‘This is a transformational moment. Do the Democrats understand how to take advantage of it?
By Stanley B. Greenberg
Mr. Greenberg is a Democratic pollster.
The 2020 election will be transformative like few in our history. It will end with the death of the Republican Party as we know it, leaving the survivors to begin the struggle to renew the party of Lincoln and make it relevant for our times. It will liberate the Democratic Party from the country’s suffocating polarization and allow it to use government to address the vast array of problems facing the nation.
From listening to the waves of fraught criticism that followed each of the Democratic debates so far, you would not think 2020 was such a juncture. Commentators worried that the candidates’ anti-business policies and over-the-top plans for government would drive away moderate voters. They watched the candidates excite the Democratic base at the expense of independent voters whom they believe long for a return to bipartisanship. The commentators were just as befuddled that the Democratic candidates were critical of President Barack Obama, who knew something about “electability.”
Yes, Mr. Obama won in 2012, but he was the first president since Woodrow Wilson to win a second term with fewer Electoral College votes and a smaller winning margin in the popular vote over his closest rival than in his first election. Of course, Mr. Obama was met by a Tea Party revolt that helped push many white working class voters away from the Democratic Party, but his administration’s rescue of the big banks, along with prolonged unemployment and lower or stagnant wages for the whole of his first term, meant that the Democratic base failed to turn out and defend him in election after election. As a result, Mr. Obama presided over the crash of the Democratic Party in 2010 and 2014 that gave the Republican Party control of Congress and total partisan control in just over half of the states.
The elites who mostly live in America’s dynamic metropolitan areas were satisfied with America’s economic progress after the financial crash, but overall it helped make Donald Trump electable. . .
I learned as a young professor from E. E. Schattschneider’s “Semi-Sovereign People” and then later as an adviser to President Bill Clinton that those who figure out what the fight is actually about are able to set the agenda and motivate voters to get involved and pick a side.
The financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 left the vast majority of working people and the Democrats’ base of African-Americans, Hispanics, single women and millennials shattered for years. . .
The Democrats in the 2018 wave election did get it and made their biggest gains, compared with 2016, not in the suburbs — despite winning most of their new seats there — but in the rural areas and among white working class voters, particularly women. . .
Mr. Trump and the Republican Congress continued to seek the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, working both to make it fail in practice and to slash federal health care spending for seniors and the poor. That made health care the top reason for voting for Democrats in 2018, but it also revealed what has become a defining partisan difference: a Republican Party determined to destroy government outside of defense and a Democratic Party determined to use it expansively. . .
But this dam has burst. With Mr. Trump’s ever-escalating assault on government, the proportion of Americans who say that government “should do more to solve problems and meet the needs of people” surged to the highest level in 20 years. Democratic candidates who understand this political moment will push for a government that changes the country’s course, as it did under Democratic presidents after the progressive victories of 2008 and 1964 and especially after the 1932 triumph of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal.’>>>