July 21, 2019

Three Questions for Democratic Candidates


The Democratic candidates running for president have been given something of a gift in the form of a preview of how Donald Trump is likely to run against them. The specific details will change, but the general idea is to paint the Democrats as being so far to the left that they are out-of-touch with most voters. Force the candidates into the position where they will either have to turn against "the Squad" and all they represent, deepening the divide within their party, or embrace policies that are likely to be considered too radical and/or divisive by many voters. It is a clever approach that will require some skill to navigate successfully.

It seems to me that there are many questions Democratic candidates can expect to face as the general election draws closer and that now is the time to formulate and practice their answers. In this post, I'll present three questions I believe all Democratic candidates for president should be prepared to answer:

  1. Are you a socialist?
  2. Are you for open borders?
  3. Are you going to throw Americans who are currently on health insurance plans from their employers off of these plans and ban private health insurance?

Are You a Socialist?

For the candidates who clearly are not socialists, they can obviously say "no," but I think they need to go beyond this and explain some of the things they are for. Far too many voters have no idea what socialism is and already believe that it is whatever Republicans say it is. Some of the non-socialist candidates have already expressed support for policies some voters associate with socialism. They need to use this question as an opportunity to address this directly.

Bernie Sanders is in a different position because he has identified himself as a socialist. I'm not sure he is going to have much luck winning over older voters who equate socialism with Soviet-style communism, but be might be able to win over some younger voters who are simply misinformed about socialism. To do so, he'll need to clearly and consistently explain what his brand of socialism looks like and why he believes it is superior to the status quo. In doing so, I think he needs to tackle the difference between the sort of socialism we see in Venezuela and the sort we see in some of the Scandinavian countries. In essence, he needs to defuse the common Republican claim that he wants to turn the U.S. into Venezuela.

Are You For Open Borders?

Most voters are not for open borders; however, many are unhappy with the manner in which immigration laws are currently being enforced. Many would like there to be an easier path to citizenship, and many are less than thrilled with the prospect of widespread efforts to round up and deport those who are in the U.S. illegally. The challenge for Democratic candidates here is one of clearly articulating their positions on many complex issues around immigration. If Republicans can convince voters that Democratic candidates are really for open borders (even though this is not the case), they have a winning issue.

Racism and xenophobia are still common enough that they are effectively rallying Republican voters behind Trump. Democratic candidates need to write their own narrative or the Republican narrative that they are for open borders will take hold. If it does take hold, it is difficult to imagine that any Democratic candidate will be competitive in a general election. Candidates must clearly and consistently explain what they want to see with respect to border security.

Will You Ban Private Health Insurance?

Health care has been a winning issue for Democrats, but they have to be careful they do not give up this advantage by moving so far to the left that they leave too many voters behind. I think it is fair to say that all of the Democratic candidates want to achieve universal health care but that they have different plans for doing so. These plans range from maintaining most of the Affordable Care Act and expanding it with a public option to a true single-payer Medicare-for-all type of plan.

Even if we could all agree that single-payer was where we needed to end up, there would still be a world of difference between trying to do it all at once vs. phasing it in a stepped manner. I suspect that many voters are wary of candidates pushing to do it quickly because they still aren't sure how it will affect them. The burden is going to be on these candidates to figure that out and explain it better than they have been. This will be especially critical for any candidate who would end private health insurance.

Personally, I am rather suspicious of the narrative many establishment types have been pushing which suggests that most Americans who have private health insurance are happy with it. This is certainly not the case for me, as the health insurance provided by my employer is subpar. At the same time, it does make sense that people would worry about losing even their subpar employer-paid health insurance if they aren't sure what will replace it. Single-payer could be much better, but we won't know that until we have more information about how it works.

These are far from the only questions Democratic candidates need to practice answering. There are more we can anticipate now, and there will be more that come up as the election nears. Hopefully, the candidates who are able to answer them effectively will rise to the top of the pack.