A winning strategy for Democrats in 2020: populism, not Trump bashing

A winning strategy for Democrats in 2020: populism, not Trump bashing
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Do Democrats have to do anything more than bash Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN analyst Kirsten Powers: Melania's jacket should read 'Let them eat cake' CNN's Cuomo confronts Lewandowski over 'womp womp' remark Sessions says FBI agent Peter Strzok no longer has his security clearance MORE to beat him? 

The 2020 election is a long way away but the debate is already more than academic. Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBernie Sanders: Trump thinks like an authoritarian Democrats protest Trump's immigration policy from Senate floor Trump's America fights back MORE (I-Vt.) plans to introduce a jobs proposal that would require the federal government to hire and pay millions of unemployed or underemployed men and women.

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Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenFederal court rules consumer bureau structure unconstitutional Election Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — GOP lawmakers race to find an immigration fix MORE (D-Mass.) and Kristin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) have signed on to co-sponsor the jobs initiative

 

The Sanders proposal is an extension of his 2016 presidential campaign and may be a prelude to his 2020 campaign. In 2016, Sanders came close to upsetting the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSessions says FBI agent Peter Strzok no longer has his security clearance Melania Trump puzzles with 'I really don't care' jacket Grassley wants to subpoena Comey, Lynch after critical IG report MORE. Sanders scored big time with his bold proposals to provide free tuition to students at public colleges and universities and to create a national health care insurance program for all Americans

Did Democratic primary voters think he could persuade Congress to raise taxes on the rich to pay for his education and health care proposals? They probably didn’t but they did admire Sanders for being bold and bringing attention to and starting a national conversation about these important issues.

While Sanders was clear about his presidential agenda, Hillary Clinton was about as clear as mud. She started the race against Sanders with a big lead and thought she could coast to the nomination without taking a strong position on almost any economic issue. Her tortured change of positions on the Pacific Trade Partnership and the Dakota Pipeline told Democrats she didn’t have the kind of conviction a president needs to move things ahead and push problems away.

There’s an axiom that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Hillary Clinton should be sorry she was so safe.

Despite — or maybe because of his initiative — Sanders fared better in national polls against Donald Trump than Clinton did. In May of 2016, NBC News had Clinton up over Trump by 3 percent (49 percent to 46 percent).

The same survey revealed Sanders up over the Republican frontrunner by 12 percent (51 percent to 39 percent). That’s not bad for a guy who described himself as a socialist. Trump hinted that Sanders was a communist when the GOP nominee said, “some people think he’s even worse than that.”  Even with that kind of heated rhetoric, Sanders was still running ahead of the Republican presidential nominee. 

There might have been a time when you could get ahead in American politics by playing it safe but those days are gone. Americans are unhappy with the inability of politicians to solve the key problems facing the nation. People want action and they want it now.

There is ample polling data to support the necessity for Democrats to take the initiative on the big issues facing the United States.  

Voters who identify themselves as Democrats say they support the party because its policies are good for the country (72 percent). Many Democrats (63 percent) claim their bond to the party because of negative feelings towards Republicans. But anti-GOP sentiments are a secondary consideration.

Donald Trump’s disgraceful personal behavior makes him a very tempting target. But there’s not much more that any Democratic can say about Trump that voters haven’t heard already.

A national survey in March showed only one in three (36 percent) Americans believed Trump was honest and trustworthy. But almost half (48 percent) of the public approved his handling of the economy. To beat Trump in 2020, Democrats need to show Americans that actions have hurt not helped working families.

Voters knew what the Trump baggage was when they voted for him in 2016. The electorate just didn’t care. What voters cared about was that Trump promised to shake things up in D.C. while Clinton defended the Obama status quo in a change election.

Well, Trump didn’t drain the swamp or change the culture in Washington — he just made things worse. Democrats need to shine a light on his failures but to do that the presidential hopefuls have to discuss their plans to rectify the president’s mistakes.

To address Trump’s failure to help working families, Democrats should challenge his tax cuts for corporations, which have led to cuts in spending for education and health care. And to get there, the Democratic presidential hopefuls have an obligation to outline their approach to improve the economy for working families.

A powerful populist economic message will attract voters. Personal attacks on Trump will distract people. It's not enough for Democratic presidential candidates to bash Trump. Presidential hopefuls will also need to lay out their program for moving America forward. The same goes for Democratic Party leaders who want to turn out the party base to vote this year in the midterm elections.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. (There is no relation to Trump adviser Stephen Bannon). He is also a senior adviser to, and editor of, the blog at MyTiller.com, a social media network for politics. Contact him at brad@bannoncr.com