(Note: The writer is answering the question: “Can a progressive Democrat win the presidency in 2020?”)
DALLAS — Your father’s Democratic Party might have a good chance at capturing the White House in 2020; your children’s Democratic Party, which is what we have today, faces a tougher fight.
To win the election, Democrats will have to overcome two major obstacles: history and their lurch to the political left. They cannot change the first obstacle, and they seemingly don’t want to change the second.
Let’s start with history: It’s very difficult to beat an incumbent presidential candidate. It has only happened five times in the 30 presidential elections since 1900, and most of those occurred under extraordinary circumstances.
For example, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated Republican President Herbert Hoover in 1932, primarily because of Hoover’s feckless efforts to address the economic devastation of the Great Depression.
Republican Ronald Reagan defeated President Jimmy Carter in 1980, in part because the economy was experiencing record high inflation and interest rates and the Iran hostage debacle.
And Democrat Bill Clinton defeated President George H.W. Bush in 1992 because Bush broke his “no new taxes” pledge and third-party candidate Ross Perot siphoned off 19 percent of the vote.
Yes, many people can reasonably claim that the Trump presidency is also an “extraordinary circumstance,” creating the opportunity for an election upset.
Even so, when the economy is doing well — and if the various investigations don’t reveal serious presidential wrongdoing — history overwhelmingly favors the incumbent.
The second factor working against a Democratic upset victory is the party’s increasing leftward shift to democratic socialism.
The Gallup polling company reports that 57 percent of Democrats have a positive view of socialism, as opposed to only 37 percent of all voters.
It wasn’t that long ago when many Democrats were widely respected for their thoughtful, moderate leadership: Sens. Sam Nunn of Georgia, Lloyd Bentsen of Texas and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, to name a few. Those days are gone.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders used to be the only self-described democratic socialist in Congress. Every time he would introduce his socialized-medicine scheme, “Medicare for All,” other senators would run for cover to avoid any hint of association.
At a recent Medicare for All press conference, Sanders was surrounded by Democrats, many of whom are vying to be the next president of the United States.
Democratic presidential hopefuls, and the party generally, are embracing policies like those supported by the group Democratic Socialists of America: free college education; free health care; free child care and paid family leave; universal basic income; and a carbon-free economy with only renewable energy and electric cars.
Of course, “free” means taxpayer — that’s you — must pay for it.
This is a far cry from the Democratic Party of even President Bill Clinton, who once famously proclaimed “the era of big government is over.” Today’s leading Democrats think the era of big government has just begun.
The mainstream media have become co-conspirators in this leap to the left by constantly promoting the most outspoken leftists, especially Sanders and Rep. (and media sensation) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. They, and a few others, are the voices providing the energy and policy ideas driving the Democratic Party.
The problem for Democratic candidates is that America is still a moderate to center-right country.
A 2018 Gallup poll found that 35 percent of Americans described themselves as conservative and another 35 percent as moderate. Only 26 percent claimed to be liberal.
Lurching to the left may win donations, enthusiastic volunteers and even the Democratic presidential nomination. But it will almost certainly lose the election.
To be sure, President Donald Trump faces some re-election headwinds, many of his own making. But the biggest factor in favor of his re-election will be running against a democratic socialist, in fact if not in name.
Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation. He holds a PhD in the Humanities from the University of Texas. Readers may write him at IPI, Suite 820, 1328 Greenway D Drive, Irving, TX 70538.