Adjusting to Trump
Democrats have adjusted to the unexpected Donald Trump victory of 2016. In special election after special election, whether for state legislature, the U.S. Senate and Congress, as well as governors, the party has performed well. Stellar candidates like Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania have demonstrated their ability to win in mixed districts, winning back God and gun Democrats.
Yet, despite all of these changes, the media, not to mention the White House, have focused on one district in trying to define Democratic progress. In New York, a pro-Sanders candidate, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, won a primary over an incumbent that did not make much of an effort. Because she was a Democratic Socialist, it made for good speculation that the party was heading to the far-left. Actually, it marked one of the few victories Sander’s faction have won. It was a fluke, not a sign of a trend.
Indeed, New York elections haven’t been a good indicator. In 1948, Leo Isaacson won a special election touting Henry Wallace’s progressive candidacy. It was hailed as a herald of further victories. Actually, Wallace went on to flop in his third-party effort, garnering only 2.4 percent of the vote. In 1967, in a vastly different set of circumstances, Bert Podell defeated an anti-war candidate and supported Lyndon B. Johnson. By March 31, 1968, Johnson, stung by a near defeat in the New Hampshire primary, withdrew.
Factions and low turnouts go together. In 1970 an anti-war candidate was endorsed by the Washington State Democratic Convention, but had to face a primary. Carl Maxey, the far left candidate, lost to Henry Jackson in the primary. It was not close, as Jackson garnered 84 percent.
The trend has been toward moderate to conservative Democrats. Of course, it must be noted that a Democratic conservative is very different from his GOP counterpart. They tend to believe in science and shun conspiracy theories. No, the party is not going the way of New York’s 15th District. Even in California, Dianne Feinstein thoroughly whipped her more radical Democratic colleagues despite losing the state party convention endorsement. But for most political pundits, Sanderism is on the rise.
Democrats seem to understand that the “controversy of the minute” administration of Donald Trump is getting tiresome. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s advice that he should get off Twitter and into his bed is shared by most of the public. Instead, he persists on either moving his thumbs or running his mouth at these fanatic fests he calls rallies. The show is getting old. With their choices, Democrats have picked largely safe and sane candidates, more than happy to discuss issues.
Moreover, they are benefiting from Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell’s talking out of both sides of their mouths. They really think that Bret Kavanaugh will fire up their base. Of course, they are beginning to resemble hack politicians more than eager to promise the moon if it would win them a precinct or two.
Democrats do need to be careful that they simply do not morph into being George W. Bush Republicans. But for the time being, they are becoming careful, hoping that slow and steady, not flamboyance, wins the race.