Finding an animating issue is Democrats' biggest 2020 challenge — not Trump

Finding an animating issue is Democrats' biggest 2020 challenge — not Trump
© Greg Nash

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Nearly 10 years ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPoll shows Collins displaces McConnell as most unpopular senator Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti on impeachment: 'CNN can see through this nonsense' Trump says impeachment trial should move 'very quickly' MORE (R-Ky.) told us all what really matters to Republicans. Though the cast of characters is a little bit different today, the attitude is just the same. 

“No compromise” is the GOP mantra. It is high time it became the Democratic Party’s, too. 


We just learned through leaked audio that more aggressive monitoring of polling places is central to the GOP's 2020 strategy. It's time to get really aggressive. Republicans are playing by a wholly different set of rules.

To achieve our legislative goals, Democrats have to find an animating issue — or several — that guarantees the kind of turnout Republicans can rely on when it comes to the Second Amendment and abortion. There is so much that unites us as a party, and yet, Democrats’ votes can’t be relied on in the same way as Republicans’.  

The damage the Trump administration and decades of Republican politics has done to America is obvious. Income inequality is at its highest level in more than half a century, 2019 has produced more mass shootings than days on the calendar and voter suppression continues to disenfranchise millions of Americans. 

The two of us haven’t missed a chance to vote, but so many Democrats who feel the same way we do about Republican leadership have missed an election — or many. 

So, what’s it going to take?


We believe the answer lies in a concerted effort to animate voters around central issues of our time in the same way that Republicans talk about abortion and gun control. Hammering issues such as immigration or the economy is great, but it doesn’t unify in the same way that voting rights, judicial appointments, gun violence or protecting a woman’s right to choose could. 

There need not be a “progressive left versus establishment model” of these issues. They are core to who we are as Democrats and can help us turn out the vote at the level we need to sweep the 2020 election. 

A quick overview of these issues that should make every registered Democrat in American turn out: 

Judicial appointments: President TrumpDonald John TrumpLev Parnas implicates Rick Perry, says Giuliani had him pressure Ukraine to announce Biden probe Saudi Arabia paid 0 million for cost of US troops in area Parnas claims ex-Trump attorney visited him in jail, asked him to sacrifice himself for president MORE and McConnell have seated 174 federal judges in just three years and they’ve still got 2020 to change the face of our judicial system for decades to come. Democrats rightfully moaned about McConnell refusing to give Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandThe Trumpification of the federal courts Juan Williams: GOP are hypocrites on impeachment Finding an animating issue is Democrats' biggest 2020 challenge — not Trump MORE a hearing in 2016, but then fewer of us showed up to vote in 2016 than in 2012. Now, Justices Neil GorsuchNeil GorsuchJanuary reminds us why courts matter — and the dangers of 'Trump judges' Planned Parenthood launches M campaign to back Democrats in 2020 Appeals court appears wary of letting Trump reinstate death sentences MORE and Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughDemocratic group plans mobile billboard targeting Collins on impeachment January reminds us why courts matter — and the dangers of 'Trump judges' Planned Parenthood launches M campaign to back Democrats in 2020 MORE sit on the highest court in the land and, perhaps more critically, there are dozens who hold their same views sitting on lower courts making decisions about everything from health care to elections to redistricting to the immigration system. The Federalist Society is laughing at Democrats and they have every right to. It is imperative that Democrats appoint more judges to rebalance the direction of American society. 

Voting rights: What’s more sacred than our right to vote? After Floridians overwhelmingly voted to restore voting rights to citizens with felony convictions, the state’s Republican administration is trying to institute a modern-day poll tax. Over in Wisconsin, Republicans are pushing to purge 200,000 voters. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers decried the move, writing on Twitter: “I won the race for governor by less than 30,000 votes.” You know who else had a slim Wisconsin victory? President Trump. He beat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFormer Vermont Governor: Sanders 'will play dirty' NYT: Justice investigating alleged Comey leak of years-old classified info New Hampshire state lawmaker switches support from Warren to Klobuchar MORE there by less than 23,000 votes. In Georgia, a U.S. District Court judge just denied an emergency request to stop the secretary of state from removing 120,000 Georgians from the voter registration list. There’s also an ongoing investigation into some of Georgia’s voting machines from the Winterville Train Depot outside Athens, where Republicans won every race on machine No. 3 and Democrats won every race on each of the other six machines. What are the odds? Less than one in 1 million, according to a statistician.

Gun violence: Over 90 percent of Americans support background checks on all gun sales. That figure includes gun owners who recognize the desperate need to better regulate an out of control gun industry in America. The seventh anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting just passed and we still lose over 30,000 Americans to gun violence annually. Republicans send their thoughts and prayers and flirt with the idea of bucking the NRA, but they always end up exactly where they started: feeding the American people lies about the rules on the books and Democrats’ plans for a gun grab. Protecting our children is reason enough to show up to vote every single chance we get. 

Right to choose: If access to abortion gets Republicans so mad, why doesn’t losing access have the same effect on Democrats? From fetal heartbeat bills to defunding women’s clinics to drafting legislation that would force women to undergo an invasive transvaginal ultrasound to get an abortion, a woman’s constitutionally guaranteed right to make her own health care decisions is under assault. We join the Women’s March, hail Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgSCOTUS 'TRAP law' case and the erosion of abortion rights Trump and Obama equally admired? Eight things popularity polls tell us The Hill's Morning Report - Deescalation: US-Iran conflict eases MORE and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as heroes, and yet, have not found a way to mobilize on this critical issue on a national basis. Just because the Democratic position comes from our faith in the law and not in God, it should be no less powerful. 

Democrats have an arsenal of issues with the potential to drive unprecedented turnout. We have to feel the fervor and anger at least equal to Republicans who never balk at the chance to be outraged and decry attacks on their “way of life.”

The truth is that our way of life is being attacked by Republicans. The things we believe in, such as equality, fairness and opportunity, are on every single ballot. Focused campaigns to amplify these issues will help Democrats find our own animating issue so that we can treat McConnell as ruthlessly as he has treated us.   

Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.

Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, and a CBS News political contributor. Follow him on Twitter @antjuansea.