Democrats have reason to worry after the last presidential debate

If Democrats want to beat President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE in 2020 and return a sense of normalcy to the White House, they may want to make sure that the current front runners are up to the job at hand. Winning a primary is one thing, but winning a general election is a completely different beast. When the top three candidates are a self avowed socialist, a former vice president mired in scandal, and a quasi populist at war with Wall Street, it is fair to say that there is room for concern. Luckily, it is still early.

Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Bloomberg, Patrick take different approaches after late entries into primary race Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne MORE could potentially be the best candidate and the worst candidate to take on Trump in the general election all at once. She is clearly thoughtful, extremely smart, and prepared to lean into the historic moment that her candidacy presents, but like Hillary Clinton, she has yet to find her voice or ability to create a likeable narrative that will drive apathetic Democrats to the polls on Election Day.

The party cannot afford another nominee like Michael Dukakis in 1988 or John Kerry in 2004. Democrats do not need to prove that they are smarter than Republicans or occupy some moral high ground. Democrats need to prove that they are listening to voters, that they share their pain, and that they will fight like hell to improve the lives of all Americans.

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This is what scares me. The weakness of Dukakis and Kerry was not rooted in their policy proposals. It was rooted in their inability to connect with voters who had different life experiences. Whether it was a person of color or a blue collar voter, both Dukakis and Kerry failed to connect. The current field cannot afford to make the same mistake.

It has been a long time since a Democrat from Massachusetts ran a successful presidential campaign. Democrats should be worried that history may not be on their side. Despite the political landmines erupting at the White House, Democrats cannot simply rest on their laurels and expect Republicans to abandon a vulnerable president.

A lack of enthusiasm or support around one candidate risks dividing the party and depressing turnout, which is what happened to Clinton in 2016. A left versus center battle will exacerbate the factions that never truly coalesced around Clinton, leading to tepid support from the type of voters who were the foundation for Barack Obama.

Do not get me wrong on this field. Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne MORE seems like an intelligent and decent guy who could be the future of the party. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Election 2020: Why I'm watching Amy and Andy 2020 Democrats demand action on guns after Santa Clarita shooting MORE would make a great attorney general or the leader of a Democratic majority if the Senate turns blue, but Democrats have yet to put forth a candidate that excites an uneasy Democratic base.

Candidates like Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker have failed to live up to expectations and squandered their opportunities to turn their visions into tangible movements. Candidates like Bernie SandersBernie SandersSinger Neil Young says that America's presidents haven't done enough address climate change New poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide MORE and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide Harris gets key union endorsement amid polling plateau MORE have so far been unable to expand their base and build upon their name recognition to solidly their support. The result is a fluid primary process that could damage the long term prospects of the eventual nominee. Things are not exactly great for the party right now.

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Policies like banning private health insurance and packing the Supreme Court risk turning off swing voters and feed into a conservative narrative that could potentially strengthen Republican turnout. Democrats do not need to pander to Trump voters, but they also should not put gasoline on the fire. Inspiration is what Democrats need more than wonky policies and plans with footnotes and annotations. Voters will select nominees based on their hearts rather than on a checklist of proposals.

That is why the eventual nominee must make an emotional connection. This election cannot be about academic policies or convoluted plans that voters know will never pass Congress. It must be about connecting with people and laying out a better path forward for the country. Democrats have no choice other than to rely on historic turnout from African Americans, suburban women, and millenials. Without those critical demographics, Democrats risk another loss to Trump.

Failure cannot be an option. Not turning out these key constituencies would be political malpractice and could likely lead to the collapse of the party as we know it. The Trump base will certainly turn out and attempt to settle the score for his likely impeachment, the question is whether Democrats will be fired up and excited to restore the blue wall that will evict this Republican occupant of the White House.

Trump is a leader who has etched his name in history alongside Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon. If Democrats expect to be successful in 2020, they must nominate a candidate who can harness a movement to rebuild our institutions and restore faith in our system. If you are scared about the potential reelection of Trump, you should be. Democrats must be ready to take him on and end to this nightmare.

Michael Starr Hopkins is the founding partner of Northern Starr Strategies. He served on the Democratic presidential campaigns for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Delaney. Follow him on Twitter @TheOnlyHonest.