The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion It’s time to retire these tired political lines

Former vice president Joe Biden has lunch at Lindy's Diner in Keene, N.H., on Saturday. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

We’re not even to Labor Day yet, and already a bunch of conventional-wisdom talking points are past their due date. Let’s go through the worst of these.

You can’t just be against President Trump: Nonsense. A president’s reelection is a referendum on him. Mitt Romney didn’t lose in 2012 because he lacked a positive agenda for the future. He lost because the economy was good enough and because he epitomized for too many voters the rich, white, country-club Republican (corporations are people, 47 percent are takers, etc.). (And I say that as someone who thinks he would have been a fine president.)

When winning challengers do set out an alternative, it’s invariably lighter than air (e.g. Bill Clinton’s bridge to the 21st century). In Trump’s case, the Democratic base is so fired up that Democratic voters likely will crawl over broken glass to vote for anyone with a “D” after his or her name. And if Trump keeps up this crackpot routine and the economy slips further, independents and even some Republicans will grab onto a Democrat who promises not to be a lunatic and seems reasonably well-informed.

The public wants big, bold, revolutionary ideas”: Only people in politics, the media and universities seem to say things like this. In real life, has a friend or relative ever said, “I want big, bold, revolutionary ideas”? No, they say, “Prescription drug prices are too high” or “We need to get serious about gun regulation." Moreover, no one wants bad ideas — big or small. Forgiving all student debt or blowing $16 trillion to buy everyone a Prius would be examples of big, bold and awful ideas.

Do Democrats want to be safe with Joe Biden or pick someone else?”: Remember that Hillary Clinton (in 2008 and 2016) was the “safe” pick. One more time: The notion that Democrats need a white guy to win the upper Midwest is wrong because 1) They probably have those states already; 2) It assumes that only white, rural voters live in these states (as if women, suburbanites and nonwhite voters don’t count); 3) The cranky Fox News viewers aren’t switching votes, although they might become so depressed by defending a disastrous president that they just stay home; and 4) Does anyone remember 2018? All kinds of women — lesbian women, Native American women, black women, Hispanic women — ran and won. The pickup of about 40 seats happened because, by and large, Democrats beat “safe” white men.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is surging because she has all these plans. Everyone, get plans. Voters want plans!”: Actually, what voters want to know is that you have some plans. Honestly, the details don’t matter all that much. (Quick: What’s in Warren’s housing plan? I dunno. But she has one.) What Warren is saying is that, as one smart Democratic veteran put it, “I’ve got that.” She is telling voters that she knows what their problems are, is competent and ready to govern (although Pete Buttigieg has more elected, executive experience). Trump had secret plans, and those were good enough for voters.

Warren is winning over voters because she has a powerful theme (government is working only for the very rich and powerful), she knows how to weave personal stories into her message and she conveys incredible energy. Hey, if plans were so important, she’d have one on the most important domestic issue, health care. The electable Democrat is the one who will make sure every Democrat gets off the couch to vote and who gives just enough assurance to soft Republican voters that the Democratic nominee will be calmer, saner and more competent than Trump. (See Answer No. 1.) It’s a low bar.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: There’s a reason Elizabeth Warren is surging

Jennifer Rubin: Trump is the one with the ‘electability’ problem

James Downie: Sanders’s climate proposal is the best way forward

Henry Olsen: Elizabeth Warren is gaining ground. But her path to the nomination is harder than you think.