Press: Which way do Dems go in 2020?

Press: Which way do Dems go in 2020?
© iStock, The Hill illustration

It’s started way, way too early, but there’s nothing we can do about it. The 2020 presidential campaign is well underway. And, of course, with no serious Republican having the guts to challenge President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Camerota clashes with Trump's immigration head over president's tweet LA Times editorial board labels Trump 'Bigot-in-Chief' Trump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates MORE – Where are you, Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake responds to Trump, Jimmy Carter barbs: 'We need to stop trying to disqualify each other' Jeff Flake responds to Trump's 'greener pastures' dig on former GOP lawmakers Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE, when the country needs you? — all the excitement is on the Democratic side.

For Democrats, there are two big questions: Who’s running? And what’s the Democratic message? Or: Will the Democratic Party blow it by veering too far left?

The list of Democratic candidates changes almost daily, as new contenders jump in and some anticipated contenders opt out. Just last week, four potential candidates announced their decision not to run: Former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton responds to Trump tweets telling Dem lawmakers to 'go back' to their countries The Young Turks' Cenk Uygur: Here's how to choose a president MORE, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderThe old 'state rights' and the new state power The Hill's Morning Report — Harris brings her A game to Miami debate Holder rips Walker over Wisconsin gerrymandering MORE, and Ohio Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownTrump puts hopes for Fed revolution on unconventional candidate Budowsky: Harris attacked Biden, helped Trump Speaker Pelosi, seize the moment to make history on drug pricing MORE. Still waiting in the wings are Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Colorado Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetCongress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand George Will says Democrats should nominate Bennet to beat Trump in 2020 MORE, and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates Biden pitches new subsidies, public option in health care plan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke MORE.

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But that still leaves, as of this writing, 14 announced candidates off and running. Granted, this early in the game it’s impossible to predict who will end up on top. But we can break the list of those already announced into three categories. Immediately serious candidates: Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke Judd Gregg: Counting the costs of Democrats' desires MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates Amazon warehouse workers strike on Prime Day Elizabeth Warren backs Amazon workers striking on Prime Day MORE (Mass.), and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisTrump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates Judd Gregg: Counting the costs of Democrats' desires Buttigieg: 'Medicare for all,' free college tuition are 'questionable on their merits' MORE (Calif.). Potentially serious candidates: Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSunday shows - Immigration raids dominate Klobuchar: Trump 'wants this chaos' caused by expected ICE raids 2020 Democrats push tax hike on wealthy investors MORE (Minn.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker prison reform bill would give older prisoners a 'second look' Booker to unveil plan for older Americans' long-term health care: report Judd Gregg: Counting the costs of Democrats' desires MORE (N.J.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke 2020 Democrats upend digital campaign playbook Gillibrand speaks of how she benefits from white privilege MORE (N.Y.), former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. Not a prayer: Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyThe Young Turks' Cenk Uygur: Here's how to choose a president 2020 Democrats push tax hike on wealthy investors Democratic strategist: 'Very short-sighted' to ditch ObamaCare in favor of 'Medicare for All' MORE (Md.), Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardSanders praises Gen Z for being 'profoundly anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic' Next Generation foreign policy: Time for the Democrats to embrace restraint 3 reasons billionaire activist Tom Steyer is running for president MORE (Hawaii), author Marianne Williamson and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. 

Which raises the second question, with which both The Washington Post and The New York Times seem obsessed: Will the Democratic Party tilt so far left it will lose its appeal to Middle American swing voters? To which, I believe, the answer is a resounding no!

First, don’t forget, the party rejected the populist message of Sanders in 2016 in favor of the centrist message of Clinton. How’d that work out? By running to the mushy middle, do they really want to make the same mistake again? Second, in 2018, Democratic candidates nationwide ran on a strong progressive platform — and won 40 seats in the House in both reliably blue and swing districts. Why run away from what’s proven to work?

One other important consideration. As Sanders delights in pointing out on the campaign trail, three years ago everybody said his ideas were too extreme. No longer. Today, they’re mainstream and, with some variations on a theme, proposed by all Democratic candidates: “Medicare for all,” lower prescription drug prices, $15 minimum wage, universal child care, action on climate change, higher tax rate for the wealthiest Americans, sensible gun safety legislation.

Socialist? Hardly. Too far left? That’s not what the majority of Americans say. Most of those so-called extreme policies are, in fact, “extremely” popular. As reaffirmed in a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll, 90 percent of Americans support background checks on all gun sales. According to Reuters, 70 percent of voters now back Medicare for all and a majority support free college tuition. Even a Fox News poll found 70 percent of overall voters — 85 percent of Democrats, 54 percent of Republicans — are in favor of higher taxes on the wealthy.   

Final reason not to worry: That’s what primaries are all about. It’s up to voters to decide which big ideas are best and which candidate is best equipped to deliver them. And in making that decision, Democratic primary voters will be driven by one consideration above all others: Not by which candidate is far-left, mid-left, or center left, but by who’s the strongest candidate against Trump. Period.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”