Opinion | Campaign

Democrats veer left as Trump cements hold on Republicans

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

What has come into focus with the events of this month is the contest of world views that will shape the 2020 race and the future of the country. The competing platforms were revealed in the border wall negotiations, the State of the Union, the leadership crisis in Virginia, the unveiling of the Green New Deal, the Matthew Whitaker hearing, and the media coverage of the growing field of Democratic presidential candidates. Each of these events has been discussed individually without sufficient regard to the larger context. This is a case of missing the forest for the trees. A more interesting picture of our cultural divide emerges when taken together.

On the one side, President Trump has now completed his takeover of the Republican Party. His views are well known. In his State of the Union address, he tracked toward the political center with calls for bipartisan cooperation on renewing infrastructure, reducing health care costs, bringing our soldiers home, funding pediatric cancer research, and so forth. His strategy is to hold his base while moving to the center, thereby confining the Democrats, who are all tracking left anyway, to a fringy set of policies including open borders, late term abortion, and socialism.

In politics, it makes sense to go with the flow, not against it. Trump has read the currents correctly, and is well positioned for 2020. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is divided. The short term advantage leans towards the reelection of Trump, and the Republican efforts to retake the 18 or more seats needed to regain control the House. However, the long run internal fight within the Democrats between traditional liberal policy and an increasingly radical socialist wing is turning into a fight for everyone.

Primaries are really a series of smaller primaries that winnow the field as they compete for money, activists, and votes. In the Republican primary of 2016, there was a subprimary of hardline immigration candidates and a subprimary of moderate immigration candidates. In the first group were Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson. In the second group were Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich. There were about twice as many Republican primary voters interested in the immigration hardliners than those Republican primary voters drawn to the immigration moderates.

The Republican nomination was bound to go to an immigration hardliner, as no immigration moderate could ever assemble enough Republican primary votes to prevail. It did not matter how much money Bush raised, nor how convinced Kasich was in his own viability. In 2016, neither had a chance. Cruz had the best shot until Trump entered the race on his right, at which point Trump became the best positioned Republican candidate.

The 2020 Democratic field learned the lesson to go where the energy is, win that subprimary, and win the nomination. The Democratic Party today is not merely divided, it is actively breaking apart. Emboldened by the fawning mainstream media coverage of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, left wing Democrats are becoming increasingly radicalized. Candidates and lawmakers now pander to the energy of hardline activists, but they have unwittingly set off a sad contest of ideological purity that eats its own.

The far left emerged during the 2018 cycle, the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, and the events of this month as a group of strident people convinced of their moral superiority. These radical politicians are unwilling to consider alternative perspectives and are closed to compromise. According to progressives, traditional Democrats are not sufficiently liberal. According to the socialists, the progressives are not sufficiently liberal, and so on.

The common wisdom is there is only room for one moderate Democrat to run as a presidential candidate. The action will be in the ever more radical progressive socialist subprimary. This is where Kamala Harris wants to be, battling it out with Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Beto O'Rourke. Anyone here who hesitates to lurch sufficiently left is quickly dismissed by the mainstream media punditry as not truly viable.

Any Democratic politician who has been around longer than it takes for paint to dry must begin their run by apologizing for having previously held demonstrably sane views. Then they have to latch onto whatever insane socialist proposal will demonstrate to the activists their leftist bona fides, and commence with emphatic virtue signaling. This process is leading to a Democratic Party with ideological purity that is out of touch with reality.

While Trump has unified the Republicans and tracked toward the center on key issues, the Democrats are trying to decide between their tradition of seeking liberal goals with incremental change or whether they are able to commit to the radical change proposed by the socialist wing. At the moment, the radicals are winning the Democratic contest of ideas. If the radicals prevail, then the fight for the moderate Democrats will become the fight for everyone. Because if the radicals win, then America loses.

Dan Palmer is a Republican donor and conservative political strategist. He served as executive director of United We Stand, planned the potential transition of Ted Cruz, and supported the campaigns of Kevin McCarthy and Donald Trump. You can follow him on Facebook @RealDanPalmer.