Political News

Rahm Emanuel has a 2020 warning for Democrats

Posted November 12, 2019 2:05 p.m. EST
Updated November 12, 2019 4:08 p.m. EST

— The 2018 midterms and the 2019 off-year elections were very, very good for Democrats.

But at least one senior Democratic strategist thinks his party's 2020 candidates not only haven't learned the lessons they should have from those elections -- but are, in fact, pursuing the exact opposite course as they seek to win the 2020 presidential nomination.

Writes former Chicago mayor (and former White House chief of staff) Rahm Emanuel in Politico:

"The Democratic candidates who have prevailed in battleground contests since 2016 didn't embrace pie-in-the-sky policy ideas or propose a smorgasbord of new entitlements. They didn't talk constantly about providing a guaranteed basic income. Or promising to make college free. Or eliminating private insurance and replacing it with a government-run health care system. Or giving $250 more each month in Social Security benefits. Or enacting the 'Green New Deal.' Or calling for the immediate and abrupt end of fossil fuels. Or vowing to seize guns from people's homes....

"...Inexplicably, the men and women who want to be our party's standard-bearer seem to be ignoring the unambiguous message voters are sending—and that should concern anyone who wants to defeat Trump in 2020."

Now, Emanuel, who helped direct House Democrats' last successful retaking of the House majority in 2006 as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and later went on to serve as President Barack Obama's first chief of staff, is no favorite of the liberal left. They view his political pragmatism with deep skepticism and believe he is far too close to the party's corporate side for their comfort.

Which means that Emanuel's advice here -- make the election about Donald Trump and his policies rather than on big "pie-in-the-sky" proposals offered to placate the liberal left -- will likely be ignored or castigated by the likes of Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) and Bernie Sanders (Vermont) and their supporters.

But should they ignore Emanuel?

After all, Emanuel did engineer the Democratic House takeover in 2006 -- after more than a decade of Republican rule. And he did spend years at the sides the last two two-term Democratic presidents: Obama and Bill Clinton.

And there's plenty of polling and real-world results that suggest Emanuel isn't wrong about the basic makeup of the party regulars. Candidates in Virginia's state legislative races earlier this month talked very little about proposals like "Medicare for All" and the Green New Deal -- instead focusing on more local issues. The Democrats' suburban gains in places like Florida, Pennsylvania and California in 2018 were fueled by a relentless focus on Republicans' plans to repeal Obamacare and their tax cut package that strongly favored the wealthy and corporations.

Polling in six swing states done by The New York Times and Siena College earlier this month affirms that sense. Almost two-thirds of Democrats (62%) in those states said they prefer a candidate who "promises to find common ground with Republicans: while just 1 in 3 would rather a candidate who "promises to fight for a bold and progressive agenda." A majority (55%) want their presidential nominee to be "more moderate" than most Democrats, while 39% want their nominee to be "more liberal" than most in the party. Among Democratic voters in those six states, 49% identify as "moderate" or "conservative" while 48% call themselves "liberal."

Again, Emanuel: "The good news for Democrats is that Trump doesn't have enough die-hard voters to win without convincing some voters who are on the fence. The bad news for Democrats? Neither do we."

Will Democrats heed his warning? Almost certainly not -- especially given the success of both Warren and Sanders in the primary fight to date. Whether they should listen to Emanuel if they want to win is a much more open question.

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