Calm down, Democrats.
There have been exactly two nominating contests for your party’s presidential nomination, both in deeply unrepresentative states: Iowa and New Hampshire.
And so far, it appears that Democrats are behaving exactly as everyone thought they would. They are torn between choosing a candidate who wants to turn over tables and really shake things up (Medicare for all, much higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy), or a more moderate candidate who wants to accomplish essentially the same goals without breaking too much china (Medicare for most, somewhat higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy).
All the first two contests really make clear is that there are still a lot of viable candidates in the race, and that Democrats are exactly where parties without an incumbent on the ticket tend to find themselves at this point in the campaign. The anxiety is understandable but counterproductive.
In 2016, remember, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders fought it out until July, when he formally conceded, and endorsed her. The bad feelings from that contest endure to this day.
In 2008, Clinton and then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama also went the distance; they battled until June 7, when Clinton dropped out, having made, in her memorable words, “18 million cracks in the glass ceiling.” That was a mere five months before the election, which still left plenty of time for Democrats to freak out about Obama’s electability.
“There are growing fears in some quarters that the Democratic party may not be choosing its strongest candidate to beat Republican John McCain,” said the Guardian.
Obama was too far left, he accused rural voters of clinging to “guns or religion,” he told Joe the Plumber he wanted to “spread the wealth around” (socialist!), and his pastor gave fiery speeches denouncing America,
Oh, and for God’s sake, he was black.
And while it’s popular today to talk about how, even if Democrats win the popular vote, the electoral college favors Republicans, let’s remember that while Obama garnered 52.9% of the popular vote to McCain’s 45.7%, he also earned 365 votes in the electoral college while McCain got 173.
In 2012, when then-incumbent Obama ran against Mitt Romney, he had a very bad first debate. He was rusty, he seemed listless.
Democrats immediately proclaimed the end was nigh.
One prophet of doom, the erstwhile conservative Andrew Sullivan, wrote perhaps the most hysterical assessment: “A sitting president does not recover from being obliterated on substance, style and likability in the first debate and get much of a chance to come back. He has, at a critical moment, deeply depressed his base and his supporters and independents are flocking to Romney in droves.” (The headline on his essay: “Did Obama Just Throw the Entire Election Away?”)
Less than a month later, Obama soundly beat Romney, 51.1% to 47.2%, earning 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206.
And then there’s Donald Trump. He was the most unelectable candidate in recent American political history, until he wasn’t.
Trump made all kinds of preposterous promises: He would build a wall on the Southern border and make Mexico pay for it. He would revive the moribund coal industry. He would “take the oil” from Iraq to pay for the U.S. invasion. He would release his tax returns.
Outraged Democrats could not believe their ears. His supporters just laughed off the criticism: We take him seriously, but we don’t take him literally.
It would help Democrats to think about their candidates in exactly this way.
When Democrats promise Medicare for all (or most), when they vow to tax the super-rich to raise money for universal preschool, or to abolish college debt, just relax. These are aspirations, all of them excellent.
As Matthew Yglesias of Vox tweeted Thursday, “Take Medicare for All seriously but not literally.”
I would, above all, urge Democrats not to automatically recoil at the phrase “democratic socialism.” Do not allow Trump and his allies to demonize the phrase the way Republicans demonized the word “liberal” back in the day when Rush Limbaugh was ascendant.
So take a deep breath, Democrats. Erase the word “electability” from your vocabulary.
Think about the kind of country you want to live in, the kind of person you want in the White House.
Then vote accordingly.