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

President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump hits Biden as 'disrespectful' to Obama Is America ready to return to the Obama-Biden foreign policy? Trump's debate performance was too little, too late 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 ClintonThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden face off for last time on the debate stage Trump expected to bring Hunter Biden's former business partner to debate Davis: On eve of tonight's debate — we've seen this moment in history before 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 RomneyRatings drop to 55M for final Trump-Biden debate Bipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning Mitt Romney did not vote for Trump in 2020 election MORE or Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' MORE in the past. They are not districts that could ever be won by an Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezProgressive lawmakers call for United Nations probe into DHS 'human rights abuses' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats play defense, GOP goes on attack after Biden oil comments | Energy Dept. exempts quick dishwashers from existing efficiency standards | Ocasio-Cortez says having Green New Deal would have helped handle COVID-19 pandemic Ocasio-Cortez says Biden vote can be 'tactical' effort to support marginalized communities MORE (D-N.Y.), a Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' Trump's debate performance was too little, too late Final debate: War Admiral vs. Seabiscuit 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 RyanMcCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments Pelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats 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) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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 OmarProgressive lawmakers call for United Nations probe into DHS 'human rights abuses' Ocasio-Cortez hits Trump for 'disrespect' over calling her AOC during debates Trump says he doesn't actually want Whitmer, Biden and Obama to be locked up despite chants 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 PelosiOvernight Health Care: Following debate, Biden hammers Trump on coronavirus | Study: Universal mask-wearing could save 130,000 lives | Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight On The Money: Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight | Landlords, housing industry sue CDC to overturn eviction ban Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight 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 NadlerMarijuana stocks see boost after Harris debate comments Jewish lawmakers targeted by anti-Semitic tweets ahead of election: ADL Democrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court MORE (D-N.Y.) and Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGreenwald slams Schiff over Biden emails on Fox Hillicon Valley: DOJ accuses Russian hackers of targeting 2018 Olympics, French elections | Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats | House Democrats slam FCC over 'blatant attempt to help' Trump Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats 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 WatersCompanies start responding to pressure to bolster minority representation Democratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Safeguarding US elections by sanctioning Russian sovereign debt 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 BidenFacebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' Senate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus 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.