If any Democrats are willing to listen, James Carville offered some sensible advice a while back about a decision the party must make about its future.
In a February interview on the MSNBC cable channel, Carville said the party is in danger of nominating a presidential candidate with little chance of winning this year’s election.
“We’ve got to decide what we want to be,” Carville said last week. “Do we want to be an ideological cult or do we want to have a majoritarian instinct to be a majority party?”
Carville, the Democratic strategist who was the brains behind Bill Clinton’s upset of George H.W. Bush in 1992, knows a little something about how to win elections. He said the party’s voters, and its leaders, must decide whether ideological purity or pragmatism is more important in a campaign. That’s easy to answer.
“The real argument here is that some people think there’s a real yearning for a left-wing revolution in this country, and if we just appeal to the people who feel that, we’ll grow and excite them and we’ll win,” he said. “But there’s a word a lot of people hate that I love: politics.
“It means building coalitions to win elections. It means sometimes having to sit back and listen to what people think and framing your message accordingly.”
Carville is absolutely right. The very nature of a successful political party requires bringing great numbers of voters together under a large tent to support a common goal. When this happens, few of these voters will like everything the party decides. But the majority can live with most of it because it believes a majority of voters will support it, too.
The Democrats of 2020 are not doing this. Like Carville said, too many have embraced ideological purity — Medicare For All, welcoming all immigrants no matter how they got here — at the expense of what will be more popular and more likely to win the presidency or the Senate.
Democrats don’t have to look far to find somebody who’s built a decent coalition. That would be their archenemy, President Trump, who has put together support from blue-collar workers and evangelicals to create a strong base of support.
With eight months to go till the election, it’s too soon to say that Trump’s coalition will be enough to get him a second term. But right now, the odds of it seem probable.
True enough, if the economy dips at a bad time, that would be a problem for the president. And he tends to turn potential supporters away with his Twitter rants and his other unpresidential commentary.
In the 2018 midterms, Democrats took back the majority in the House. But so far this year, the party’s presidential candidates are making it easy for people who might be on the fence to choose Trump. It’s as if many of the leading contenders have made the conscious decision to support extreme ideas to win the nomination — instead of trying to get more voters inside their tent to win the election.
This is not a strategy for victory.