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Steve Bullock exits: Will conservative Democrats follow?

Steve Bullock exits: Will conservative Democrats follow?
© Greg Nash

With conservative Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Down ballot races carry environmental implications | US officially exits Paris climate accord  GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte wins Montana governor's race Senate control in flux as counting goes forward in key states MORE exiting the Democrats’ 2020 field, how long before conservatives start exiting the Democratic Party? As inconsequential as Democrats have made conservatives in their ranks feel, conservatives remain consequential to them. Ostracizing – if not exorcising – them leaves them with only four alternatives — three of whom would cost Democrats votes.  

This week three presidential candidates left the Democratic field in three days. At this rate, soon flies will start saying: “We are dropping like Democrats!”

Even with 12 Democratic candidates out, 16 remain in. No, Democrats do not have a quantity problem. What they have is a diversity problem – one of ideology – the only diversity problem they do not long to discuss.  

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To understand Democrats’ ideological diversity problem, compare two of this week’s casualties: Bullock and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisMiddle East: Quick start for Biden diplomacy Hillicon Valley: GOP chairman says defense bill leaves out Section 230 repeal | Senate panel advances FCC nominee | Krebs says threats to election officials 'undermining democracy' Top intelligence official says China targeting foreign influence at incoming Biden administration MORE (D-Calif.).  

Bullock was a popular two-term governor from red state Montana, the kind of state Democrats hope to flip to win in 2020. Harris is a first-term senator from bluest of blue California, the kind of state Democrats could not lose if they tried. Bullock is a white man; Harris, a minority woman. Bullock’s support remained low and flat throughout his brief campaign; Harris experienced a brief boom-let.  

None of those differences mattered much. The only one that mattered was the ideological one. Men and women, whites and minorities, and extreme liberals and less-extreme liberals remain in the race. Bullock was the contest’s only conservative. Harris was an undisguised liberal. Still, according to the Real Clear Politics average of national polling, just before their exits, Bullock stood at 0.5 percent; Harris was at 4 percent. That numerical difference is indicative of the race’s content.  

Bullock’s exit will be written off discreetly as a failure to gain “traction.” That is no more than face-saving fiction. If “traction” means what it objectively should – a significant increase in enthusiasm for their candidacy – then the whole Democratic field lack it. By such a standard, they should all be gone.

If you doubt, just look at the totals. According to Real Clear Politics’s average of national polling, Biden tops the field at 27 percent. Six months ago, he was at 32 percent. The number of Democrats not supporting anyone stands at 15 percent, which, if this were a single candidate’s support, would put that person in a dead-heat for second place. All 2020’s Democrats are spinning their wheels on bald tires.  

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Bullock is gone for the simple reason that he was conservative. In Democrats’ headlong race to the left, he was wrong to be right. 

Total support for candidates on the left stands at 53 percent, a solid majority. Total support for candidates who can plausibly be called moderates or centrists (at least relatively speaking) stands at just 21 percent.

Take Michael BloombergMichael BloombergBiden's great challenge: Build an economy for long-term prosperity and security The secret weapon in Biden's fight against climate change Sanders celebrates Biden-Harris victory: 'Thank God democracy won out' MORE’s recent entry, which added a whopping 4 percent to their total. Apparently having been a Democrat, Republican, Independent and now a Democrat again, the former New York City mayor averages out to a centrist. Really, Bloomberg is only a moderate in comparison to those further to the left. The same applies to Joe BidenJoe BidenLawsuit alleges 200K Georgia voters were wrongly purged from registration list GOP lawmaker blasts incoming freshman over allegations of presidential voter fraud Haaland has competition to be first Native American to lead Interior  MORE and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval PatrickDeval PatrickBlack leaders express concerns about representation in Biden administration The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Calls mount to start transition as Biden readies Cabinet picks Merrick Garland on list to be Biden's attorney general: report MORE, who comprise for a moment the three musketeers of 2020’s Democratic middle.   

If the overlooked answer to why Bullock was unable to attract support among Democrats is his conservatism, then the new overlooked question is: Where do conservative Democrats go now that the conservative candidate is gone?   

The left is telling them quite eloquently where they can go. But that's a major mistake. While the party may be ignoring them during the campaign, they will want them come Election Day.  

Exit polling in 2016 showed that 16 percent of conservatives, who comprised 35 percent of the electorate, voted for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton offers congratulations over Elliot Page announcement Biden brushes off criticism of budget nominee Mellman: Mired in Partisanship MORE. That means Clinton’s conservatives were about 5.6 percent of total voters. Consider where Clinton, who lost to President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal watchdog accuses VOA parent company of wrongdoing under Trump appointee Lawsuit alleges 200K Georgia voters were wrongly purged from registration list Ivanka Trump gives deposition in lawsuit alleging misuse of inauguration funds MORE despite getting 48 percent of the popular vote, would have been at 43 percent of the popular vote. If you imagine that 2016’s conservative Democrats voted for Clinton out of dissatisfaction with Donald Trump, think again. Exit polling in 2018, the vaunted progressive landslide, showed 16 percent of conservatives again voted Democratic.  

Democrats’ irrepressible left is on the verge of doing irreparable harm to their party. Dismissive of conservatives, they leave them with four alternatives: Stay home, go third party, vote Republican or convert. For the party, three of those options cost them votes – with voting Republican costing them double – and none gaining them any.

The exit of a candidate who was last polling below 1 percent is, by itself, inconsequential. The exit of the only candidate who ideologically represented 16 percent of conservatives – America’s second-largest ideological group and far larger than liberals – who voted for your party in the last two elections is a different matter altogether. A study of self-absorption, the Democrats’ leftwing has lost sight that to beat President Trump they need precisely the people they are turning on, and turning out of their party.  

J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987 through 2000.