The Wall Street Journal‘s Kim Strassel is at it again. In a Thursday Op-Ed, she describes how Democrats, over the course of six weeks, turned a “blue wave” of momentum into an absurd circus over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh – tainting all of the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls except Joe Biden.
“Democrats obliterated their own breaker in the space of two weeks with the ambush of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh,” Strassel writes, displaying some of the “vilest political tactics ever seen in Washington, with no regard for who or what they damaged or destroyed along the way.”
And despite support for insurgent Democratic candidates such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Andrew Gillum sweeping voters off their feet during primaries, Democrats have been running “candidates with conservative credentials,” or “candidates who can’t run fast enough from liberal positions.”
And at the end of the day, no matter how midterms turn out – “save for Joe Biden, every current leading contender for the Democratic nomination either was a ringleader of the Kavanaugh spectacle (Sens. Cory “Spartacus” Booker and Kamala Harris) or is a progressive icon (Ms. Warren, Mr. Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand).”
In a few days the U.S. will have its midterm results, and the Beltway press corps will lecture us on the lessons. Don’t expect to hear much about the one takeaway that is already obvious: that today’s preferred progressive politics—of character assassination, mob rule, intimidation and wacky policies—is an electoral bust. It is not what is winning Democrats anything. It is what is losing the party the bigger prize.
Six weeks ago, Democrats were expecting a blue wave to rival the Republican victory of 2010, when the GOP picked up 63 House seats. Everything was in their favor. History—the party in power almost always loses seats. Money—Democrats continue to outraise Republicans by staggering amounts. The opposition—some 41 GOP House members retired, most from vulnerable districts where Donald Trump’s favorability is low. Democrats were even positioned to take over the Senate, despite defending 10 Trump-state seats.
Democrats obliterated their own breaker in the space of two weeks with the ambush of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The left, its protesters and its media allies demonstrated some of the vilest political tactics ever seen in Washington, with no regard for who or what they damaged or destroyed along the way—Christine Blasey Ford, committee rules, civility, Justice Kavanaugh himself, the Constitution. An uncharacteristically disgusted Sen. Lindsey Graham railed: “Boy, y’all want power. God, I hope you never get it!”
A lot of voters suddenly agreed with that sentiment. The enormous enthusiasm gap closed almost overnight as conservative voters rallied to #JobsNotMobs. Even liberal prognosticators today forecast that Republicans will keep the Senate and Democrats will manage only a narrow majority in the House, if that. It’s always possible the polls are off, or that there is a last-minute bombshell. But it remains the case that the ascendant progressive movement blew an easy victory for Democrats.
Meanwhile, to the extent Democrats are winning, it has been in large part due to party leaders’ quiet but laborious efforts to sequester that movement. Yes, talk-show hosts have made a darling of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive activist who defeated incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in a New York primary. And liberal pundits are already claiming a victory by left-wing Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in Florida’s gubernatorial race will prove America aches for Medicare for All.
But on the ground, Mr. Gillum and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez are the anomalies of this cycle. The far bigger if less covered story is the extent to which Democrats have run candidates with conservative credentials, or candidates who can’t run fast enough from liberal positions.
For all the talk of the “year of the woman,” it is equally the year of the Democratic “veteran.” In battleground after battleground district, Democrats recruited former service members as their candidates: Amy McGrath in Kentucky, Richard Ojeda in West Virginia, Jason Crow in Colorado, Jared Golden in Maine, Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania, Mikie Sherrill in New Jersey, Max Rose in New York. By at least one count, more than half the veterans who’ve run in 2018 are Democrats—a huge shift, and a reason some traditionally GOP districts are competitive.
Senate races, meanwhile, have been entirely defined by the extent to which Democratic candidates have positioned themselves as “moderates.” Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, a self-described “Prada socialist” and onetime antiwar activist, now insists she would be an “independent” voice in favor of bipartisanship. Nevada’s Jacky Rosen was one of three House Democrats who voted in September to make the Trump individual tax cuts permanent. Missouri incumbent Claire McCaskill is running a radio ad boasting she “is not one of those crazy Democrats.” Asked on Fox News about her Senate colleagues, she took a swipe at Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
All of this is reminiscent of 2006 and 2008, when Democrats won Congress by running moderates and then the White House by nominating a candidate who promised to unite the nation. Only after the party jerked left did the GOP win its 2010 blowout.
Will it be different this time? The moment the polls close on Tuesday, it will be wheels up for the 2020 presidential campaign. And save for Joe Biden, every current leading contender for the Democratic nomination either was a ringleader of the Kavanaugh spectacle (Sens. Cory “Spartacus” Booker and Kamala Harris) or is a progressive icon (Ms. Warren, Mr. Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand).
If Democrats win Tuesday, it will be despite this crowd, not because of it. They’d be wise to remember that a vote to rebuke President Trump’s inflammatory politics isn’t the same as an embrace of a progressive agenda or its candidates. The Democrats’ own recent history and campaign strategy prove it.
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