A year from now, the 2020 primaries will be underway, with perhaps two dozen Democrats jockeying to take on President Trump. Democrats will face a critical calculation: Go big, or go safe? The young, progressive activists who are driving the party’s policy discussions see 2020 as a chance to run on a leftist wish list that includes single-payer health care, tuition-free state colleges, a doubling of federal spending, a 70 percent top marginal tax rate, and the elimination of all fossil fuels in a decade. “Soaking the rich” polls well among the non-rich, as does making health care a right, but only 37 percent currently support eliminating employer-provided health plans to make way for “Medicare for all.” (See Controversy.) If Democrats choose to embrace the full progressive agenda, they will be betting that Trump is so unpopular that virtually any Democrat could beat him—so why not take several giant steps toward democratic socialism?
Not all Democrats are so confident. Trump, after all, supposedly had no chance whatsoever of winning in 2016. The pragmatists—dismissed by activists as “neoliberal” sellouts—believe that beating Trump is such an urgent priority that Democrats should run a moderate, such as Amy Klobuchar, Sherrod Brown, or Beto O’Rourke, who could win back at least some of the white, working-class voters necessary for an Electoral College victory. A new Monmouth University poll finds that 57 percent of Democrats want the nominee to be someone with the strongest chance of beating Trump even if they don’t agree with the candidate on most issues, with just 33 percent preferring ideological purity and a higher risk of losing. The majority of Democratic voters, in other words, don’t want to gamble on going too far left. But as Trump demonstrated in 2016, when he won the Republican nomination with 45 percent of the primary vote and the general election with 46 percent, the majority doesn’t always rule. Let the debate begin.