Democrats Are Not “Losing The Center”

The latest polling from Siena/NY Times on the state of the race in the battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona present the case the Trump may be historically unpopular but that his path to another Electoral College victory is still a very real possibility. Additionally, the poll is once again creating angst for Democrats and providing more fodder for the punditocracy and establishment Democrats to berate the progressive wing of the party.

The poll shows Biden winning four of those states and running even with Trump in one other. Sanders wins three of those states. Warren, on the other hand, only wins one of those states, is even in two others, and does slightly worse than Biden and Sanders in Michigan. The poll shows that the core of Trump’s support in these states comes from white voters without a college degree, a group with which he leads each of the three Democratic contenders by over 20 points. More disturbingly, the report shows “Nearly two-thirds of the Trump voters who said they voted for Democratic congressional candidates in 2018 say that they’ll back the president against all three named opponents”.

This battleground state poll contrasts sharply with a bunch of national polls that show all three Democratic contenders beating Trump by anywhere between 8 and 10 points or more, with a new WaPo/ABC poll showing margins in the mid-teens. This Siena/NYTpoll also conflicts with some other polls of the individual states covered which show all three Democrats with far healthier margins over Trump than the Siena/NYT poll. Specifically, an Emerson poll conducted over the same period in Michigan showed all three Democrats beating Trump by 8 or more points. Siena/NYT for Michigan had Trump beating Warren and losing to Biden and Sanders by just 1 and 4 points respectively. In addition, it should be noted that practically every result in the Siena/NYT poll for each individual state was with the margin of error as were the differences between the individual Democratic candidates. Lastly, the fact that at least one third of the Trump voters who voted Democratic in 2018 plan to stick with the Democrats is not particularly good news for the President, who won three of these states by less than 100,000 votes combined.

Regardless of the fact that this was just one poll which also looks like it may have elements of being an outlier, it immediately produced panic and paranoia among Democrats. Paul Campos summed up how many Democrats are dealing with the 2020 election, writing, “I realized that the way I’ve been dealing, psychologically speaking, with the entire Trump phenomenon is by being in denial, in probably a literal sense, about the possibility of his re-election. I don’t think the odds of that happening are good, but that they are more than negligible is not something I can contemplate without falling into despair. So at an emotional level I just deny that it can happen, even though rationally I know that the odds are far from negligible”. The Siena/NYT poll just forces Democrats to face that despair.

Needless to say, this poll also provided great fodder for the usual warnings that the Democrats are running too far to the left and are accordingly preparing to blow the election. The ever-determined Jonathan Chait, in a piece entitled “New Poll Shows Democratic Candidates Have Been Living in a Fantasy World”, writes, “The Democratic presidential field has largely abandoned that [successful 2018 election] model. Working from the premise that the country largely agrees with them on everything, or that agreeing with the majority of voters on issues is not necessary to win, the campaign has proceeded in blissful unawareness of the extremely high chance that Trump will win again…But the poll contains substantial evidence that Trump’s party lost the midterms for the hoary yet true reason that Republicans took unpopular positions, especially on health care, and ceded the center. Rather than learn the lesson, Democrats instead appear intent on ceding it right back to them…And the Democratic presidential primary has been a disaster on this front. The debate has taken shape within a world formed by Twitter, in which the country is poised to leap into a new cultural and economic revolution, and even large chunks of the Democratic Party’s elected officials and voting base have fallen behind the times. As my colleague Ed Kilgore argues, the party’s left-wing intelligentsia have treated any appeals to voters in the center as a sign of being behind the times…The party’s presidential field has lost the plot”.

The perennial critics who insist that Democrats are moving too far to the left really make some astounding and contradictory arguments. As every political pundit knows, you win primaries by appealing to your base, and you win elections by moving to the center. In this regard, the Democratic primary seems typical, and, considering that 2020 is going to be a base election, consolidating your base may be an actual positive for whomever the nominee turns out to be.

As Chait alludes to, the critics seem to believe that the commitment of Sanders and especially Warren to Medicare for All (M4A) is somehow ceding the “moderate” position on health care to Trump. Of course, the Trump administration is currently supporting an effort in the courts to void the ACA entirely and its position is still that Obamacare needs to be totally repealed. Democrats, on the other hand, are merely discussing the best method for somehow getting to universal coverage. How that is ceding the issue to Trump is beyond me. The ancillary critique regarding health care is that Warren’s proposal of how to actually finance M4A will require an “economic revolution” is contradicted by the fact that it mostly relies on higher taxes on the wealthy, a position that is remarkably popular with the very electorate that Chait and his cohorts want the Democrats to appeal to. In fact, the Siena/NYT poll shows that the undecided white working class voters in these battleground states, the voters Chait and other want Dems to appeal to, actually prefer a single payer plan and it is the undecided white college educated voters who are actually more strongly opposed to M4A. Finally, it is the media itself which has focused on the health care positions of the Democratic candidates, with the media questioners spending inordinate time on the issue in virtually every single debate and, in contrast to, say, GOP tax cuts, demanding to know just how these policies will be paid for.

Certainly, the most annoying complaint of the Democratic critics is that the leftist policies advocated by Sanders and Warren will never be able to get passed in the US Senate so that these policies and discussions are useless and unrealistic. That critique is usually combined with the reprimand that the Democrats must offer voters more than just a criticism of Trump. These two statements are, in fact, oxymoronic. They are especially unconvincing when the “moderates” plans, such as expanding the ACA or adding a Medicare buy-in to it, will clearly also not get the 60 votes necessary in the Senate no matter how well the Democrats do in 2020. Worse, the “moderates” in the Democratic field ensure that they will get absolutely none of their policies through the Senate when they refuse to even consider eliminating the filibuster. So who exactly is being unrealistic and who exactly is being aspirational? Lastly, it is the ultimate moderate candidate, Biden, who has focused most of his campain on criticizing Trump and generally avoiding taking strong policy positions. And it is the Democratic moderates who have resorted to attacking their more progressive primary candidates and are actually regurgitating GOP talking points to do so.

But by far the biggest problem with Chait and those like him is the very contention that the Democrats are losing the “center”. What Chait is really demanding is that Democrats find a way to pander to a generally white reactionary minority, far from the mainstream, in order to cobble together an Electoral College victory. When national polls show every major Democratic candidate beating Trump by either high single or low-to-mid double digits, it is simply ludicrous to claim that the party has the lost the “center”. What it does tell us, and what should bother Chait more than anything else, is that our electoral system, our democracy, has become so dysfunctional that it may be possible, perhaps even probable, for Trump to lose the popular vote by 5, 10, or even 15 million votes, by 4%, 8%, or even 12%, and still become President. And the question he really should be fretting about is how our democracy can survive such a situation and what can be done to rectify it.

If Donald Trump wins reelection it will not be because he won the “center” but primarily because of the Electoral College, the racist legacy of our founding.

It will be because Congressional Republicans have for over a decade refused to put country over party. It will be because the Republican party continued to support a figure they all knew was not fit to become President in order to preserve their power. It will be because Senate Republicans refused to convict a President that has stolen the power of the purse away from Congress and covertly bribed and openly requested foreign governments interfere in our elections on his and their behalf. It will be because Senate Republicans, and their House counterparts, would rather be complicit in Trump’s largely lawless administration and crimes against our country and our democracy than lose their power. It will be because the Republican party has let the State and Justice Departments simply become vehicles to advance the personal and business interests of Trump and his family.

It will be because the Republican party, a minority that believes they should always be the majority, has built an enormous propaganda machine to motivate its minority base. It will be because the mainstream media has for decades refused to call out Fox News as a propaganda outlet for the Republican party and still wants to pretend that its handful of real reporters outweighs its near incessant propaganda and somehow makes it still a news organization.

It will be because the media spends far too much time being stenographers and retweeters for a President that lies every time he opens his mouth and far too little time openly confronting him about those lies. It will be because the media takes the nonsense that comes out of the President’s mouth and repackages it as coherent thoughts. It will be because the media lets Trump deflect and distract and drive the reporting in whatever direction he chooses. It will be because reporters like Chait act as though only Democrats have agency and that there is a symmetry between the two parties when the reality is, as Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann clearly illustrated back in 2012, the Republican party has become an extremist party that denies Democrats any political legitimacy or power. It will be because the media spends so little time asking why all their money and effort still manages to leave large swaths of this country so badly and ill-informed.

It will be because our business elites have betrayed the country for tax cuts that put more money in their own pockets. It will be because those elites are so unwilling to pay their fair share and so afraid that their wealth might not allow them to be able to buy better health care and better legal representation than the average American, as well as government protection for their destructive and monopolistic practices. It will be because those business leaders are so afraid a Trump tweet (an illegal manipulation of the market on its own) that will damage their company’s stock price for just a short interval and lead to potential retaliation from Trump’s administration.

It will be because evangelical Christians will continue to betray their supposed values in obeisance to a man who in every way acts in a manner antithetical to those values. It will be because those evangelical Christians are more interested in (re-)establishing an American theocracy and denying women control over their own bodies.

It will be because of another legacy of our racist past, voter suppression, that will shave one half to one percent from the Democratic nominee’s vote totals.

It will potentially be because foreign governments will still interfere with the election in ways we may be entirely unaware of and might even include tampering with voter rolls and even vote tallies. They will be able to do that because the Republican party has refused to do anything to ensure the sanctity of the vote.

It will be because just enough voters in those battleground states could care less about the rule of law and are so fearful of losing their white privilege.

And it will be because the Republican party betrayed the vision of those very Founders whom they profess to admire and worship.

It will not be because we are a republic and not a democracy.

And it will not be because the Democratic candidate has lost the “center”.

But it will be the end of our American democracy as we have known it in the post World War II era and certainly since the expansion of voting and civil rights in the mid 1960s.

Originally published at on November 6, 2019.

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