Monday, July 29, 2019

David Leonhardt: Let's Remember How The Democrats "Won Big" In 2018

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The 2018 Campaign Worked

David Leonhardt
In last year’s midterm elections, Democrats won 31 congressional districts that President Trump had carried in 2016 — including in the suburbs of Atlanta, Chicago, Des Moines, Detroit, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Richmond, Va., as well as in more rural parts of Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico and Wisconsin.
How did the Democrats do it? By running a smart, populist campaign that focused above all on pocketbook issues like affordable health care and good jobs. The Democrats who won in these swing districts didn’t talk much about Trump, the Russia scandals, immigration or progressive dreams like single-payer health care. They focused on issues that affect most voters’ daily lives.
Theda Skocpol — the Harvard social scientist who has studied the Tea Party and the anti-Trump resistance, among many other things — has a new op-ed in USA Today that argues that the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are ignoring the lesson of 2018. By doing so, Skocpol says, they are increasing the chances that Trump will win re-election. As Democrats prepare for their second round of debates this week, I think Skocpol’s message is worth hearing.
“The first 2020 primary debates were a case in point,” she writes. “Thrilling as it was to see female contenders do well, the debates were chaotic and dominated by simplistic questions about topics of little concern to most Americans. The ostensible winners embraced ultra-left issue stands — like calls to abolish private insurance and give free health care to migrants — that would sink them in the general election.”
These stances may help Democrats run up even larger margins in blue states like California and New York. But the presidency isn’t decided by the popular vote. And two of the smartest election analysts — Nate Cohn of The Times and Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report — have both written pieces recently that explain how Trump could lose the popular vote by an even wider margin than he did in 2016, and still win re-election.
Skocpol writes: “U.S. politics is not a national contest. Victories in Congress, state politics and the Electoral College all depend on winning majorities or hefty pluralities in heartland states and areas that are not big cities. Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 mainly because she was whomped in non-urban areas where Obama had lost by far smaller margins.”
A final point she makes is that Republicans — like the Koch brothers and their network — are more ruthlessly disciplined about advancing their interests and more focused on winning state and local campaigns. Too many Democrats, by contrast, give in to wishful thinking, imagining that they can control government policy by running campaigns that mostly excite people who live in deep blue areas.
The 2018 midterms showed a clear playbook for Democratic victory. The question is whether the party will follow it.

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