Obama had it right — a circular firing squad is on the way

President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe mullahs seek to control uncontrolled chaos Poll: Majority of Democrats thinks Obama was better president than Washington Obama urges Americans to get health coverage in new holiday video MORE was right to warn the Democratic Party that, unless it reshapes its course, it may create a circular firing squad. Historically, just look to the Democratic Party of 1972, when George McGovern lost 49 states to Richard Nixon, another controversial, polarizing president. It was both the high point of the progressive movement in the party and the low point of the party’s presidential power.

Except for a brief recovery post-Watergate with Jimmy Carter, Democrats did not come back from their 1972 record loss until 1992, and that was with a 41 percent vote for President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonOvernight Defense: Dems unveil impeachment articles against Trump | Saudi military flight students grounded after shooting | Defense bill takes heat from progressives | Pentagon watchdog to probe use of personnel on border Hillary Clinton documentary to premiere at Sundance Bill Clinton says Congress doing its job on Trump impeachment MORE, aided by the entry of independent Ross Perot into that year’s presidential race. Even with that help, it took a return to the center to reignite the fortunes of the Democratic Party and we got 49 per cent in 1996.

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Last November, Democrats made significant gains in the House of Representatives, adding a total of 40 districts and taking the majority. Most of those were suburban districts that voted for Republicans Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' Mellman: Looking to Iowa Potential Dem defectors face pressure on impeachment MORE or Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' Lawmakers dismiss Chinese retaliatory threat to US tech MORE in the past. They are not districts that could ever be won by an Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezBiden narrowly ahead in Iowa as Sanders surges, Warren drops: poll Democrats reach cusp of impeachment Progressives hopeful for deal with Pelosi to avert showdown on drug prices MORE (D-N.Y.), a Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Buttigieg says he doubts consulting work for insurer led to layoffs Trump supporters at Pa. rally 'upset' after Democrats introduce impeachment articles MORE (I-Vt.), or any of the leaders of the new progressive wing of the Democratic Party. These districts’ voters were concerned about health care, saw the Trump administration as out of step with their more centrist concerns, and gave low marks to a Republican House led by then-Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse Ethics Committee informs Duncan Hunter he can no longer vote after guilty plea Duncan Hunter pleads guilty after changing plea Trump campaign steps up attacks on Biden MORE (R-Wis.) that seemed fractured and ineffective.

Since the midterms, Trump continues to enjoy strong ratings on the economy and for combatting terrorism, two issues of heightened importance in family-oriented suburbs. In addition, he has been cleared by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE of the charge of colluding with the Russians. Women still have grave doubts about him, but he has proven a tough competitor, defying the odds.

But what have swing voters been hearing from Democrats, since switching their votes in the midterms over to the Dems? Socialism, anti-Semitism, resistance, more investigations. Not exactly a platform for re-election.

And the congressional Socialists led by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez are even threatening mainstream Democrats with primaries. Yup, replacing moderates in swing districts with left-wing democratic socialists is surely the way to expand the majority. Suburbanites are clamoring for them. Higher taxes is just what hard-pressed suburban voters with lots of responsibilities are seeking.

The public face of the party today is far removed from what created a solid group of freshmen in suburban districts. And they have been bombarded with a lot more than just slogans. Ocasio-Cortez, who pulled down about 15,000 votes in a Democratic primary in a safe district, is world-renowned now for the Green New Deal — just a little program to nationalize the energy industry while promising guaranteed incomes for all; its price tag has been put at $93 trillion. It’s Ocasio-Cortez who drove Amazon out of New York, not understanding that the tax breaks for the company would have come from 10 times the tax revenue that the new jobs would have created, or that their absence blows a $27 billion hole in future budgets. Comically, she thought you could spend the $3 billion on other things.

The other new face of the party has been Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarBiden narrowly ahead in Iowa as Sanders surges, Warren drops: poll Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire House approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump MORE (D-Minn.), who spread her anti-Israel positions by expressing anti-Semitic tropes about how Jews in America have divided loyalties and how Jews have bought support for Israel with “Benjamins.” Despite most voters believing Omar should be off the House Foreign Affairs Committee with these views, House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Trump supporters at Pa. rally 'upset' after Democrats introduce impeachment articles California GOP candidate arrested on stalking charges MORE (D-Calif.) has kept her on this prestigious assignment while passing over moderates.

Let’s not forget the daily voices of Reps. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerGOP calls for minority hearing on impeachment, threatens procedural measures READ: Articles of impeachment against Trump Trump, White House rip Democrats over impeachment articles MORE (D-N.Y.) and Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Trump rails against FBI, impeachment during Pennsylvania rally Democrats reach cusp of impeachment MORE (D-Calif.). They get media coverage (to a shrinking audience) on how there really is evidence of collusion and make escalating demands for the tax returns of Donald Trump and his associates. Nixon had an enemies list of people he was going to audit — and these folks are attempting to revive the practice. It didn’t work out that well for Nixon.

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The Democratic House and Senate leaders apparently decided that resistance to the Trump administration — rather than true deal-making — makes the most sense, holding out for a presidential victory in 2020. That strategic decision, unless soon reversed, might be their undoing. Had they opted for deals, they would have made a DACA-for-border-security swap, moved on infrastructure, and partnered on tax cuts to provide much more deductibility of state and local taxes. They think no deal is a better deal. Americans may — or may not — think so.

While Democrats like Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersCalifornia GOP candidate arrested on stalking charges Maxine Waters earns viral praise for steadfast calls for impeachment as articles announced Democrats could introduce articles of impeachment next week MORE (D-Calif.) have been given outsized power, the newly elected moderates — the ones whose victories empowered the other Democrats in the House — have been largely shunted to the side. They have been castigated from all sides, protested against in their town hall meetings, denied plum committee assignments, and had to accept a watered-down resolution condemning anti-Semitism.

On top of all of these discordant voices in Congress are the 15 or so Democratic presidential candidates, many of them vying for the ultra-left sliver of Democratic activists and media who are far removed from the life of the everyday Democratic voter. Many are backing the Green New Deal, immigration policies that approach open borders, and are united in their desire to raise taxes for new spending.

Joe BidenJoe BidenRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Trump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Trump supporters at Pa. rally 'upset' after Democrats introduce impeachment articles MORE, a potentially moderating influence on all this, has been temporarily set back with charges that his glad-handing was too intimate, and he has been tied up in knots explaining his behavior even before getting to the starting gate. Another potential moderate on economic issues, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, has decided he would not have a chance in this New Democratic Party. That leaves Starbucks founder Howard Schultz in the center and, since he is running outside of the party, he is more likely to be a spoiler than to convince more Democratic candidates to move to the center with him.

If there’s not a change of course here in the next year, Barack Obama is right that 2020 is shaping up to be more like a circular firing squad than a march to victory. If someone in the leadership of the House or among the presidential candidates does not stand up and reset the emerging positioning, the party will be painted as running on a platform of socialism, $93 trillion for global warming, anti-Israel policies, open borders, a government takeover of the health care system, and raising taxes to boot.

The course to Democratic victory in 2020 is responsible free enterprise, not socialism; the center, not the left; and policies based on reality, not tens of trillions of dollars. This was true in the past — and I believe it holds true for the future. 

Mark Penn is a managing partner of the Stagwell Group, a private equity firm specializing in marketing services companies, as well as chairman of the Harris Poll and author of “Microtrends Squared.” He also is CEO of MDC Partners, an advertising and marketing firm. He served as pollster and adviser to President Clinton from 1995 to 2000, including during Clinton’s impeachment. You can follow him on Twitter @Mark_Penn.