credited by many for having pushed the Democratic Party further to the left than the Obama era, and he himself more or less admitted this in an interview on CBS This Morning.
There is no doubt that the excitement around Sanders is not to be underestimated, but perhaps this a more of a curse than a blessing. He and other far-left figureheads like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) may give voice to younger, more radical voters, but by-and-large they alienate moderates and swing voters – the people who gave Trump the victory in 2016. The simple fact is that the majority of Americans do not think that socialism is a good idea, in the same sense that most do not think that fascism or theocracy are good ideas: these ideologies are seen as antagonistic to American democracy and the constitution. Moreover, the people who embrace them are seen as morally bankrupt, grossly incompetent, or both.
From a party-practical perspective, the danger of embracing radical viewpoints is that doing so gives the other side free ammunition to attack the whole of the party, as if to say the whole of the other party supports dangerous extremism. Since Cortez’s victory for New York’s 14thdistrict in 2018, Fox News and other conservative media outlets have been dominated by wall-to-wall commentary of almost comical demeanor on the young congresswoman. It is akin to the self-proclaimed prophet who stands on the street corner proclaiming that the end is nigh; in their eyes, the communists have invaded American soil and are after our precious bodily fluids.
The same principle applies to President Trump, whose empowerment of far-right ideologues and toddler-like rants have earned him endless disdain not just from every corner of left-leaning media, but also from many who initially supported him. Moderate Republicans are looking on in horror at what their party is becoming under such a figurehead, and anti-Clinton swing voters are shaking their heads and wondering if they should’ve stayed home in 2016. In this sense, the Trump presidency might be considered a cautionary tale to the Democrats; a warning to not exploit dissent with a flamboyant-tough-guy candidate, or else the people who could carry their party to electoral victory might find themselves betrayed.
It seems that the Democrats’ strategy for 2020 is to capitalize on the anti-Trump sentiment and rally those in their base who stayed home in 2016. By extension, they’re counting on the center-right moderates and anti-Clinton swing voters to be the ones who stay home, too disgruntled by Trump to vote for him again. Therefore, they think that any candidate, even a far-left fringe one, will gain victory easily. In reality, this overconfidence could easily produce a similar scenario to 2016, where the anti-Clinton moderates become anti-Bernie moderates. At that point, there is a lesser chance that Trump can be defeated.
Looking beyond demographics, what propelled Trump to victory in 2016 was a fear of the other candidate. Trump knew about this fear, he exploited it, and he could easily do it again if his opponent is a declared socialist – a dirty word in the minds of many Americans. Just consider the mention of socialism in the 2019 State of the Union and the chamber’s reaction to it. This doesn’t just apply to socialism either. Many of the currently declared democratic candidates are decried as being either too similar to Hillary Clinton, or underachieving paper-pushers who lack experience. While it’s true that no candidate is perfect, the 2016 question is rearing its head again: Is the bestwe can do?
If Democrats really want to give Trump the sound defeat that he deserves, then they should pick a candidate that will appeal to a wide range of Americans, not just a radical wing of their party. The best way to do this will be to go for someone moderate; someone whom Trump cannot reasonably attack. Such a candidate would be able to cast a wide net of support and gain the numbers needed to win. If that means forgoing promises of free healthcare and free college, then so be it. Despite tensions from different policy agendas among moderates and Democrats, nothing is more important than getting Trump out of the Oval Office. Now is not the time to do any moral grandstanding. Now is the time to win an election.