Democrats have reason to worry after the last presidential debate

If Democrats want to beat President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor NBA to contribute 1 million surgical masks to NY essential workers Private equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report 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 WarrenDemocrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog Biden says his administration could help grow 'bench' for Democrats Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill 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.


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 ButtigiegPete ButtigiegButtigieg launches new PAC to aid down-ballot candidates HuffPost political reporter on why Bernie fell way behind Biden Economists fear slow pace of testing will prolong recession MORE seems like an intelligent and decent guy who could be the future of the party. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharBiden says his administration could help grow 'bench' for Democrats Democrats fear coronavirus impact on November turnout Hillicon Valley: Zoom draws new scrutiny amid virus fallout | Dems step up push for mail-in voting | Google to lift ban on political ads referencing coronavirus 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 SandersSome Sanders top allies have urged him to withdraw from 2020 race: report We're at war and need wartime institutions to keep our economy producing what's necessary Larry David: Bernie Sanders should drop out of 2020 race MORE and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisEnlisting tech to fight coronavirus sparks surveillance fears Biden says his administration could help grow 'bench' for Democrats Is Texas learning to love ObamaCare? 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.


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.