I am someone who tends to shy away from making predictions because there are too many factors at play in politics to go out on a limb and pretend that we can tell people what is going to happen in the future. But I feel totally confident in predicting one thing: any Democratic candidate for the presidency in 2020 who buys into the framing of the race as described by David Von Drehle is going to lose spectacularly, as well they should.
The axiom that parties define themselves through the process of choosing a candidate has never been more true. Democratic identity is up for grabs…Is this the party of working stiffs or the party of Harvard and Apple? Is it a party of the left or a centrist party? Is it the party for women and minorities, or do white guys still hold some sway? Such questions will be the undercurrents of the race…
That is a perfect example of the kind of divisive politics that I recently suggested should be left to the Republicans. Pitting working stiffs against Harvard and Apple represents the kind of attack on “elitism” that is so in vogue these days. But it’s really just nonsense. While fighting to ensure that the ladders to opportunity are available to everyone, Democrats can welcome the highly educated and the pioneers of the technology industry into their ranks with open arms.
When Von Drehle refers to an identity crisis related to being a left or centrist party, I have to wonder what he’s talking about. As we saw during the 2018 midterm elections, the marquee Democratic candidates tended to run on very progressive platforms. But pretty much everything they championed—raising the minimum wage, improving access to health care, common sense gun safety reforms, attacking climate change, comprehensive immigration reform, etc.—is supported overwhelmingly by American voters. The only disagreement on those issues among Democrats is about the pace of reform that is possible at any given point in time. That hardly qualifies as a center/left disagreement.
The real tell about where Von Drehle is coming from shows up when he frames the last question as one about whether women and minorities will dominate, or if white guys will still hold some sway. That is reminiscent of the old saying about, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” Democrats who are standing up to ensure that everyone gets a seat at the table are not suggesting that white men lose theirs. If necessary, they’ll just build a bigger table.
As I contemplate these three either/or scenarios, I can’t help but think of the campaigns run by Beto O’Rourke, Stacey Abrams, and Andrew Gillum. It is true that none of them were ultimately successful, but they made historic progress in states where Democrats have been failing for decades. I believe that one of the reasons they did so is that they rejected the divisions articulated by Von Drehle as old arguments that have done nothing but hurt Democrats.
Back in early 2016, Jon Favreau wrote something important.
Every election is a competition between two stories about America. And Trump already knows his by heart: He is a celebrity strongman who will single-handedly save the country from an establishment that is too weak, stupid, corrupt, and politically correct to let us blame the real source of our problems—Muslims and Mexicans and Black Lives Matter protesters; the media, business, and political elites from both parties. Trump’s eventual opponent will need to tell a story about America that offers a powerful rebuke to the demagogue’s dark vision for the future.
What made the campaigns of Gillum, Abrams, and O’Rourke so compelling is that they offered “a powerful rebuke to the demagogue’s dark vision for the future.” At a time when Donald Trump and Republicans have nothing but divisiveness to offer the country, the most compelling story Democrats can tell America is the hopeful one about inclusion. I predict that the person who best captures that narrative will be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020.