Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) addresses supporters during a campaign rally at Morehouse College on Sunday in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Opinion writer

Republicans apparently have figured out their 2020 strategy: Run on slashing Medicare and wiping out the Affordable Care Act. In President Trump’s budget, Republicans proposed more than $800 billion in Medicare cuts. Then on Monday, the Justice Department declared in a Fifth Circuit case that the administration "now believes the entire Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, a reversal from its position this past summer when the government said changes to the individual mandate were unconstitutional but severable from the whole law.”

That’s right: Trump wants to wipe out the ACA with nothing to replace it. That’s despite the Justice Department’s “long tradition of defending the constitutionality of federal laws. ... While there are exceptions, it’s rare for the department to refuse to defend federal statutes.” Getting rid of the ACA means the end of the protections for people with preexisting conditions, the guarantee that young adults can stay on their parents’ plans and the ACA exchange subsidies. All gone.

What’s more, the move comes on the very day that House Democrats not only filed a brief to defend the ACA but also announced they would roll out legislation on Tuesday to protect the law’s most popular aspects, including protections for preexisting conditions. It is as if Republicans forgot that in 2018, Republicans had to lie to insist they had voted to protect preexisting conditions when, in fact, they did the opposite. They apparently intend to hit the trail next year with the winning slogan, “We really do want to take away your health care.”

Likewise, Trump and his Republican cohorts want to enact big cuts to the Education Department so that the massive deficit created by tax cuts for the rich doesn’t look so bad. Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) quite cleverly proposes to do the opposite. Bloomberg reports:

Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris is proposing a $315 billion boost in federal spending to give the average public school teacher a $13,500 raise. The plan would be funded by higher estate taxes, according to an aide. ...

For Harris, the teacher pay proposal is an effort to appeal to a Democratic-leaning constituency that is largely unionized and influential in party politics. An NPR/Ipsos poll in May 2018 found that 59 percent of teachers have worked a second job, 46 percent have incurred debt to meet expenses, and at least 8 in 10 have used their own money to buy school supplies.

“States will receive the largest federal investment in teacher pay in history -- enough to increase pay for nearly every teacher in America and entirely close the teacher pay gap,” according to Harris’s six-page policy paper.


The plan is easy to understand: “The plan has three components. First, the federal government would provide 10 percent of the funds required to bring teacher pay in line with wages for other similarly qualified professionals. Second, it would create a federal match of $3 for every $1 a state spends to raise pay until that gap is eliminated. Third, it would require states to maintain this level and adjust for wage inflation as a condition to continue receiving federal funds.”

Instead of cutting education to disguise the fiscal imprudence of lavishing tax breaks on heirs of the super-rich, Harris wants to claw back some of the breaks to pay teachers more. One could hardly imagine a more helpful distillation for Democrats of the two parties’ philosophies.

The 2020 ads write themselves: Tax breaks for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, or better pay for teachers? Cut Medicare and eliminate Obamacare, or protect tens of millions of Americans with preexisting conditions, young adults who want to stay on parents’ plans and those who cannot afford to buy health care even as they work multiple jobs?

All of this should tell Democrats two things. First, if they cannot win on these issues while Trump is obsessing over revenge against the media and defending his tax cuts, Democrats might as well close up shop. Second, those chasing the “socialist” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) badly overshoot the mark. When Trump is trying to destroy Obamacare, there is no need to promise a pie-in-the-sky Medicare-for-all that wipes out private insurance and won’t pass anyway. They want to build a second story while the first story is on fire.

Politics shouldn’t be complicated: Make your campaigns about voters, not yourselves. Listen to what they want and try to deliver. If Democrats remember that, they will avoid blowing an easily winnable election.