There is an old saying that it is permissible to walk with the devil when crossing a narrow bridge. Welcome, progressives, to the 2020 presidential election.
First, let’s get one thing out of the way. Yes, I’m a Republican. And yes, as someone staunchly opposed to what Donald Trump is doing to America’s institutions, I’m going to give Democrats advice on who they should be nominating for president.
Like it or not, the Democratic party has had greatness thrust upon it. Every American who believes in the basic foundations of the American experiment, things like the rule of law, the Constitution and an apolitical Justice Department, now has a stake in who Democrats nominate in 2020. So please stop telling fellow travelers like me to mind our own business and start taking on board some of what we are saying. The next president of the United States is everyone’s business, and we can’t afford to screw it up. Again.
Trump is enough to fire up Democrats
America needs you to focus. Democrats’ first thought in the morning and their last thought when they fall asleep at night should be, “How will this play in Erie, Pennsylvania?”
There are four states that matter in 2020: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida. Win three out of four of those states and Trump is a one-term president. No matter how popular something might be with activists in Los Angeles or donors in Manhattan, it’s dead weight or worse if it isn’t a winner with Rotary Club members in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
So don’t treat this like a base election. Democrats are already guaranteed a nominee that will excite their base and drive a big turnout. His name is Donald Trump. Getting activists “excited” by bold policy positions is a waste of time. You could get every Democrat in California so excited that they all voted twice and it would make not the slightest difference to the outcome of the election. All that matters is getting voters in Michigan who have become uncomfortable and disenchanted with Donald Trump to vote for you once.
The people you really have to motivate aren’t the Democratic base, they’re the people in the middle who have been unsettled by Trump’s presidency. They can see what Trump is and will happily vote for a reasonable alternative. But if Democrats offer what appears to them as a choice between death by hanging and death by firing squad, a lot of them will just give up and not vote at all.
Far-left ideas will boost Trump
Democrats could, however, easily expand this four-state map — for the Republicans. Want to put Minnesota, Colorado, Nevada and New Hampshire in play? Easy. Just run on policies like eliminating private health insurance, reparations for slavery, legalizing drugs and decriminalizing prostitution. Every one of these projects has been pushed by one or more Democratic presidential candidates. There may be things to be said for all of these issues. And someday, we should have a serious policy debate about them. Today is not that day.
Those legendary soccer moms are still out there and, by and large, they have had enough of Trump’s antics. But if you want to run on far-left positions like, say, resurrecting forced busing, they’re going to stick with the devil they know rather than vote for someone who promises to do things like send their kids on 30-mile bus rides every day.
This doesn’t mean Democrats can’t run on progressive policies. Talk about fixing and expanding Obamacare, if you want. Talk about universal pre-kindergarten. Talk about guaranteed parental leave. If it’s OK with those voters in Erie, it’s OK with me.
ISO fighting 2020 nominee: Republicans are eating our lunch. I want a 2020 Democrat tough enough to eat theirs.
Progressives keep trying to convince themselves that people are sick and tired of what’s going on in this country. They are half right. Americans are tired. They’re tired of the endless rancor, the name-calling and the lies. They’re tired of the frenetic insanity of the last few years and the unprecedented attacks on America’s institutions. Americans don’t want to burn down the system. They want to put the fire out. Progressive activists may be angry but most of us are just exhausted.
Don't mess this up for America
Democrats have one job in 2020: Beating Donald Trump. Nothing else matters. If progressives manage to mess this up by insisting on hard-left positions and ideological purity, they will own Trump’s second term. There is a time and a place for everything. When the ship is sinking and you find yourself in a lifeboat, you don’t argue about where you want to go, you head for the nearest land. Further travel arrangements can wait until you’re back in civilization.
The 2020 election is not a normal election. It isn’t going to be about progressives and conservatives. It’s going to be about those who believe America’s democratic institutions are more important than the politics of the day and those who are willing to wreck them for short-term political gain. We who choose to stand with our democratic institutions need to keep our eye on the prize. We can’t afford the self-indulgence of standing on principle and going down in glorious defeat.
Or rather, we must all stand on one overriding principle, that we must install someone with respect for the rule of law and reverence for our constitutional system of government as the next president of the United States. That will require compromise from all of us. The bridge is long and narrow, but cross it we must.
Republican Chris Truax, an appellate lawyer in San Diego, is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Democrats can beat Trump with mainstream ideas, not far-left fantasies