Watching Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the debate the other night, I kept thinking, “one of them can’t possibly win, can they?”
Medicare for all, free college, student loan forgiveness, higher taxes (implied, but not said), open borders, the Green New Deal.
Their positions on these issues are about as far left as political liberals are willing to go in this country. While many in the Democratic base embrace these ideas, certainly moderate Democrats and independents are more skeptical… at least that is what the polls tell us.
I know some of my Democratic friends feel the same way. They’re all about finding a way to beat Donald Trump rather than going down in a blaze of glory with their leftist ideals intact.
But maybe that’s just wrong.
Remember all the predictions, the absolute certainty, the polling, that said Trump couldn’t win? One of the reasons he prevailed is that enough voters wanted a disrupter, a fighter who shunned conventional wisdom for the political bull-in-the-china-shop approach to campaigning and governing.
The result has been a country that is even more divided—Trump lovers vs. Trump haters. Trump’s radicalism is rooted in personal behavior and governing style rather than a political ideology. His supporters are willing to overlook his many flaws as long as the economy is growing, and he continues tweeting, punching and counter-punching.
Interestingly, Trump’s disruption has opened an avenue for the same approach on the left. If Trump can be successfully unconventional so can others, and that plays in favor of candidates like Sanders and Warren.
As was evident Tuesday night, their approach is not to carve out a broader middle ground, but rather to dig in on the most progressive policy ideas that have entered the mainstream in decades and shame their fellow candidates for trying to compromise.
Warren clearly articulated that approach when she shot down John Delaney. “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.”
Regardless of your politics, that’s a beautiful line. It inspires the true believers on the left and maybe, just maybe, gives pause to more moderate Democrats who believe this could be a moment.
Granted, eliminating private health insurance, guaranteeing everyone a job and a free college education, redistributing the country’s wealth according to government-determined needs are all socialist Utopian ideas. They have no chance of getting through Congress and would be destined to fail if they did.
However, Trump’s election and his presidency demonstrate that “go big or go home” can be a winning strategy. Of course, policy is important, but persona is playing an increasingly important role in our elections, as well as the idea that the president is more of a disrupter-in-chief than a consensus builder.
The second-best line of the debate Tuesday came from Marianne Williamson. The author and spiritualist spoke of “dark psychic forces” at work. That’s ominous and conjures images of Voldemort threatening Harry Potter. But she was the most Googled candidate after the debate, so evidently she struck a nerve.
Williamson laid the groundwork for the argument that, for Democrats, winning the 2020 election is a moral imperative. Good vs. Evil. If Democrats truly believe that’s what is at stake, then shattering the conventional wisdom with radical ideas might just work.