Like all Canadians, I am heavily invested in American politics. And like most Canadians, I’m highly allergic to Donald Trump. Naturally, I really want the Democrats to beat him.
The chances that the Democrats will retake the House of Representatives this November are looking pretty good. But I can’t say I’m too optimistic about 2020. In my view any party that turns Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez into a poster girl is not a party that is serious about getting back into power.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is the party’s latest star. She’s young, stunning and Latina. She beat out the establishment candidate last June in a congressional primary race in New York City, which means she’s a shoo-in for a congressional seat in November. She wears a brilliant shade of lipstick (Stila’s Stay All Day) that she’s made famous. And now she’s stumping for Democratic candidates across the country – even in deepest, darkest Kansas.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is among a new breed of socialists who are running for the party. She herself belongs to the Democratic Socialists of America, which calls for “a human social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships.” She’s so woke she makes my teeth hurt. Left-wing intellectuals are swooning at her feet and Tom Perez, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, calls her “the future of our party.”
Michelle Goldberg, a New York Times columnist, is also a fan. She writes that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and the new breed of millennial socialists she represents are kicking the party back to life. Only they, she believes, can neutralize the toxic poison that is Mr. Trump. Never mind that the world they want to build sounds something like the old Soviet Union, but without the forced-labour camps. They claim they have a purity of vision that the old-line Democrats have lost.
The party’s progressive wing – which includes Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillebrand, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker – has taken a clear message from Mr. Trump’s traumatizing victory. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong one. Instead of concluding that they lost the 2016 election because they had an awful candidate who couldn’t connect with ordinary middle-class voters, they concluded that the Democratic Party needs to move more left than ever. And that means more economic populism, more immigrant rights, more identity politics.
Can that party win against Mr. Trump – no matter how loathsome he is? I’m not optimistic. Nor are the data reassuring. For example, a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll asked voters whether each party’s candidates were out of step with most Americans or in the mainstream. The number of respondents who say the Democrats are “out of step” has jumped, from 42 per cent in 2016 to 56 per cent today. Only a third say the Democrats are “in the mainstream.” Meanwhile, the number of people who say the Republicans are out of step has stayed steady at 59 per cent in 2016 and 57 per cent today, with 33 per cent today saying they are in the mainstream. In other words, the Democrats are now perceived to be just as out of touch as the Republicans are.
There’s more. As Thomas Edsall writes in The New York Times, other data show the concerns of the Democratic elite and ordinary voters are badly mismatched. The elite care far more about gay rights, gender equality and racial equality. Voters care far more about terrorism, crime, taxes, deficits, religious liberty and immigration. “To put it bluntly,” Mr. Edsall writes, “there is a huge gulf between the priorities of the Democratic elite, which exercises significant influence over party policy making, and the general public.”
Apparently the Democrats have learned nothing since 2016. They still don’t know why they got beat. And that means we will have to rely on Mr. Trump to beat himself – not a sure thing by any means.
So here’s my free advice to Democrats. Give the culture wars a break. Forget about transgender bathroom rights. Stop identifying everyone by the intersectional boxes they tick off. Start calling out the campus radicals – on all sides. Start talking up the United States for a change, instead of condemning it as some sort of racist hellhole. Act as if you care as much for struggling Americans as you do for unauthorized immigrants. Play down the socialists. And please, please find a mainstream candidate for 2020 that ordinary people can relate to. Is that too much to ask?