A weekly window on the American political scene hosted by the Monitor's politics editors.

Will Democrats’ leftward drift hurt their chances in 2020?

Many candidates are embracing sweeping liberal policies that would have been considered extreme just a few years ago. But in picking a nominee, Democratic voters may prioritize electability.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) hold a news conference for their proposed 'Green New Deal' to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Feb. 7, 2019.

Are the Democrats in danger of moving too far to the left?
There’s no question the party has shifted since President Trump’s election – and shifted fairly dramatically. “The Democrats aren’t just changing their rhetoric,” writes Peter Beinart in The Atlantic. “They are embracing Big Government policies dismissed as utopian or irresponsible only a year or two ago.”
As Mr. Beinart notes, as recently as 2016, Hillary Clinton said that a single-payer health care system would “never, ever come to pass.” Now, most of the 2020 contenders are endorsing the concept of Medicare-for-all. They’re also promoting higher taxes on the wealthy, backing a broad-scale approach to climate change like the one outlined in the “Green New Deal,” and talking seriously about things like free college tuition.
Liberals defend these policies by noting that many public polls show majority support for them. Turns out, “these supposedly wacky socialist ideas Democrats are proposing are things Americans think are perfectly worthwhile,” writes Paul Waldman in The Washington Post.
But some worry the party’s leftward shift will create political challenges for Democratic lawmakers from more moderate states and districts – many of whom were key to the Democrats’ retaking the House last November. “It makes it more difficult in more rural areas like mine,” West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin told the Post.
It may also give Mr. Trump an opening to win back some of the swing voters who have been moving away from him – and whose support he will need in order to win reelection.
Interestingly, The Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter points to Gallup data showing that while 50 percent of Democrats now identify as “liberal,” 54 percent also say they want their party to become “more moderate.” (This is in contrast to Republicans, 57 percent of whom want their party to become “more conservative.”)
That seeming contradiction suggests Democratic voters are “more concerned with winning” right now than with “holding their eventual nominee to certain ideological standards,” Ms. Walter writes.
Indeed, when it comes to picking their presidential nominee, Democratic voters are likely to have one overriding goal: defeating Trump. And ideological purity may factor far less into their decision than pure politics.
Let us know what you’re thinking at csmpolitics@csmonitor.com.

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