Pragmatic Progressivism: How Democrats Can Win the Presidency
Now that the midterms are over, Democrats have their sights set on 2020. Veteran leaders within the party are debating the best strategies to ensure the victories seen earlier this month, like the flipping of the House, continue on in the next major election. Some, like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have argued that it is necessary to run a progressive candidate far to the left of past nominees. On the other side of the debate, leaders like Joe Biden claim a more moderate stance with a focus on pragmatism will lead the party to victory. Both sides have legitimate arguments; a left-leaning candidate may be more capable of driving out the Democratic base, but a moderate might make a stronger case for voters on the fence. The Democratic Party’s best option is to create a balance between both, having the 2020 Democratic nominee running as a pragmatic progressive.
One of the biggest issues Democrats faced in the 2016 election was the apparent chasm between the left and right wings of the party. This conflict was displayed in the primary contest between self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders and moderate corporatist Hillary Clinton. In the end the establishment wing won, nominating the latter, but the irreconcilable differences between the two sides eventually led to an immobilized base and an embarrassing loss. This failure provided the left a valuable lesson: a candidate too closely aligned with establishment and business interests may find it difficult to gain victory in an election that requires a strong turnout. As a result, Democrats must understand the importance of the 2020 nominee espousing a more progressive platform than Hillary Clinton did.
However, the left must be wary of running too progressive of a platform. In the 2018 midterms, many Democrats in red states ran as hardcore liberals. One of particular prominence was Beto O’Rourke, who ran in the conservative state of Texas as strong Democrat, supporting an assault weapons ban and single-payer healthcare. These platform points gave him celebrity status with the left. Raising millions of dollars, running a campaign reaching all corners of the state, and displaying a youthful optimism somewhat rare in politics all brought O’Rourke to within three points of defeating Ted Cruz. Many progressives took this as a sign that such radical agendas could work, but the truth is that it was the far-left policies that led O’Rourke to fall short. Although the base of the Democratic Party is strong, it is not large enough to win in a purple or red state, let alone a politically polarized nation. The party’s 2020 nominee needs to attract votes from communities wary of Democratic policies, and far-left policies typically alienate these demographics instead.
Ultimately, the next Democratic candidate has to strike a balance between the two wings of the Democratic Party if they are to beat Donald Trump in 2020 -- they must be a pragmatic progressive championing feasible solutions. These policies might include raising the minimum wage to a practical $12.00 an hour, focusing on expanding and fixing Obamacare, and appropriately regulating the financial services industry. Given the proper candidate, policies such as these are liberal enough to mobilize the base, while pragmatic enough for swing voters to stick around. The primary candidates mustn’t focus on trying to represent a wing of the party, but the entire party if they wish to place a Democrat in the White House.