Earlier this week James Carville went on MSNBC and told Democrats it was time to panic. “I mean, I’m 75 years old why am I here doing this? Because I am scared to death that’s why,” Carville said. The clip of Carville’s on-air panic went viral and today, Vox interviewed Carville and gave him a chance to revise and extend his remarks:
Why are you “scared to death” about the 2020 election?
Look, the turnout in the Iowa caucus was below what we expected, what we wanted. Trump’s approval rating is probably as high as it’s been. This is very bad. And now it appears the party can’t even count votes. What the hell am I supposed to think?…
We have candidates on the debate stage talking about open borders and decriminalizing illegal immigration. They’re talking about doing away with nuclear energy and fracking. You’ve got Bernie Sanders talking about letting criminals and terrorists vote from jail cells. It doesn’t matter what you think about any of that, or if there are good arguments — talking about that is not how you win a national election. It’s not how you become a majoritarian party…
I’m not sure Carville is personally that far off from Bernie’s positions on these issues, but he knows that winning an election means focusing on issues where you have an electoral advantage, not ones where the electorate is against you. The counter-argument, which Vox’s Sean Illing makes, is that maybe things have changed so much that Sanders can win despite his far-left platform.
A lot of threads there. First, a lot of people don’t trust the Democratic Party, don’t believe in the party, for reasons you’ve already mentioned, and so they just don’t care about that. They want change. And I guess the other thing I’d say is, 2016 scrambled our understanding of what’s possible in American politics.
Are we really sure Sanders can’t win?
Who the hell knows? But here’s what I do know: Sanders might get 280 electoral votes and win the presidency and maybe we keep the House. But there’s no chance in hell we’ll ever win the Senate with Sanders at the top of the party defining it for the public. Eighteen percent of the country elects more than half of our senators. That’s the deal, fair or not.
So long as McConnell runs the Senate, it’s game over. There’s no chance we’ll change the courts and nothing will happen, and he’ll just be sitting up there screaming in the microphone about the revolution.
As another example of a losing issue, Carville brought up a viral video in which a voter confronted Elizabeth Warren over her college debt forgiveness plan:
Here’s another stupid thing: Democrats talking about free college tuition or debt forgiveness. I’m not here to debate the idea. What I can tell you is that people all over this country worked their way through school, sent their kids to school, paid off student loans. They don’t want to hear this shit. And you saw Warren confronted by an angry voter over this. It’s just not a winning message.
The core of Carville’s message is that you have to always be thinking about the persuadable voters because ultimately every election is about persuading a majority of voters with your most appealing issues. As Carville sees it, there’s no alternative: “look, if no one’s persuadable, then let’s just have the revolution.”
As for the outcome in 2020, Carville was asked if he sees anyone who can beat Trump and replied, “I don’t know, I just don’t know.”
Carville will be ignored by Sanders’ supporters, probably with a jaunty “Ok, boomer.” He’s old, he’s out of touch, he’s moderate—lots of reasons to ignore him. But I think he’s right about Sanders, at least so far.