Democrat strategy was recipe for dis­as­ter

Cherokee County Herald - - VIEWPOINTS - By Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts

Bernie Sanders was speak­ing re­cently to a gath­er­ing of like-minded lib­er­als in Chicago.

“I am of­ten asked by the me­dia and oth­ers, ‘How did it come about that Don­ald Trump, the most un­pop­u­lar pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in the mod­ern his­tory of our coun­try, won the elec­tion?’” he said. “My an­swer is that Trump didn’t win the elec­tion — the Demo­cratic Party lost the elec­tion.”

True enough. But here’s what Sanders and his supporters refuse to ad­mit: Bernie him­self was a ma­jor rea­son why the Democrats and Hil­lary Clin­ton failed.

Of course Clin­ton was a poor can­di­date, with vis­i­ble scars and an in­vis­i­ble mes­sage, who made many un­forced er­rors. It was crazy for a woman who in­tended to run for president as a de­fender of mid­dle-class fam­i­lies to take gobs of money from Wall Street.

But Sanders was an ir­re­spon­si­ble can­di­date who ad­vanced an im­pos­si­ble set of pro­pos­als that bore lit­tle re­la­tion to re­al­ity. It’s both care­less and cyn­i­cal to yell “free” at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity with ab­so­lutely no no­tion of how to pay for all those good­ies. (The Wall Street Jour­nal es­ti­mated Sanders’ pro­pos­als would cost $18 tril­lion.)

The re­sult was to ex­cite Sanders’ base, es­pe­cially young and in­ex­pe­ri­enced vot­ers, and deepen their dis­il­lu­sion­ment with Clin­ton, who was bur­dened with a sense of prac­ti­cal­ity and re­spon­si­bil­ity. Sanders ag­gra­vated their dis­dain by indulging his ego, stay­ing in the race long after the out­come was clear and im­ply­ing that a rigged sys­tem de­signed by es­tab­lish­ment man­darins had cheated him out of the nom­i­na­tion. No won­der so many Berniecrats voted for third-party can­di­dates or sim­ply stayed home.

This would all be an­cient his­tory, ex­cept that Sanders is still singing the same old song. As he said in Chicago, “The cur­rent model and the cur­rent strategy of the Demo­cratic Party is an ab­so­lute fail­ure.”

But why should Democrats lis­ten to him? After all, he is NOT a Democrat. He’s a self-pro­claimed so­cial­ist who ran for the Se­nate as an in­de­pen­dent and still iden­ti­fies him­self that way.

More­over, while the sys­tem is far more po­lar­ized than in the past, the rules of arith­metic have not been re­pealed. The Bernie­crat Creed — that the Democrats must shift sharply to the left in or­der to suc­ceed — is a recipe for dis­as­ter.

In the last elec­tion, only 26 per­cent of vot­ers iden­ti­fied as lib­er­als, while 35 per­cent called them­selves con­ser­va­tive and 39 per­cent mod­er­ates. This is not a left­ist coun­try, and ev­ery time the Democrats have fol­lowed that fan­tasy, they have been crushed.

Take 1972, when Ge­orge McGovern rode a Sanders-like wave of anti-war emo­tion to the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion. He then won 37.5 per­cent of the vote and 17 electoral votes against Richard Nixon — a man to­tally lack­ing in warmth, charm or scru­ples. Wal­ter Mon­dale raised the liberal ban­ner against Ron­ald Rea­gan in 1984 and did even worse: 13 electoral votes. Michael Dukakis did slightly bet­ter four years later, but he still man­aged to lose to Ge­orge H.W. Bush, a medi­ocre can­di­date whose re­elec­tion was later thwarted by a more cen­trist Democrat, Bill Clin­ton.

There are im­por­tant lessons go­ing for­ward here for the Demo­cratic Party. As The New York Times re­ports, the party is “fac­ing a widen­ing breach” as it pre­pares for next year’s elec­tions, a “grow­ing tension be­tween the party’s ascendant mil­i­tant wing and Democrats competing in con­ser­va­tive-lean­ing ter­ri­tory.”

A strategy that fo­cuses on en­er­giz­ing the Demo­cratic faith­ful on the west sides of Los An­ge­les and Man­hat­tan is not go­ing to re­take the Congress in 2018 or chal­lenge Trump’s re-elec­tion in 2020.

This is all play­ing out in sub­ur­ban Atlanta, where Democrats think they have a real chance to cap­ture a House seat va­cated by for­mer Rep. Tom Price when he joined Trump’s cab­i­net. The Demo­cratic can­di­date in the June 20 con­test, Jon Os­soff, is re­flect­ing the dis­trict and run­ning as a card-car­ry­ing mod­er­ate, far from the Sanders mold.

His “mes­sage to Wash­ing­ton,” he told the Times, is about “de­cency and re­spect and unity, rather than di­vi­sion.” Stephanie Run­yan, one of Os­soff’s precinct cap­tains, added, “A lot of us are not true-blue lib­er­als.”

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Mis­souri Democrat and for­mer chair­man of the Con­gres­sional Black Cau­cus, echoed that ar­gu­ment on a na­tional level. “We are go­ing to lose ev­ery pos­si­ble winnable seat, in a year where there are many winnable seats, if we come across as in­flex­i­ble left-wingers,” he told the Times. “I re­spect Bernie — I just don’t think we can be­come the party of Bernie.” No, they can’t. Not if they want to win. Steve and Cokie Roberts can be con­tacted by email at steve­cokie@gmail.com.

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