Democratic candidates outbid each other on unsustainable policy positions

The Democratic Party’s presidential candidates sure aren’t doing themselves any favors. 

With the enormous Democratic field of candidates splintering voter support into smaller and smaller segments, the table was set for candidates to agree to early debates as an opportunity to break out of the field, build momentum and raise funds online to continue powering the campaign.

Early network television debates are creating an irresistible incentive structure for candidates to generate a “break-out moment” that will be repeated in the network coverage and commentary that follows.

Two ways to achieve a break-out moment are to attack another candidate on stage, and to outbid one’s opponents on some issue that is a favorite of the Democrats’ activist base.

History shows the attacks between candidates tend to have little lasting effects, although they cause of significant consternation among party leaders who lament “eating our own.”  Republicans in 2016 frequently blew themselves up on the debate stage, only to go on to win an unexpected victory in the general election.

Where Democrats are getting themselves into trouble is with increasingly left-wing policy positions on hot button issues. Looking to win the support of the activist and donor base, Democrats are putting themselves on record with calls to abolish private health insurance, while giving those in the country illegally access to taxpayer-funded, government-run health care.

A CNN poll shows just 21 percent of Americans support wiping out private health insurance in favor of a solely government-run system.  Even a majority of Americans who support a so-called “single payer” system favor continuing to allow private coverage.  

The same poll shows Americans overwhelmingly oppose giving illegal immigrants government-sponsored medical coverage.  At 59-38, this issue is a 20-point loser.

Democrats have put their candidates into a system which rewards and encourages increasingly outlandish — and unpopular — positions on issues that erode the party’s core strength in areas of fairness. It’s easy to argue that it is not fair to take away the private health insurance options people like — or to announce to the entire world that people can charge their health care costs to the U.S. taxpayer, if they enter the country illegally.

A smarter and healthier approach, for the Democrats and for the country, would be to put off these televised debates until later, and instead reward candidates for building organization and structure in the early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.  Candidates could then build momentum through superior organization and messaging to voters on the ground, rather than by trying to outbid each other to curry favor with urban, liberal Democratic donors in New York and Los Angeles.

If Democrats are to win back the White House, they’re not going to do it by further running up the score in already overwhelmingly Democratic urban centers where most of the party’s major donors can be found.  Instead, their path lies through Midwestern states President Trump snatched away in 2016.  We have seen very little from Democratic candidates that puts Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio or Missouri back in play.  

Trump cannot coast to victory.  The entire Republican Party, the president himself, and his campaign will have to work extremely hard to overcome the challenges that should be clear following the shellacking the party took in the House in 2018.  It seems the Democrats are determined to make the president’s reelection efforts a little easier, by creating a system which further incentivizes the very polarization they complain about.

Ron Nehring is the former chairman of the California Republican Party and was the 2016 presidential campaign spokesman for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Tags 2020 Democratic debate 2020 election Democratic primary Donald Trump Immigration Medicare for all Ron Nehring Ted Cruz

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