Republicans have eaten our lunch. I want a 2020 Democrat who is tough enough to eat theirs.

Jill Lawrence
Democrats can talk about political deals after they’re running the table. That won’t happen unless they use the tactics that got Republicans this far.

I wrote a book about political compromise, but I am getting less interested in it all the time.

For decades as a reporter I covered politicians in both parties, and admired them for making deals that inched the ball forward for everyone. My personal views were liberal, but I saw the value of each side acting as a check and balance on the other: Republicans asking practical questions about big new programs, Democrats blunting the plutocratic aspects of conservative-style capitalism.

Win-win was what it was all about, I believed, and wrote. Both sides come away with progress, the country benefits, and the people who make it happen are heroic. 

I’m over it.

To be clear, I'm not over wanting international engagement and trade agreements, or less deficit and debt. I still prefer a public insurance option over Medicare for All, and I wouldn't say no to incremental progress if, realistically, that was the only kind possible in a particular moment. But I’m no longer interested in conciliation as a core principle. I don’t want a Democratic presidential nominee who talks about unity and compromise. It’s not the right time to chill out or call for peace talks. 

Time to heed the will of the people

It is time for someone like Elizabeth Warren, who in her book explained her failure as a tennis student this way: “Once I had a weapon in my hand, I gave it everything I had.”

I'm not yet set on Warren or anyone else as the Democratic nominee. But I'm not sold on Joe Biden, who fondly recalls working with senators of all kinds, even a segregationist. Or Amy Klobuchar, who is relying on bipartisan talk about infrastructure and online privacy to propel her to the White House. I may not even warm to Pete Buttigieg, whose cool pragmatism recalls Barack Obama.

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It is time for Democrats to be as clear as Republicans about their hopes and dreams, whether they are achievable or not. It is time for them to be as tough and relentless as Republicans. And it is time for them to make sure their gains cannot be erased by technicalities that thwart the will of the people.

DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton on Capitol Hill after the House rejects DC statehood on Nov. 21, 1993.

Nothing is more telling than my own evolution on statehood for the District of Columbia. When I moved to Washington, D.C. in 1982 and became a taxpayer with no voice in Congress, I believed my right to vote for senators and a House member would be served just fine if D.C. was absorbed back into Maryland. I scorned D.C.'s "shadow" senator and House candidates as lobbyists for the pipe dream of statehood, and skipped those lines on the ballot every time.

Until last year.

In 2018, I reversed my view on statehood and voted for all the lobbyists. Adding one Democratic House seat to Maryland and tens of thousands more votes for its two Democratic senators would change nothing, I finally realized. But adding two new senators to the mix could change everything.

Trump and McConnell drove me to it

I owe this transformation largely to the party of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, President Donald Trump and former House Speaker Paul Ryan:

►McConnell for blockading Obama’s judicial nominees and brazenly robbing him of a Supreme Court seat, then changing the rules to speed Trump’s pro-business, anti-voter judges and justices to confirmation. For requiring Republicans to oppose the Affordable Care Act that preserved private insurance and was adapted from GOP ideas. For refusing to protest Russian interference in the election in 2016 and refusing to protect future U.S. elections. For protecting Trump through sexual assault allegations, foreign-policy chaos, cozying up to adversaries, spilling intelligence secrets to Russians, letting Saudi Arabia off the hook for murder, destructive trade wars, attacks on the “enemy” media, and likely illegal behavior from obstruction of justice to soliciting foreign campaign contributions. For galactic-class hypocrisy that should have ended his career long ago.

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►Trump for all of that and more: The despicably divisive immigrant-baiting and race-baiting that are his trademark. His unfulfilled promises on health care and Dreamers and worker pay raises and so much else. His degrading of the presidency, his monetizing of it, the impunity he thinks he has to ignore Congress. And, so beyond the pale it’s almost inconceivable, ruining and even ending lives on the border by separating children from parents and failing to care for them properly.

►Ryan for setting the pace on evidence-free policymaking with his dedication to supply-side tax cuts that do not, repeat do not, "pay for themselves.” Trump’s 2017 tax law is creating a windfall for the rich and huge deficits for the nation, while failing to fix real problems like income stagnation and economic inequality. Never mind the failed reality, for America and in particular for Kansas. Trump just gave Arthur Laffer, the father of supply-side economics, “a tremendous award” — the Medal of Freedom. 

Obama and Clinton made mistakes

What can't I blame on the GOP?

Hillary Clinton, who made every point she needed to in her debates with Trump (read the transcripts, it’s all there — from calling him Putin's "puppet" and anticipating the Mueller report with "You continue to get help from him because he has a very clear favorite in this race"). But she couldn't overcome the headwinds of Russian interference, James Comey interference and her own heavy baggage.  

Nor is the GOP responsible for Obama’s milquetoast responses to the Garland debacle and Russia’s 2016 election intrusions. He is obviously an aggressive, competitive, confident person. But hisHis restraint, whatever its roots, may have helped Trump get elected, with enormously damaging consequences for his legacy and, more importantly, for the country.

I want to say the work was not in vain, the legacy will be revived and reclaimed. But so much of America’s future direction hinges on structural changes like D.C. statehood, independent redistricting commissions and voting rights expansions.

First run the table, then think about deals

These are not process issues. They will shape decisions affecting everyone’s lives, and determine the permanence or transience of what both parties achieve. We need Democrats to fight for them as well for Democratic proposals to solve real problems.

I know conservatives and moderates beside themselves about Trump are fretting that Democrats could hand him another term. Don’t go too far left, they say, you’ll lose us.

To that, I’d say, conservatives have moved so far right they don't have majority support for most of their major goals. And yet they keep getting elected. The balance is out of whack. The pendulum must swing. Democrats can worry about making political deals after they’re running the table. And that won’t happen unless they adopt the same tactics that got Republicans this far.

The presidency is the ultimate weapon. I hope Democrats, and the nation, choose someone who is unafraid to wield it with everything they have.

Jill Lawrence is the commentary editor of USA TODAY and author of "The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock." Follow her on Twitter: @JillDLawrence

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Republicans have eaten our lunch. I want a 2020 Democrat who is tough enough to eat theirs.