Political parties do not exist for factions to gain power over them and lose elections, so long as the faction maintains its grip. Here’s some news: Parties exist to win elections. Without power, we’ve got nothing. In 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders told the House Democratic caucus: “The goal is not to win elections.” Maybe the stakes involved with Donald Trump weren’t crystal clear then but, by God, they should be now. Winning this election is all that matters — and the way to do it is not running some rat race to the farthest reaches of left-wing zombie land.
Never in my life have I seen the Democratic Party suffer a case of political amnesia this bad. Not two years ago, our party stormed the House. And how’d we do it? By running a diverse coalition of candidates — young, black, brown, women, gay, straight — on one basic principle: While the president gets things done only for himself, we are going to get real things done for you. While the president targets your protections for preexisting conditions, we are going to lower the cost of prescription drugs; while he marches to the orders of the NRA, we are going to protect your child’s life. We care about climate, infrastructure, and broadband. It goes on.
Our margins with suburban women shot into the stratosphere. We elected Democratic governors in Michigan and Wisconsin. But not two years later, Democratic candidates for president started ripping that playbook apart with a bunch of chest-beating: Who can spend the most trillions on health care, or who was most brazenly outspoken on letting criminals vote from jail? In what universe are those policies going to give us the numbers we need to defeat Donald Trump?
There is only one moral imperative right now, for the very fate of American democracy: defeating Donald Trump. That's all that matters. And I am scared to death we are about to blow it.
In the last several days, Trump’s approval rating has shot to its highest point ever and Democratic enthusiasm is diving down. If the Iowa caucus results showed anything, it’s that this crackpot theory — running on electorally risky policies like abolishing private health insurance — is not going to magically turn out large new constituencies. In the first voting state, we didn’t get record turnout. Sirens should be screaming.
Our party is desperately praying for a candidate to bring the rest of the country along with us. Politics is about power, and winning elections is simple addition. To take power across the country, we must bring along as many as possible from all corners: suburban women, Obama/Trump voters, people of color, you name it.
We win these voters by being relevant. We win by running on real issues we know we can deliver. We win by contrasting ourselves with the highly unpopular policies of Trump’s administration. That’s how we dominated in 2018. We don’t win running on mile-high fantasies that are likely to lose swing states, and even more likely to never pass through Congress.
If we lose those swing states, we also don't win back the Senate and we have four more years of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Do you know what the Supreme Court will look like in 2024 if we have that? So we’ve got a choice to make: Do we want to be an ideological cult that alienates large swathes of America, or does our party want to have a majoritarian dominance?
If we don’t win this election, no policy on the progressive spectrum — no matter how big or small — has a shot of becoming real. How about that for a purity test?
It is plainly clear to me that Donald Trump is the most dangerous president in modern American history. He is odious. He has broken the law. He is racist. And I believe the Senate should have removed him from office and he should be shackled in a prison cell. But this is exactly what has made Trump the weakest president in modern American history. No incumbent president with approval below 50% has ever won reelection — and Trump’s has never been above that. He’s underwater in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania; he’s nearly underwater in Texas.
Trump is down, and when you’ve got somebody down in politics, you take your heel and you crush them into the dirt. The way our party does that is by nominating a candidate for president — and candidates up and down the ballot — who build on the 2018 playbook, and run on relevant, realistic policies that impact the lives of everyday Americans. And if you don’t want to hear it from me, just listen to Gretchen Whitmer’s State of the Union rebuttal from Tuesday — I’d say she knows a thing or two about winning Michigan in the age of Trump.
Now, I am going to vote for and support the Democratic nominee no matter who it is. Our country’s future is strapped on a respirator. NATO is checked-in to the ICU. White supremacists have been allowed to crawl out from under their rocks and show their faces in the sun again. Our lifelong government leaders have been demoralized by Trump ten times over.
With democracy bedridden, on life support, we cannot afford to lose this election. The Democratic Party is the only thing separating our country from the abyss. We better get this right.
James Carville is a political consultant from New Orleans.