First, she reminded Democrats that “if you cannot make progress, how can you truly be a progressive? You can say you’re a progressive, but at the end, after you’re there, you’re on and you’re in, you better have something to show for it.” That’s a not-so-subtle dig at the candidates who have made their careers by issuing grand, radical pronouncements with little result. Progressive rhetoric is not the same as progressive accomplishment, she argues. Those uber-progressives who ridicule the moderate-progressives should be pressed to prove that they are capable of delivering. The point is not to satisfy the Twitterverse or to scare the voters they need to defeat President Trump. Instead, Klobuchar argues for being “progressive but practical,” a sensibility that is going to attract rather than repel voters in states that Democrats must win.
Second, rather than robotically insist that she will “fight” for extreme ideas, Klobuchar argues that Democrats need to win congressional seats and governorships along with the presidency. Pointing to wins in governor races in 2018 in Michigan and Wisconsin plus those in 2019 in Kentucky and Louisiana, she says: “My theory of the case is if we want to get all of these important things done, we can’t just win by a little. We have to win big.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but Democrats have to think about what states Hillary Clinton did not win that their nominee can capture in 2020. A huge margin in California will not make up for narrow losses in the Upper Midwest.
Third, Klobuchar colorfully makes the case that Democrats have the populist bona fides, not Trump, who she reminds audiences received $413 million from his father:
$413 million, and the last three years have shown us that that $413 million windfall left him with a sense of what? Entitlement, a sense of actually, vindictiveness for some reason, a sense that even the presidency is just another cookie jar that he can raid.
Moreover, Democrats must hit Trump on his robber-baron economics: “[We] can be both progressive and practical by taking on this issue in a smart way, not by kicking 143 million Americans off of their current health insurance, but by making the Affordable Care Act stronger," she said. “You do that with that nonprofit public option; you do that by taking on Big Pharma." Klobuchar added: “They think they own Washington. They might, but they do not own me. We can also greatly improve the Affordable Care Act and our health-care system by finally reckoning with the addictions that we face in our state and in our country, and with mental health care.” In short, a candidate from the heartland and rooted in the middle class who is able to attack Trump for coddling Big Business and the wealthy might be his worst nightmare. Trump will not be able to write off Klobuchar as a coastal elite pursuing socialist policies.
Debunking Trump’s claim to be the protector of the middle class sometimes means using ridicule and humor to debilitate him. (“We will never forget his words when he went to Mar-a-Lago after passing the tax bill, surrounded by his friends. Were any of you there? I didn’t want to embarrass anyone if they were there. Just wanted to make sure because what he said in that room [was]: ‘You’ve just got a lot richer.’”)
Fourth, instead of characterizing compromise as failure and collaboration as a pipe dream, she makes the hard work of legislating and governing into a virtue. “The hard work, the unglamorous work as these guys sitting behind me know, the real work of democracy is finding what we have in common, what united Americans, what we can actually achieve together,” she said. “I learned from my grandpa that the real glory comes from doing not what’s easy, but what’s hard. I learned that from my dad’s struggles with alcoholism that really what matters is you can have the determination and grit to get through whatever obstacles are in your path. I learned from my mom’s decades in the classroom, that real progress takes patience, not taking your marbles and running home." She added, "I learned in my three terms as a United States senator, something that the president will never learn. And that is to get across the bridge, you have to build one, not blow one up.”
In sum, Klobuchar adeptly measures progressivism by results, reminds Democratic voters of their electoral challenge (win big outside blue enclaves), reclaims the populist economic message (while tagging Trump as a spoiled heir who serves his rich friends) and equates governing with grit and perseverance, not with naivete. Whether Klobuchar is the right messenger remains to be seen. However, her message is unmistakably on-target. Democrats should listen.