On the same day that the darling of the incoming frosh class declared herself a radical, longtime party stalwart Terry McAuliffe issued a warning about unrealistic promises and overheated rhetoric. The former governor of Virginia tells his fellow Democrats that Donald Trump will be easy to beat … as long as they don’t overpromise and underdeliver. And by overpromise, McAuliffe takes aim at new progressive stars such as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and other Bernie Sanders acolytes:
Americans are asking us to focus on improving their lives, not to make unrealistic ideological promises.
For example, some senators have started to discuss a “federal jobs guarantee” — a promise that, in certain formulations, means anyone who wants could have a government job paying $15 an hour with great benefits. Sound too good to be true? It is. Proponents of a jobs guarantee are smart people with good motives, but they surely recognize it is not a realistic policy.
Similarly, a promise of universal free college has an appealing ring, but it’s not a progressive prioritization of the educational needs of struggling families. We need to provide access to higher education, job training and student debt relief to families who need it. Spending limited taxpayer money on a free college education for the children of rich parents badly misses the mark for most families.
When the stakes are another four years of Trump degrading our country, do we really want to use the 2020 campaign as a first-time experiment on idealistic but unrealistic policies?
Dude — he’s running. It’s unclear how far McAuliffe would get in a Democratic presidential primary on the TAANSTAFL platform, but it will have the virtue of novelty in the upcoming class of contenders. Elizabeth Warren kicked it off on Monday by going full progressive, and it seems likely that Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Sanders himself in the Senate Democrat caucus will run on similar messaging. That’s a cinch for Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, too, plus most of the other cast of thousands that will come out of the woodwork over the next couple of months.
This might even put McAuliffe to the right of Joe Biden. The former VP and thus-far polling frontrunner tunes his rhetoric to the moderates but mainly calculates his policy toward the progressives. He’d be running on the Obama Restoration platform more than anything else, which would trap Biden into the kinds of promises that McAuliffe laments here.
What makes the upcoming marginalization of McAuliffe — you know it’s coming — remarkable is that he’s correct. Making wild promises and failing to deliver on them is not an aphrodisiac in dating or in politics, nor is wild partisan name-calling. Trump got elected because voters intensely disliked Hillary Clinton and she failed at basic campaign competence, not because of his name-calling. All Democrats have to do is not be crazy to compete with Trump in 2020, and thus far they’re failing at it.
The other dynamic in 2016 that may reappear in 2020 is the outsider-insider dynamic. Clinton was the ultimate insider, which drove a significant amount of mistrust and dislike. Trump still will appeal to populists and disaffected voters for being a disruptor, especially if the economy holds steady. Putting up Beltway figures like Warren, Harris, or Biden plays into Trump’s hand, although it may not be enough of an advantage to overcome other disadvantages.
Democrats would be smart to nominate a governor rather than another Beltway insider, although McAuliffe might not be the answer — since he’s been both and was a significant part of the Clinton team for years. If not McAuliffe, then who? Jay Inslee’s making noises about tossing his hat in the ring, but Inslee’s a progressive who wins in deep-blue Washington. They’d be better advised to take a close look at John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who won the gubernatorial race in deep-red Louisiana. He’s a pro-life, pro-gun Democrat who can connect with voters outside the elite bubbles on the coasts, someone who can provide the not-crazy argument effectively and draw moderates back to the Democrats. Edwards might even get a significant crossover from Republican voters in a race against Trump.
Don’t bet on that wisdom taking hold, however. Lay money on a Harris/Tlaib ticket next year as Democrats go full crazy.