Why Democrats should be wor­ried

The Saline Courier - - OPINION -

“Congress shall make no law ... abridg­ing the free­dom of speech, or of the press ... . ” — From the First Amend­ment to Con­sti­tu­tion

With the elec­tion a year away, Democrats have a lot to cheer about. The latest Wash­ing­ton POST/ABC poll shows Joe Bi­den trounc­ing Don­ald Trump by a stag­ger­ing 17% among all vot­ers. Three other contenders for the chance to op­pose the pres­i­dent -- El­iz­a­beth War­ren, Bernie San­ders and Pete But­tigieg -- all lead Trump by dou­ble-dig­its. More­over, Fox News re­ports that 6 in 10 vot­ers be­lieve the pres­i­dent asked for­eign lead­ers to in­ves­ti­gate his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents, and two-thirds “say that ac­tion is in­ap­pro­pri­ate.” Still, Demo­cratic op­ti­mism should be tem­pered by three de­vel­op­ments that threaten to make the 2020 race far closer than those na­tional polls in­di­cate today. Is­sue one: The key states that de­cided the last elec­tion, and are likely to de­ter­mine the next one, are vir­tu­ally dead­e­ven. The New York Times polled al­most 4,000 vot­ers in six bat­tle­ground states -- Michi­gan, Penn­syl­va­nia, Wis­con­sin, Florida, Ari­zona and North Carolina -- and con­cluded the con­test was “highly com­pet­i­tive.” Bi­den leads Trump by only 2 points in these states, while War­ren trails him by 2 points and San­ders runs even with the pres­i­dent. Democrats prob­a­bly need to win three of those six states to de­feat Trump, and that out­come “is not at all as­sured,” writes Times data an­a­lyst Nate Cohn. “The pres­i­dent’s ad­van­tage in the Elec­toral Col­lege rel­a­tive to the na­tion as a whole re­mains in­tact or has even grown since 2016, rais­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that the Repub­li­cans could -- for the third time in the past six elec­tions -- win the pres­i­dency while los­ing the pop­u­lar vote.” Is­sue two: War­ren and San­ders are pulling the party far to the left, leav­ing Trump a clear shot at mod­er­ate vot­ers who don’t like him per­son­ally but fear a high-tax/big-gov­ern­ment Demo­crat in the White House. Cohn ex­am­ines the 15% of the elec­torate in the six key states that can be de­scribed as “per­suad­able,” and the re­sults clearly un­der­cut the War­ren/san­ders fac­tion, which ar­gues that only a left-wing purist can de­feat Trump. By a mar­gin of 82% to 11%, the “per­suad­ables” pre­fer a can­di­date “who prom­ises to find com­mon ground over one who prom­ises to fight for a pro­gres­sive agenda.” By 75% to 19%, they’d choose a mod­er­ate over a lib­eral. The Times then fo­cuses on a smaller group, “truly per­suad­able vot­ers,” and the num­bers are even more damn­ing for the lib­eral cause. These vot­ers would sup­port Bi­den over Trump by 11 points, but would back Trump over War­ren by 17 points. One rea­son: They strongly re­ject War­ren’s most prom­i­nent pro­posal, a sin­gle-payer health plan, by 60% to 37%. Rep. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Demo­crat who ran for the pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion as a mod­er­ate be­fore drop­ping out of the race, told The Wash­ing­ton Post: “The av­er­age Demo­crat in Ohio is go­ing to say: ‘Wait a minute, I mean, how do you do that? ... Free this and free that? How does that hap­pen?’” The Times con­cludes that as of now, the “per­suad­able” vot­ers in the six bat­tle­ground states would “swing the elec­tion in fa­vor of Mr. Bi­den, but leave Ms. War­ren or Mr. San­ders short.” Is­sue three: im­peach­ment. Six months ago, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the Post that she op­posed that di­rec­tion, and ex­plained why: “Im­peach­ment is so di­vi­sive to the coun­try that un­less there’s some­thing so com­pelling and over­whelm­ing and bi­par­ti­san, I don’t think we should go down that path, be­cause it di­vides the coun­try.” Trump’s machi­na­tions with Ukraine were de­spi­ca­ble, and en­list­ing a for­eign power to in­ves­ti­gate a po­lit­i­cal ri­val is un-amer­i­can and pos­si­bly il­le­gal. But the Democrats have failed, by Pelosi’s own stan­dard, to make a “com­pelling and over­whelm­ing and bi­par­ti­san” case for can­cel­ing the re­sults of the last elec­tion. Not a sin­gle House Repub­li­can voted to launch an of­fi­cial im­peach­ment in­quiry, and ev­ery na­tional poll shows a sharp, bit­ter, par­ti­san di­vide on the is­sue. In the new NBC/WALL Street Jour­nal sur­vey, for ex­am­ple, 49% fa­vor im­peach­ment, in­clud­ing 88% of all Democrats; 46% op­pose re­mov­ing the pres­i­dent, in­clud­ing 90% of all Repub­li­cans. And the pres­i­dent is al­ready weaponiz­ing the is­sue, us­ing the threat of im­peach­ment to raise money, en­er­gize his base and crys­tal­ize their sense of griev­ance against a sys­tem they be­lieve is rigged against them. The only way Trump will be de­nied a sec­ond term is through the bal­lot box, not im­peach­ment. And Democrats need to fo­cus on the swing vot­ers in the swing states who will make that de­ci­sion. (Steven Roberts teaches pol­i­tics and jour­nal­ism at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity. He can be con­tacted by email at steve­[email protected])

STEVE ROBERTS

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