On Tuesday, Massachusetts and 12 other states will vote in the presidential primaries. The stakes for our democracy this election season could not be higher.
Removal of the impeached president is essential for progressive Democrats, but even then a functioning progressive democracy is a distant pipe dream unless we also rescue the US Senate from the McConnell Republican majority, maintain the Democratic House majority and, wherever possible, elect Democrats to down-ballot offices in the several states.
Let’s also understand that “progress” in 2020 is a relative term — not an absolute, self-defined ideological litmus test.
Democrats must win eight presidential battleground states to attain an Electoral College 270 majority and the presidency. We must also win four of eight Senate battleground states to reclaim the Senate. Must-win battleground states are by definition hotly contested centrist political arenas where independent and swing voters are key.
Although Donald Trump was not on the ballot in the 2018 midterm elections, he asked voters to make that election a referendum on his presidency. Swing and independent voters in more than 40 traditionally Republican districts did just that, crossing over to express their disapproval. As a result, newly elected Democrats accounted for the 2019 House majority and its productive legislative record. Most of those first-year members of Congress courageously voted to impeach the president. They will be maliciously targeted and widely outspent by the Trump campaign in November.
Maintaining the House majority will depend on the reelection of these freshman moderates. Their success, as well as the election of progressive US Senate nominees, will depend in significant part on a positive image of the party’s presidential nominee as well as a practical party platform acceptable to independent and centrist swing voters who love our democracy as much as progressives do.
Moderate and pragmatic by disposition, those voters abhor hyperpartisan dysfunctional congressional gridlock and have little regard for far-left or far-right proposals that are unaffordable and have no realistic chance of becoming law any time soon. Drawing these independent and swing voters to the Democratic banner in the must-win battleground districts and states in November will be critical to the election of our next president, the US Senate and House, and thus to the future of our democracy.
The Electoral College landslides of 1964, 1972, and 1984 taught us that party tickets and platforms viewed as too far right or left of centrist mainstream thought can be demonized by the opposition as radically extreme and doomed in the Electoral College.
In those worst cases, nominees for the US Senate and other down-ballot offices felt compelled to run away from or against their national party tickets and platforms in order to get even a respectful hearing from moderate potential constituents. That’s not a formula for down-ballot success.
In past elections, identity politics and ideological purity may have been determining factors in choosing a presidential nominee. But not this year; with the stakes as high as they are, 2020 must be a “head over heart” election.
Here are three pragmatic questions we progressives must answer before Tuesday:
▪ Which candidate will have the best chance to defeat Trump in the centrist must-win battleground states in November?
▪ Which candidate will be the strongest asset to Democratic Senate and House nominees and to other down-ballot candidates in the must-win battleground states and districts?
▪ Which will, by experience and qualifications, be best prepared to preside and lead America forward, restore a spirit of patriotic unity and a culture of public service committed to decency, civility, inclusion, bipartisanship, constitutional order, and, on Jan. 20, 2021, be held immediately in high esteem, trust, and confidence by other world leaders?
If we exercise our best judgment in answering these questions on Super Tuesday, we will have made a significant contribution to a more hopeful and progressive future for our democracy.
Paul G. Kirk Jr., retired chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is a former US senator from Massachusetts.