Democrats must turn around

Democrats must turn around
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The question everyone is asking after the 2020 election is: Why were the polls so wrong? Whatever the exact reason, it appears that pollsters are still significantly undercounting unlikely voters

So, the more important question then is why Trump was so much better at getting unlikely voters to show up than the Democrats in both elections? The answer is fairly obvious. His anti-establishment populism might be fake, but it’s effective. His voters love that he is not a regular politician.

Democrats play right into this by continually picking the most establishment candidates they can find. Yes, Joe BidenJoe BidenHoyer: House will vote on COVID-19 relief bill Friday Pence huddles with senior members of Republican Study Committee Powell pushes back on GOP inflation fears MORE was nominally better than Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCruz: Wife 'pretty pissed' about leaked Cancun texts CBC would back Young for OMB if Tanden falls Hillary Clinton to co-write political thriller MORE on this count. And that’s why he did to squeak out this election. But if you’re barely winning elections against one of the most racist, authoritarian, pathological and ignorant presidents we have ever had, you’re not doing it right.


And who are we kidding? Joe Biden has been a pillar of the establishment for nearly half a century. He was one of the longest-serving senators ever. He was vice president. Yes, he might have been “Middle-Class Joe” three generations ago, but few voters buy that pre-prepared political shtick anymore. 

So, why did Trump win over more Latino voters than expected? Economic populism. He talked

about creating more jobs. He wouldn’t shut up about how great the economy was and how many jobs he saved. Did he actually create more jobs? No. We lost millions of jobs during this administration— the worst record for a president since World War II. But the truth is irrelevant if the other side does not effectively challenge those assertions.

Do you know who is good at economic populism? Progressives. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders has right goal, wrong target in fight to help low-wage workers Democrats in standoff over minimum wage Sanders votes against Biden USDA nominee Vilsack MORE (I-Vt.) did well with Latino voters in the primary because of economic populism. He promised higher wages and more jobs. It’s not complicated.

Corporate Democrats think all they have to do is identity politics. To paraphrase Cornel West, they think a few brown faces in high places will do the job. But look at Zapata County, the second-most Hispanic county in the country. 


In 2012, Barack Obama won it by 43 percent. He spoke of hope and change. Did voters get those things? Not really. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won it by 33 points — a warning sign. But Democrats didn’t heed the omen, and Biden lost it by five points. In Zapata County, no one cares that you have some wealthy Latinos on your side. Nothing has ever mattered less in their lives. 

But this is not about one particular demographic. In Florida, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour won by a landslide. That is theoretically Joe Biden’s position. He lost the same state by three points. Why the 25 point difference? Joe Biden never ran on that issue. 

This phenomenon isn’t new. Raising the minimum wage also won in deep-red Arkansas in 2018 with 68 percent of the vote! It also won in Missouri with 62 percent of the vote, at the same time that Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Memo: Punish Trump or risk a repeat, warn Democrats GOP senators criticized for appearing to pay half-hearted attention to trial Hawley watches trial from visitor's gallery MORE, diehard moderate, pro-corporate Democrat, lost her election by six points. She didn’t run on it either. 

By the way, whose idea was it to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour? Oh right, Bernie Sanders.

That’s economic populism. Yet several generations of Democratic consultants have told candidates that if they run on issues like that, they’ll lose their donors and have no chance of winning. This is how the Democratic Party got taken over by wealthy donors and lost its soul. If the Democratic establishment hadn’t spent decades fighting progressives on issues like the minimum wage and instead spent that time championing them, we likely would have won more elections.

Instead, Democratic leadership became perceived as the main opponents of raising the minimum wage. It’s hard to get worse at politics than that.

Over the next four years, especially if there is a Republican Senate, Biden and Democratic leaders will likely continue to avoid the fight for significant economic change. It’s almost as if they’d be happy if nothing fundamentally changed. Assuming they make the same mistake, brace yourself for terrible Democratic results in 2022, 2024 and beyond.

The only solution is a complete makeover of the Democratic Party. Progressives should begin the fight against establishment Democrats on Day One. Otherwise, we won’t have enough time to change the party’s brand by 2024. Current party leaders and much of the mainstream media will tell progressives to be quiet, civil and know our place. 

If we listen to that, it will be poison for the Democratic Party because we don’t have time for gradualism. If we go into future elections as the party of corporate donors, professional politicians, elites and the establishment, we will get shellacked by the next right-wing populist that comes along. We only have four years to turn the entire party around.

Cenk Uygur is the CEO, founder, and host of The Young Turks and co-founder of Justice Democrats.