The media took it from there.
On Tuesday, MSNBC’s Garrett Haake pressed former representative Beto O’Rourke (Tex.): “Getting rid of the electoral college: Is that an idea you’re exploring?”
O’Rourke saw “wisdom” in the idea.
On Fox News, Martha MacCallum said “everybody” is talking about “abandoning the electoral college” and asked former representative John Delaney (Md.) his view.
“It’s a total waste of time to talk about it,” Delaney replied.
Apparently not. Jimmy Kimmel on ABC on Tuesday night asked Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.) if she agreed with Warren. She hedged.
Wednesday morning, Willie Geist of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” put the electoral college question to South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. “It’s got to go,” Buttigieg affirmed.
Naturally, Trump seized the opportunity. “The Democrats are getting very ‘strange’,” he tweeted Wednesday. “Actually, you’ve got to win it at the Ballot Box!”
Just like that, another Democratic litmus test was born. Encouraged by left-wing activists and the media, Democrats are performing acid tests like lab technicians. While the rest of the country built March Madness brackets, Democrats, in their own madness, put themselves in boxes, supporting proposals that are impossible, extreme or oversimplified: Medicare-for-all. A Green New Deal. Guaranteed jobs for all. Impeachment. Reparations to African Americans. Packing the Supreme Court. Late-term abortion. Banning PAC contributions. Abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Legalizing marijuana. Eliminating the filibuster. Opposing all Trump judicial nominees. Boycotting the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference. Abolishing the electoral college.
Many of these have merit. The problem is that they have become a battery of binary tests of ideological purity — allowing Trump to caricature Democrats as extremist.
Opportunistic activists (generally not the established environmental, labor or abortion-rights groups) see a chance to put an issue on the agenda with a simple yes-or-no question. Some candidates in the crowded field, afraid of being outflanked on the left, reflexively agree with the proposition (never mind that typical Democratic primary voters are not so doctrinaire). Reporters, who love conflict and favor the shorthand of pigeonholing, force others to take the litmus test. And Republicans, with an assist from Fox News, gleefully fan the flames.
Much of the blame lies with the media, which, after creating Trump in 2015 and 2016 with endless, uncritical coverage, now facilitates his reelection with litmus-test coverage of Democrats. Trump got away with platitudinous promises, but now Democrats must take positions on purely theoretical ideas. This is an easy way to advance a story for content-hungry cable news. But for Democrats, the tests are potentially ruinous.
Consider the Green New Deal, now co-sponsored in the Senate by Warren, Harris, Cory Booker (N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.). They’ve committed to “guaranteeing a job,” higher education and paid vacations “to all people of the United States.”
Or take Medicare-for-all, promoted by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and others. It gets 56 percent support in the Kaiser Family Foundation poll, but that drops to 37 percent when private health insurance is eliminated or people are required to pay more in taxes, and 26 percent if it means delayed tests and treatments.
The purity tests are promoted by groups such as Progressive Change Campaign Committee (Medicare-for-all), Indivisible (filibuster), Sunrise Movement (Green New Deal), National Popular Vote (electoral college), MoveOn (boycotting AIPAC) and Demand Justice (judicial picks) — and furthered by charismatic progressives such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.). The press takes it from there.
Here’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday: “Would you support adding seats to the Supreme Court?” “Would you support getting rid of the electoral college?” “Medicare-for-all?” “Do you support reparations for slavery?” Obama said that he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. Do you?
Here’s CNN’s Erica Hill, also Wednesday: “There are calls to expand the Supreme Court. Where do you stand on that?” “Getting rid of the electoral college, and really giving people their vote?” “What about reparations?”
Fox News: “The Green New Deal . . . How do you vote?”
PBS: “Paying reparations to descendants of African Americans . . . How do you think about that?”
Woe to those who don’t answer correctly. On NBC, Chuck Todd observed that O’Rourke “was once for Medicare-for-all. On Friday, he backtracked.”
Fear not: On Monday, he’ll be asked again.
This columnist’s wife, Anna Greenberg, works for former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, a Democratic presidential candidate.