An election to forget


Ryan Neely, Reporter

In the 2020 Democratic Primary, each candidate seems to be competing to present to most extreme (sorry, I mean “bold”) ideas that they can possibly come up with. This was not always what the Democratic Party stood for. Take for example, this quote from Bill Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union Address:

“We know big government does not have all the answers. We know there’s not a program for every problem. We have worked to give the American people a smaller, less bureaucratic government in Washington. And we have to give the American people one that lives within its means.

The era of big government is over. But we cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves. Instead, we must go forward as one America, one nation working together to meet the challenges we face together. Self-reliance and teamwork are not opposing virtues; we must have both.”

Sure, the only reason he was singing this tune was because the country was still in the wake of the Reagan era, and Democrats at that time had to strike a moderate tone to fit with how most people felt about the nature of government at the time. After that, politicians of this era, such as Bill Clinton himself, started to back away from this moderation. Another, Joe Biden, seems to be in a bit of a pickle right now.

Despite being the clear frontrunner nationally and a former vice president, he has quite a few detractors within his own party that are revolted by his “centrism”. Apparently, in 2019, a $15 minimum wage, one that, even when adjusting for inflation, would still be significantly higher than any previous minimum wage, is a centrist policy. Oh, and $15 is also significantly higher than the minimum wage of any other country in the world. Back in 2014, Barack Obama only wanted to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 ($10.95 in today’s money). As we can see, in terms of the most quantifiable barometer for fiscal policy, even Joe Biden is still pretty out there.

Biden is also taking some positions on social issues that in the past would be considered extreme. He now supports repealing the Hyde Amendment, a longstanding federal budget provision which prevents the government from funding abortions. Over time it gained exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the woman. Only in 2016 did repealing it altogether become part of the Democratic platform. I wouldn’t fault Biden for adhering to his own party’s platform, but I would fault him and his party for abandoning this reasonable bipartisan compromise.

The other candidates however, are going above and beyond. Beto O’Rourke wants mandatory buybacks for “assault weapons”. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want to eliminate all private health insurance. Most candidates want reparations for slavery, the decriminization of illegal border crossings, and the elimination of the Electoral College. Is this the sort of agenda that America supports?

If polling is any indication, not really. Sure, that $15 minimum wage enjoys 56% support from Americans, but only 41% want to eliminate private health insurance, and 42% of them want to get rid of the electoral college. Decriminalizing illegal border crossings and providing reparations for slavery are policies that only have 27% support. Only 33% support a national health insurance plan that extends to illegal immigrants, and that’s a proposal that even Joe Biden supports.

An idea that is unpopular is not necessarily a bad one, but if you want to win an election, it would be best to appeal to what people want. Therefore, instead of focusing on their policies, these candidates are spending much of their time President Trump. This makes some sense given that, compared to past presidents, his popularity is below average, but this is the same tactic the Hillary Clinton used in 2016, and it didn’t work then. Voters don’t want to vote for someone who’s best quality is simply not being their opponent.

Trump, for his part, is not making the greatest case for himself either. I think his chances for reelection would greatly increase if he deleted his Twitter account. But in actually doing his job, his record is also flawed. Yes, he has overseen some notable military victories and a stark improvement to diplomacy with North Korea. Yes, the tax cuts have undeniably fueled economic growth. But Trump’s presidency has also seen its share of failures. Sure, we could say that the lack of meaningful legislation on key issues (such as healthcare and illegal immigration) might not necessarily be his fault, but this trade war is all his doing, and it’s throwing the markets in turmoil.

The Democratic candidates, for their part, have greatly struggled to explain how they would handle international trade any better. None of them want to support free trade, but none of them support what Donald Trump is doing either. They can’t bring themselves to say that tariffs are bad, but they just don’t like these tariffs. Any time they are prompted in interviews and debates to actually take a specific position on this very important issue, they just deflect with the exhaustingly overdone message that Trump’s presidency is a disaster, even through their ideas on trade sound awfully similar to his.

But no matter who wins the presidential election in 2020, there are still other elections that are extremely important. None of the far-reaching plans presented by the 2020 Democratic contenders can pass if Republicans still control the Senate. And even if Democrats do win the Senate, aside from certain budgetary measures and confirmations for the cabinet and Supreme Court, they will still be limited by the 60-vote threshold to break a filibuster in order to get anything passed. Some major candidates (such as Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren) have voiced support for removing this rule. Doing so would make lessen the need for compromise and make it so a party that enjoys a tiny majority can set the entire agenda. To be fair, President Trump has spoken in favor of this idea in the past, but luckily, that hasn’t come to fruition

Now, when looking at forecasts for the balance of the Senate, it brings into question why Democrats are so sure that they can win it back. If we look at the ratings from the Cook Political Report, Democrats would have to win every single one of the toss-up states (Colorado, Arizona, Maine, and Alabama) just to get 50 seats. Other pollsters are even less kind to their chances, with Sabato’s Crystal Ball giving listing Maine as “lean Republican” and Inside Elections putting Alabama into that category (though listing Maine as only “tilt Republican”, as well as North Carolina). Sure, the Democrats could end up winning the Senate in later elections, but that’s going to be a long time from now.

With that in mind, even if we get a Democratic president in 2020, they are going to be facing an uphill battle. Most of the ideas that the candidates are fighting over will probably never even be implemented. But the fact that their ideas are so far removed from what is in the realm of possibility, or in some cases, what most voters want, is cause for concern.