The good news: Democrats seem determined to lose the 2020 election by running on an extreme platform of massive government control. The bad news: The same thing … if you’re the New York Times. Op-ed columnist David Leonhardt took a closer look at the internals of last month’s Pew survey and discovered that Democrats have utterly squandered a favorability advantage among American voters since the midterms (via Newsalert):

What happened? Leonhardt reaches back to a July NPR/Marist poll to argue that the party’s progressives are pushing away from populism into straight-out socialism — and that voters won’t buy it. Decriminalizing the border and slavery reparations are now practically de rigueur for presidential hopefuls, but it runs right into a brick wall with the electorate:

The top three are practically party planks at this stage of the 2020 cycle, but they’re extremist positions. The fourth, repealing ObamaCare, was a bipartisan faceplant — remember the 2017 push to pass a repeal? — but in this case relates to the entry just above it. It’s not terribly difficult to understand why 150 million voters might not want to disrupt the status quo for 13 million others with an ObamaCare repeal, while at the same time not wanting to disrupt their own status quo of employer-based private health insurance, especially to trade for mandatory Medicare for All.

Leonhardt therefore wonders whether defeating Trump is the highest priority for Democrats. From his vantage point, they look much more interested in riding their progressive hobby horses than in challenging Trump on more moderate turf:

Given these consequences, you would think that Democrats would be approaching the 2020 campaign with a ruthless sense of purpose. But they’re not, at least not yet. They are not focusing on issues that expose Trump’s many vulnerabilities. They have instead devoted substantial time to wonky subjects that excite some progressive activists — and alienate most American voters. Recent polls suggest that the Democrats really are increasing the chances Trump will win re-election. …

The best strategy for Democrats is a populist one that speaks to voters of all races, the sort of campaign they ran last year and that Barack Obama ran in both 2008 and 2012. Those worked out pretty well.

In many fields — politics, business, the military, sports — successful leaders ask themselves what their opponent wants them to do, and then do the opposite. If Democrats at this week’s debate keep talking about border decriminalization and mandatory Medicare, I know that many well-meaning liberals will be happy. But I can think of someone else who will also be happy: Donald Trump.

The strategy seems to be that the more Democratic Party elites endorse these ideas, the more mainstream they will become. Leonhardt’s looking at the early returns of that strategy and rightly sending up a warning flare. All that does is make the distance between elites and the voters more obvious to the latter, while the former increase their own obliviousness. It continues because these candidates aren’t listening to voters — they’re listening to the progressive activists in the urban/academic bubble.

In that sense, Leonhardt misses an important distinction between today’s campaign and the Obama campaign, especially in 2008. Yes, Obama listened to voters, but that was because he built a unique ground-up organization that valued feedback from battleground precincts and neighborhoods. The campaign could tell quickly when messaging and issue priorities failed with voters and could shift their strategy quickly as a result. None of these candidates have that kind of structure, which means they’re captive to the loudest activists within their coalitions.

As a result, Democrats are hurtling headlong into socialism (which Leonhardt denies), fueled by a misperception of Bernie Sanders’ success in 2016. Sanders was the only outsider option for Democrats in that cycle, which meant he was the only pathway for voters to express discontent with the Clintonian establishment. It wasn’t a grassroots push for socialism — it was a grassroots cri de coeur to replace the leadership of the party with people who would listen to the voters. So far, Democrats haven’t figured that out, and it might take another lost election to make the lesson stick.