The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Dear Democrats: I’ll vote for any of you. But please nominate someone who can actually win.

From left, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Kamala D. Harris talk simultaneously during last week’s Democratic primary debate in Miami.
From left, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Kamala D. Harris talk simultaneously during last week’s Democratic primary debate in Miami. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

Dear Democrats:

Well, this is certainly an exciting time for America, isn’t it? There was so much to celebrate on the Fourth of July. “Stranger Things” is streaming all-new episodes, the U.S. women’s soccer team is in the World Cup final, and Häagen-Dazs recently launched a new line of booze-flavored ice cream

However, a few things could be better. Starting with the belligerent, impulsive and vulgar bully who’s sitting in the Oval Office. And the Democratic plans to evict him come November 2020.

On the Democratic debate stage last week, a number of candidates, including many of the front-runners, came out of the gate promising to abolish private health insurance, pursue immigration policies that sounded, as New York Times columnist David Brooks put it, like “operationally open borders” and . . . maybe bring back busing for school desegregation? 

I admire their zeal, but to me this sounds less like a winning campaign platform than an electoral suicide pact.

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There are certainly reasonable policy arguments for a government-run health-care system and reasonable moral arguments for open borders. Both, however, are unpopular with voters. What I heard from that stage can’t be easily resculpted into some moderate-friendly sound bite, and it is unlikely to be forgotten by anxious moderates. Yes, candidates customarily run toward the base in the primary, then tack back to the center for the general election. But the leading candidates have wandered so far out into left field that they’ll need a high-speed, solar-powered monorail to make it back in time for 2020.

I’m not the first person to make these points; Brooks and his conservative Times colleague Bret Stephens have already made them more pungently, and at greater length. Both of them are begging Democrats to put up a candidate they can vote for, and it’s safe to say that they speak for most of what remains of the #NeverTrump conservatives. 

Their message was not well-received by many Democrats, who engaged in what appeared to be an extended exercise in what the libertarian writer Julian Sanchez has dubbed “epistemic closure”: the systematic banishment of any source of information outside your ideological bubble. 

This reaction is understandable, to an extent. In our partisan era, it’s hard to believe that anyone from the other team could have your best interests at heart. And how can the #Resistance take seriously anyone who has lived through the early years of the Trump administration without already being committed to support whomever the Democrats put up? If you #NeverTrump folks want us to listen, they seemed to be saying, then first you’ll need to show us that you’re serious by promising to stay on our side.

To which I reply, “We have a deal.” Oh, I can imagine circumstances under which I could not support the Democratic candidate — say, if Bernie Sanders started promising a robust program of nationalizing private industry. Short of that, as long as the alternative is Donald Trump, I will be rooting for any Democrat to win, including Sanders. 

In return, I implore Democrats to listen to Brooks and Stephens. They may not be “the average American,” but on health care and immigration, they are where the bulk of the voters are, and the current crop of Democratic candidates is not.

It may seem to you, dearest Democrats, that Trump is so awful, his poll numbers so abysmal, that all it will take to beat him is a candidate who can breathe and read from a teleprompter. If you’ll recall, it also seemed that way in 2016.

So while I can understand why many believe this is the perfect moment to forget about moderate voters and really go for the progressive gusto, please reconsider. I’m not saying you have to do this to get my support, because you’ve already got it. You had me at “Not Donald Trump.”

Now let’s talk about the tens of millions of other voters we’re going to need to win.

For all the talk about Trump’s extremism, he picked up voters in swing states by bringing the party back toward the center on economic policy. Believe it or not, that’s still where American national elections are won. Trump has, of course, failed to deliver on much in the way of centrist policy, giving us another Republican tax cut, instead. Good news! That leaves open the most fertile ground in American politics.

If you think that Trump is a grave danger to our country — and I do — then it’s imperative that we figure out how to recapture that territory, and the voters who live there, rather than posing for each other on the moral high ground.

Yours in solidarity,


Twitter: @asymmetricinfo

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