2020 on my mind: Democrats have to think like Mitch McConnell
Democrats working to ensure Trump's second term
The Democrats' Nevada presidential debate was a debacle. It started as a food fight and degenerated into mean-spirited attacks and little substance.
It did achieve one main goal, and that was taking down billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. No sooner did the debate start than the attacks came in rapid-fire succession. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) attacked Bloomberg on his settlements with women over workplace complaints. Former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg said the last thing the party needs is someone who can buy the nomination. Bloomberg was attacked with regard to his policy as mayor of "stop and frisk" policing, but he looked like a scared rabbit in his own defense, caught flatfooted by the barrage of attacks. Clearly, he was ill-prepared. Certainly, you need not be a seer to understand where his vulnerabilities lie - yet he acted as if he was surprised by them.
The debate could be broken down to five main sections:
Knock out Bloomberg. That was the job of all the candidates, and they all had a hand in effectively doing just that. The $400 million he has spent to date has had a good return-on-investment. After all, it got him to the debate stage. But money cannot buy personal performance.
In 2016, Donald Trump was the scourge of the Republican establishment, yet he was able to connect with the party's base and thus take out his primary opponents without spending huge sums of his own money. Bloomberg, in contrast, is the darling of the Democratic establishment but has not caught the interest or enthusiasm of the grassroots of the party - all the money in the world can't buy that.
Health care. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) played the role of unabashed Democratic socialist who will not retreat on "Medicare for All." He can't tell you how much it will cost but says it is "a basic human right" - so "we have to do it." Former Vice President Joe Biden was slow to defend ObamaCare; Warren gave the most cogent answer with regard to Medicare for All but, again, refused to put a number on it. Mayor Bloomberg dismissed universal Medicare, calling it crazy.
The problem for Democrats is that the front runners to date are all-in on some form of universal government-controlled health care that is a stark departure from ObamaCare, the system that was supposed to be the gold standard for affordable, accessible health care. The very base of the Democratic Party for generations has been unions, and one thing is for sure - if Democrats have their way, Medicare for All would decimate unions from sea to shining sea. For unions, the most powerful, meaningful bargaining chip to negotiate - besides salaries - is benefits; if unions lose health care as a negotiated benefit, they will be gutted.
Climate change. All Democrats on stage agreed that climate change is a crisis for America and the planet. Their differences are slight - but the pain and costs to the nation are great - in dealing with their perceived threats. Some estimates for the Green New Deal top $30 trillion. In addition to that price tag, there is the cost in human resources. Democrats are quite matter-of-fact about putting coal miners and oil-and-gas frackers out of work; they talk of putting millions out of work, with little to no sympathy for their plight. As Sanders said, people have to sacrifice for the good of the planet. Again, Democrats seek to cause great pain to their greatest supporters - unions. Why on earth would you dump on the backbone of support for your party?
Taxes. There is no doubt that, whoever is selected by the Democratic Party to run against President Trump, he or she will seek to raise taxes "bigly." The only question is by how much, and that depends on who the Democratic nominee is.
The problem for Democrats is that there are not enough rich people to pay for all of their socialist agendas: free health care, free college, the Green New Deal, infrastructure, and the list goes on. I did some math and it seems to me that the price tag could exceed $80 trillion. You can confiscate all the wealth of all the billionaires and millionaires and we still come up way short of what is being promised. Bloomberg admitted to as much onstage.
Immigration. All of the Democrats on the debate stage in Nevada were pandering with regard to immigration, thinking that Latino voters will find that appealing. But polls show that immigrants who came here legally are against open borders, illegal entry, and more benefits or burdens on local, state and federal governments for illegal immigration, including but not limited to free health care. Like most Americans, they want safe, secure borders and a fair, merit-based immigration system. The Democrats' immigration proposals, like most of their plans, come without a clear cost - and that worries many people.
One thing is for clear with regard to the Democrats' selection process for president: 2020 is the year of the "socialist Democrat." If Sanders is selected, it will be full-on; if a more "moderate" candidate is chosen, he or she will be burdened by a party platform that becomes an anchor around his or her neck. Sanders and "the Squad" led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) will not allow the party platform to be surrendered to a moderate nominee. If Bloomberg becomes the nominee, I could see Sanders working actively against him in the general election. Likewise, if it is Sanders, I could see Bloomberg playing the role that independent Ross Perot played against President George H.W. Bush in 1992 - that of a spoiler.
Super Tuesday will tell the tale as to where the nomination is heading for Democrats. Either there will be a clear front runner with more than a third of all Democratic delegates awarded, or perhaps Democrats will be headed for a brokered convention with many candidates controlling their allotted delegates.
Democrats in 2020 remind me of "the boy who cried wolf." They are sounding an alarm with no evidence that the wolf is at the door, because America is doing just fine.
It is going to be very hard to beat an incumbent president - even harder when that president enjoys a robust economy and we are at relative peace. It is a heavy lift to think that Americans will reject a capitalist system of governing when government is working quite well for them and they see and feel no crisis.
NOTE: This post has been updated from the original to correct the amount Bloomberg has spent thus far on his campaign.
Bradley A. Blakeman was a deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2004. A principal of the 1600 Group, a strategic communications firm, he is an adjunct professor of public policy and international affairs at Georgetown University and a frequent guest on Fox News and Fox Business.