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- Republican and conservative pundits have recently used a number of columns to offer unsolicited advice to Democrats.
- These columns say that Democrats should abandon progressive policies in favor of center-right ideas in order to win over voters in the 2020 election.
- But in reality, this is terrible advice because many of the progressive ideas that the pundits are suggesting Democrats ditch are popular.
- Additionally, the center-right ideology that the pundits espouse represents a shrinking part of the electorate.
- Matt Herdman is a Democratic campaign strategist who has done work in New Hampshire, Wyoming, Texas, and Washington, DC.
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Usually it comes from "Never Trump" Republicans, who share a common interest in beating President Donald Trump in 2020. I’m glad that these Republicans are on the team, but I hope none of the Democratic presidential candidates take the bait and listen.
Take, for instance, the recent advice from Charlie Sykes, the editor-in-chief of the Never Trump conservative website The Bulwark. Among Sykes’ litany of suggestions are: don’t reform healthcare in any way that might end private health insurance, don’t be willing to abolish the electoral college, don’t push for the Green New Deal, don’t require licenses for gun ownership, and don’t push for giving away entitlements without giving a way to pay for it, but also don’t make the way to pay for it Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax or anything that hurts the rich.
But Sykes was not alone among center-right columnists in offering unsolicited advice to the Democratic candidates.
Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist at The New York Times, encouraged Democrats to drop universal childcare, "Medicare for All," student-debt cancellation, universal free college, a comprehensive climate plan, and debt relief for Puerto Rico.
Peggy Noonan, the center-right Wall Street Journal columnist, suggested Democrats ditch pro-choice values and stop hammering the 1%.
What does all this advice have in common?
Sure, it tells Democrats that the best way for Democrats to win is to push center-right ideas. Yes, maybe there is some self-interest at play. It’s not the most surprising advice coming from center-right pundits.
But most importantly, it’s terrible advice.
Polling suggests voters, and independents, support a popular vote rather than the electoral college. It also suggests that voters favor the Green New Deal, creating new social programs like Medicare for All and expanded funding for childcare, and Warren’s wealth tax. But you wouldn’t pick up on that from these pleas for Democrats to run as diet Republicans.
Don’t get me wrong — I think there are good things Democrats can learn from Republicans. Rick Scott aggressively courted the Hispanic vote early, running Spanish language ads more than six months before the election, and significantly outperformed most Republicans with Hispanic voters. Democrats can learn from this — don’t take the votes of people of color for granted and make early outreach a priority.
Republicans are also better at playing the refs, and when they don’t get the decisions they want, they’ve created an entire ecosystem of refs who will take their side. Republicans leverage accusations of liberal media bias like a flopping soccer player begging the refs for a penalty kick. That doesn’t mean that Democrats need to recreate Fox News and Breitbart, but Democrats have room to grow tactically in our ability to shape media narratives.
The key word there is tactically. When Never Trump Republicans give Democratic candidates tactical advice about how they persuade swing voters, it might make sense to see what they’ve got to say. But when Never Trump Republicans give ideological advice about the type of policies to advance, Democrats should be deeply skeptical. Especially if all of that advice just reinforces the Republican pundit’s ideological preferences.
Never Trump Republicans make up a vanishingly small percentage of the electorate despite being oversampled in cable TV green rooms and think-piece authors. Stephens’ and Sykes’ endorsements won’t guarantee a Democratic win in 2020.
I’m not going to pretend I know the magic secret to winning the 2020 presidential election. I’m personally undecided about who I’ll vote for in the primary.
There’s room for the Democratic Party to debate how best to win over undecided voters, slim Trump’s base, and simultaneously turn out the party’s ideological supporters. But when Republicans tell you that the best way to win is to throw away progressive values and run on Republican-lite policy proposals, Democratic candidates should ignore them.
Matt Herdman is a Democratic campaign strategist who has done work in New Hampshire, Wyoming, Texas, and Washington, DC. His background includes everything from running phone banks for a House race to serving as campaign manager for the 2018 Wyoming gubernatorial campaign.
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