Last week, I posted the link to an excellent article here about how taking advice from "sane Republicans" on how to beat Trump was not a wise strategy for Democrats.
I got into a discussion about the article with a friend who is virulently opposed to Trump to the point where his head is at times ready to explode and happy to take any support for helping get Trump out of office, wherever that comes from.. He asked what the problem was with those Republicans giving what in some cases is sound advice, and taking that advice, especially when you want to build a coalition with Republicans to help get Trump out?
To be clear, these sane Republicans speak out critically against Trump and his abuses regularly. That's why they are "sane Republicans." They don't enable Trump, they are outraged by him and say so, bluntly. Some of them have not only been outspoken against Trump and Republican in Congress, they even have left the Republican Party to become Independents (like George Will and Steve Schmidt). Others, like Max Boot, Charlie Sykes, Jennifer Rubin and Rick Wilson have long been thoughtful and reasonably fair-minded, even when I don't agree with them.
The problem is that the underlying concern of these Republicans, no matter how sane and reasonable they are, is not the same concern of my friend's, mine, and pretty-much any Democrat. The concern of these sane Republicans is getting their Republican Party back. Their "brand" has been hurt badly by Trump and his wing, who have taken over their party. And in giving their “advice” (should Democrats take it) it’s advice that in its foundation is conservative. The advice might overlap with Democratic interests in a few places, but it’s critical to separate smart opinions worth considering that's given by those on the other side from “Okay, let me tell you what to do.” Their agenda is not to defeat Trump – that’s a byproduct – their agenda is to return the Republican Party to having viable conservative principles, and no longer be fascist. Defeating Trump is indeed a primary goal to overlap on. But there are a lot of paths one can take to get there, and all are uncertain, some are dead ends, and others bring risks when you let the people lead you who got you lost in the first place.
Here’s an immediate example. Just the other day after the first Democratic debate, one of those sane Republicans – Charlie Sykes – said on MSNBC that he thought the winner of the debate was…Donald Trump, And his reason was -- “I think it’s very important to defeat Donald Trump, but yes, he did [win], because of this move to the left.”
That’s the problem. Charlie Sykes, sane and reasonable as he is, doesn’t want Democrats to be liberal, and so he gives advice that they should to move to the center. I’m guessing that most Democrats watching weren’t aghast at how overly-liberal ALL the debaters were last night on ALL the issues, but rather thought they generally came across as decent and humanistic and caring and thoughtful. Some were “very liberal” on some issues, arguably even "too" liberal – but Sykes didn’t say that. He said Trump “won” the debate because they all simply moved left. And to a conservative, no matter how sane, anything that’s left of conservative is a “move to the left.” Moderate is a move to the left for a conservative. It’s certainly possible that only a candidate who’s moderate can beat Trump – no question at all -- but it’s just as possible (if not more so) that that’s not true. In fact, there’s also a risk to it – a candidate who is moderate risks keeping the most-liberal Democrats (and the youngest Democrats) from voting. And critical to a Democratic win in 2020 is that you have to get all Democrats voting Democratic as a starting point, not having some stay home like some did in 2016.
Another thing to keep in mind. This is not the general election. It’s Democrats trying to appeal to Democrats to get the Democratic nomination as the Democratic candidate for president. They are not trying to appeal to sane Republicans right now. So, to take sane Republican advice to appeal to sane Republicans seriously risks not getting the Democratic nomination. And further, history shows that once any candidate gets their party’s nomination, at that point they do generally move more to the center. At that point. But right now, trying solely to get Democrats alone to vote for you, that’s a totally different dynamic, and one not predicated on taking advice from a Republican, no matter how sane. The Affordable Care Act is not moderate – and Republicans all pretty much hated it when it was introduced. (And many still do..) But Democrats and most Independents now love it. And now even some Republicans do, too. It was the #1 issue in 2018 that helped Democrats swamp Republicans. But can you imagine a Democratic candidate taking advice during the primaries way back then (let alone in 2018) to not “move left” and not support the ACA?? Not support Obamacare?! They’d have been demolished – and should have been. Repeal and Replace is a sane Republican position. It’s also a disastrous one for a Democrat.
The thing is, you don’t need a coalition with Republicans to defeat Trump and other Republicans. It would nice and hopefully you’ll get that, but it’s actually not needed. What you do need to get are votes from all Democrats – and enough Independents. Democratic registration is about 35%. Republican Registration is a little lower, about 30%. That leaves the 35% of undecided independent votes in the center If Democrats can get just half of that Independent vote (though hopefully more), they'll likely win. On top of that, what would also help is if some Republicans don’t vote for Trump – whether they vote for Democrats or for a 3rd party candidate or just don’t vote in the presidential race (or at all) have equal value. You’d of course love them to vote for the Democrat, but realistically – since they’re Republican – just getting them to not vote for Trump (or in any Republican race) is a huge bonus. When that’s mixed with all Democrats voting for the Democrat and enough Independents, it’s a powerful, winning combination in both the general election and Electoral College vote..
I’m not saying you don’t want the support of sane Republicans – you absolutely want it. And even the votes of insane ones. And if such Republicans really hate Trump and want him out of the Republican Party, they’ll likely give their support. If Max Boot actually follows his own 2018 advice that the only way for Republicans to clean up their party is to vote Democratic, then he and they will vote Democratic. If they don’t, then it’s advice he doesn’t believe, and not worth taking. And some of their advice is good and worth listening to. It’s a very sensible position to not be “too liberal,” especially on all things – but that’s different from “You must be moderate.” That’s running from fear. (Democratic fear that if you’re liberal at all, you’ll be painted a socialist – and Republican fear that anything left is the end of democracy.) But while listening to the opinions of sane Republicans is an extremely smart thing to do, taking their advice on How to Beat Trump is just not a good strategy. For starters – even before we get to “they’re Republican concerns, not Democratic” – is that their Republican strategy on how to beat Trump didn’t work in 2016, and he wiped out the GOP field. The concept of "If only Jeb Bush or Chris Christie or John Kasich were more moderate" got them blown out of the race. They were moderate (well, moderate for being a Republican).
You have to run smart, no question in the world. But you have to run as a foundation from what you believe in. You can't win running from fear. And you most especially can’t run out of fear of what Trump will do – since we can pretty much be assured he will do the worst thing. It is reasonable to assume he will try to paint whoever the Democratic candidate is as a socialist. So, to try to run a strategy that avoids that is not going to work. I’m sure he’d try to say that even Joe Biden is beholden to the socialist forces of the Democratic Party. And beholden to all those un-American plans of Barack Obama.
After the debate on Wednesday, another sane Republican, Nicolle Wallace, fretted on MSNBC that when you run against an incumbent president, you have to frame the race as a referendum on them, and she noted that the candidates that night rarely even mentioned Trump. She said that it was almost as if they were running scared, and if they do that, they risk losing in 2020. It was a very understandable comment – especially from a sane Republican concerned about the leadership of her own party. The problem with her analysis is that right now (again) the Democrats are not running against Trump. They're running against one another, trying to get the nomination. Trying to convince the Democratic voters why they're the best candidate. And as so often has been said – and was even said during the debate itself -- if Democrats only talk about Trump and impeachment, they risk alienating voters who care about issues like health care, the economy, war and immigration. Once someone gets the nomination, though, and becomes The Democratic Candidate, then everything changes. Happily, Eugene Robinson chimed in and said precisely what I was thinking -- "When we have the two party's nominees, trust me, we will hear plenty about this being a referendum on Donald Trump."
I have zero concern that Trump will not be the focus of the general election. None. But right now, we are not in the general election. Just the Democratic primary.
It is important to run smart. And not be radical. And listen to what everyone says, from all sides. But when you are running (as they are now) for purely Democratic votes to get the Democratic nomination, taking the advice of Republican is wildly risky. Especially when things tend to naturally move to the center during a general election. The concerns and goals of a Republican, no matter how sane, are different from the concerns and goals of Democrats – and different too from many, if not most Independents (which is why they’re undecided Independents and not Republican), even though some concerns and goals occasionally intersect. You have to run from strength, you have to run from conviction, and you have to run from what you and your party believe in, not the other side.
That’s the problem with taking advice from sane Republicans.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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