I won’t even begin to predict the 2020 election, but I will state what should happen. Democrats should expand on our gains in 2018, and gain at least 10-12 seats in the Senate, another 20 in the House, the presidency at the federal level and we should gain at least 1,000 seats at the state and local levels. That’s what should happen. However, a lot of that depends on us, and how good we are at generating turnout. Turnout is always the key.
The single biggest reason Republicans have been winning so often over the last 50 years is because voter turnout has been ridiculously low. In the post-war era, until about 1970, presidential elections could always count on 60 percent turnout and midterms were always around 50 percent. And during that period, Democrats were dominant. You can see the decline in Democratic fortunes as it coincides almost exactly with the huge nosedive in turnout. From 1974 through 2016, presidential turnout was usually at or below 50 percent, and midterm turnout was usually around 37-38 percent. So turnout is the key to everything.
Therefore, simple logic tells us that, if we want to stop the current incarnation of the Republican Party, we have to encourage turnout. And contrary to what some “political junkies believe,” the solution is not anger and fear.
This is a key thing we all have to remember. If we want this country to re-emerge as a progressive leader in the world – and we should – we are going to have to win elections. There is no other way to do it. Sure, you can demand shit and hope the politicians in charge go along, but there’s only one way to make that happen – win elections.
And there is only one way to make sure a majority of the American people are behind us is to present them with a hopeful alternative to the Republican/Right wing fear fest. Thankfully, we have a model for that kind of campaign, and it was left to us by Barack Obama. The 2008 election featured the highest turnout since 1968, and there are valid reasons why that is the case. The 2012 election was only slightly behind 2008 regarding turnout and Obama won both in a landslide.
If you bother to examine how Barack Obama ran his campaign, the first thing you will notice is that he never really attacked George W. Bush. He wasn’t running against Bush, but he was running against John McCain, who was politically aligned with Bush, so when you use political junkie logic™, you would think it would make sense to use Bush as a proxy for McCain. But he didn’t do that. Why not?
The answer is simple. Obama, who is easily one of the best pure politicians in American history, knew very well that the American people were already stressed out, what with everyone around them losing their jobs, losing their homes and losing much of their retirement accounts. Therefore, the proper political calculus was to alleviate some of that stress and address the economy.
We are facing that same problem right now. Right now, we have the worst president in American history in office, but he is not the issue. We have the most irresponsible major political party in history controlling the Senate and far too many states, but that, too, is not the issue.
The issue is, who is most capable of fixing the messes we face right now, and the answer is NOT “anyone who is not a Republican.” Agreed, right now, that would be best, but that’s not an answer. The correct answer is the candidate who can best articulate their vision of what this country can be. Thankfully, only about 20-25 percent of the electorate thinks we’d be better off with an authoritarian in charge, so winning every election should be easy. The problem is, too many on the left – the white people who carry the title of “progressive” as if it’s a cudgel – think the solution is purity, which it isn’t. There will never be a perfect candidate. I mean, even FDR couldn’t fix the economy until the Japanese attacked and drew us into World War II, and FDR the perfect did almost nothing about civil rights. There are no perfect politicians and there never has been.
The key to everything is positivity. If you think getting angry is a solution to anything, then you need to explain why the progressive movement has been stagnant for a half-century. The vast majority of humans are NOT motivated by fear, or negativity, and the constant angry tone coming from both sides isn’t attracting anyone. In fact, it’s repelling potential voters. It’s the reason people think the country is divided and they don’t want the country divided.
This was an Obama specialty, by the way. He reached out to the GOP quite a bit once he took office because that is what the vast majority of Americans wanted (and still want). Yes, the far right GOP slapped his hand constantly, but so did the far left. Instead of making it an issue that he reached out and the GOP slapped him back, the far left naively started calling Obama “stupid and naive” without irony. For two solid years, the extreme far left, who think they’re smarter than anyone about politics, whined about Obama and the Democrats because no one was “progressive enough.” They also targeted “Blue Dogs” as being “as bad as Republicans,” which was very damaging to all Democrats, as well as being absolutely false.
Someone needs to explain to me how it happened that “progressives” became so negative. Our whole political movement is supposed to be about making the country and the world a better place, which is a decidedly positive sentiment. So why are so many “progressives” so hung up on negativity, and thinking the best political strategy is to be angry? Why do so many think anger and fear are motivators? The evidence makes it clear that doesn’t work. I mean, how many elections do you have to lose before you realize your strategy does not work.
At the time Obama decided to run, most Democrats didn’t think he could win. The most obvious reason was because he was Black, but also because he lacked experience. And yet, his politics led to him not just being the first Black man to ever win the presidency, but to be the first Democrat in a generation to win a presidential election that wasn’t close. And he did it with a “Hope and Change” platform that didn’t dwell on the previous eight years. He won on an inclusive platform, and he won on a platform that included reaching out to Republicans; not the idiots who lead the GOP,. But the rank-and-file, some of whom share the far left’s vision of the Republican Party as largely unchanged since 1968.
As progressives, we have to understand the importance of making sure Democrats win in 2020; not just at the federal level, but at every level. But that means we also have to understand that we can’t win if our entire platform is about Trump and the GOP. We have to toe a very thin line if we’re to make sure everyone wants to vote, much like they did in 2018, and that means a positive message and no fear or anger. It’s a difficult tightrope, but we can do this, just as Obama did in 2008.