How an Ascendant Left Could Be Democrats’ Undoing

The Democratic Party is riding high. They took the House of Representatives in the midterm elections. They bested President Donald Trump in the most recent round of the shutdown fight. Judging by Mr. Trump’s poll numbers, Democrats have a real shot at the White House in 2020. And yet, the party’s left wing is busily planting the seeds of its own demise.An ascendant Democratic left, galvanized by President Trump’s chaotic two years in office, is pushing the Democrats’ agenda out of the mainstream.

An ascendant Democratic left, galvanized by President Trump’s chaotic two years in office, is pushing the Democrats’ agenda out of the mainstream.

The Left Field

The early entrants in the Democratic primary race all come from the far left. Kamala Harris, the California Senator who was first to throw her hat in the ring, wants to eliminate private health insurance. Ms. Harris’ opponent, Senator Elizabeth Warren, is calling for more IRS audits and punitive taxes on the wealthy. Not to be outdone, Sen. Bernie Sanders thinks a 90% top marginal tax rate wouldn’t be such a crazy idea.

Yet, even the most aggressive soak the rich schemes will not come close to paying for the array of massive new government programs the Democratic Presidential contenders promise. For example, all of the Democratic presidential hopefuls have embraced Medicare for All. Yet, none can explain how they will pay the massive price tag of free government health care for everyone. Ms. Warren’s wealth tax, for instance, is estimated to raise $2.75 trillion over ten years. But, that will cover only a fraction of the programs $32 billion cost.

Mashing the Hot Buttons

Meanwhile, Democratic-controlled legislatures are mashing hard on hot button issues that are sure to alienate moderate voters. A bill moving through Virginia’s Democrat-controlled state legislature would permit late-term abortions, even after the mother was in labor. Virginia’s Democratic Governor Ralph Northam said that in such cases the baby would be delivered and “kept comfortable” while the doctor and mother would have a conversation about whether the child is permitted to live. For even many pro-choice advocates, this seems barbaric. Under the law, it’s arguably murder.

Some will argue that this is no more crazy than Mr. Trump’s promise of a 2,000 mile border wall paid for by Mexico. But, the swing voters Democrats need to take back the White House are fed up with outlandish promises. Democrats will need to convince these voters that they offer a more sober, competent alternative to Mr. Trump. At the moment, they are leaving precisely the opposite impression.

Putting the 2018 Midterms in Perspective

Many on the left interpret Democrats’ midterm electoral success as not only a backlash against President Trump, but a ringing endorsement from the voting public of a progressive agenda. They are getting ahead of their skis. While Democrats have plenty of reason for cheer, their midterm win wasn’t quite as resounding as it first appears.

Republicans were defending far more House seats in districts Hillary Clinton won than Democrats were defending in districts Donald Trump carried. Among the reasons incumbent parties tend to lose seats in a new President’s first midterm election is that as parties are on the rise, they gain seats in opposing party territory that are especially vulnerable to being retaken by the party that more naturally represents them. While this isn’t the only reason Democrats regained the House, it played a bigger role than many Democrats would care to admit. Dissatisfaction with President Trump, rather than a new-found embrace of progressive policy fantasies, accounts for most of the rest.


The Bottom Line

The fantastical fictions on offer from the Democratic left are hardly an improvement on the current state of affairs.

Voters are frustrated with government dysfunction and incompetence. The fantastical fictions on offer from the Democratic left are hardly an improvement on the current state of affairs. The shift in 2018, such that it was, is less a shift in ideology than a shift in which party voters are willing to entrust with competently running the government. Democrats ignore this reality at their own peril.

As Democrats race each other to the left, they are leaving the public who might vote for them further behind. The ominous caricature of Democrats drawn by the far right and the reality of what Democrats actually stand for are beginning to converge. The further they go, the less outrageous Mr. Trump appears in comparison.


An earlier version of this article referred to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a Representative from California. She is, of course, a Representative from New York. We regret the error.

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