by Former Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.), opinion contributor · November 2, 2018
As the 2018 election seasons draws to a climax, political junkies — and I confess, I remain one — already are looking to 2020 and expounding theories about what could happen. In one sense, that’s a foolish venture because politics is hard to forecast even a few weeks in advance, let alone two years. But it is fun to speculate, and there are some trends that have occurred this year that could be extremely impactful in 2020 if they continue.
For Democrats, one trend that has taken hold is quite alarming: our swing to the far left. That trend has been exemplified by almost all of our putative presidential candidates. The two clearest examples of trying to appeal to our base by being as progressive as possible were the rush to embrace a “single-payer” health care system after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) publicly endorsed it, and the stampede to call for the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Sanders’s Medicare-for-all plan really was not unexpected; he talked about single-payer during the 2016 campaign. But when he reiterated it, loudly and clearly, his words brought a rapid endorsements from almost all other Democrats who are hinting at presidential aspirations. If you’ve read one of my columns in The Hill, you know that I think single-payer could work under certain circumstances but I am troubled by its initial expense and taxes we would have to raise to make it work early on. In the few places it has been tried, such as Vermont, it was repealed because it was simply unworkable and unfundable.
Regardless of your opinion on its merits, single-payer is not a reasonable solution to the challenge of making health care accessible and affordable; it will never get the 60 votes necessary in the Senate, even if Democrats were to win back the chamber on Nov. 6. Our candidates should work for solutions that are politically achievable, and not appeal to voters with a plan they know cannot become reality. (That’s like saying, “Mexico would pay for the wall.”) I would respect our wannabes more if they would make realistic proposals for reform.
The rush to declare their progressive bona fides through this topic was matched by a similar charge to pledge the abolition of ICE. Now, it’s clear that ICE is a mess, needs reforming and a serious reordering of its priorities. But among other things, ICE is charged with — and performs adequately — keeping out young people who are being forced into our country to become sex slaves, drug dealers, etc. The proper response for someone wanting to be U.S. president should be similar to the answer regarding the ACA: “Mend it, don’t end it.” Kudos to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) for endorsing this commonsense approach.
The “abolish ICE” movement came at a terrible time for the Democratic Party because, in the weeks preceding the movement’s arise, the Trump administration was getting savaged — and deservedly so — for its idiotic policy of separating families at the southern border. Public opinion polls were so strong against the administration that the divider-in-chief was forced to sign an executive order to keep migrant families together. His unfavorable ratings were shooting up, but we Democrats came to his rescue by letting him change the subject — to say that Democrats wanted to abolish ICE and leave the border defenseless. That may appear to be a totally illogical argument, but it effectively redirected attention and halted the bleeding for President Trump.
One more glaring incident of our far-left overreach occurred immediately after Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Let me begin by saying that I believe Christine Ford and Deborah Ramirez, who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Had I the opportunity, I would have voted no on Kavanaugh’s confirmation because of that, and also because he clearly demonstrated partisanship and an inclination to vitriolic revenge that makes him unqualified to sit on the Supreme Court.
However, once he was confirmed, we should have let the issue drop. But too many of our most vociferous progressive candidates and progressive media outlets promised that Democrats will begin impeachment proceedings against Justice Kavanaugh if we take back the House. First of all, that’s another promise that never could be achieved. Yes, if we win the election, and if every Democratic House member voted to impeach Justice Kavanaugh, we could send his case to the Senate for trial.
But, of course, there is no way we would ever get 66 votes to convict him and remove him from the court. So, they were guilty of making a shallow promise with no basis in reality. By doing this, Democrats gave ammunition to the Republicans, ensuring their base has a reason to vote by making the treatment of Justice Kavanaugh a weapon. This helped create momentum that dramatically reduced the Democratic Party’s lead in the enthusiasm gap among voters.
So, the moral of the story is: if we continue to tack to the far left in the 2020 election cycle, we surely will see another four years of President Trump (please, no!). But, if we recalibrate our thinking and come up with a solid left-of-center candidate (e.g. Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Sen. Klobuchar, or Rep. John Delaney of Maryland) we just might win — and take the House and Senate as well.
Edward G. Rendell was the 45th governor of Pennsylvania. He is a former mayor of Philadelphia and former district attorney in that city. He served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the 2000 presidential election. He is now co-chairman of the Immigration Task Force at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
The Hill · by Former Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.), opinion contributor · November 2, 2018