Niall Ferguson

The Democrats’ dilemma: two parties in one

In their eagerness to recruit a new generation of young voters, the Democrats have — not for the first time in their history — admitted a faction of radical ideologues into their midst.
In their eagerness to recruit a new generation of young voters, the Democrats have — not for the first time in their history — admitted a faction of radical ideologues into their midst. Alex Wong/Getty Images/Getty Images

Last week I began to understand how the Democrats will lose the 2020 presidential election. The reality is that they are not a single party, but two: one liberal, one socialist. The former can beat Trump — but not if it is associated with the latter.

Socialism is a term for so long regarded as anathema in the United States that it used to be avoided altogether: Instead of “socialism,” one said either “progressivism” or “the s-word.” These days, however, the s-word is no longer taboo. In their eagerness to recruit a new generation of young voters, the Democrats have — not for the first time in their history — admitted a faction of radical ideologues into their midst.


Exhibit A is the “Green New Deal” unveiled on Thursday by the Bronx’s very own La Pasionari a, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), and the rather less glamorous 72-year-old senator from Massachusetts, Ed Markey.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not in denial about climate change. But the measures proposed in the Green New Deal to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” are breathtaking. Comrades, we’re talking about a “10-year national mobilization” on the scale of the Great Patriotic War . . . sorry, I meant World War II. By the end of the Green Leap Forward, 100 percent of US power demand will be met from “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources,” which means geothermal, hydro, solar, and wind — nukes are out, according to the FAQ sheet on the “10-Year Plan” released (then hastily repudiated) by AOC’s office.

“All existing buildings in the United States” are going to be upgraded “to achieve maximum energy efficiency.” And there will be investment in high-speed rail “at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary.” The People’s Commissars are also going to “guarantee a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement to all people of the United States.” The highlight of AOC’s FAQ sheet was the pledge of “economic security” for people “unable or unwilling to work.”


This is what you get when you recruit your legislators more or less directly from college. For this is the language of countless student union resolutions, freighted with the pious verbiage of today’s “intersectionality,” oblivious of the echoes of the totalitarian regimes of the past. And yet this document has been endorsed by (thus far) five of the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination in 2020.

Meanwhile, in the real Democratic Party, all hell has been breaking loose. Just over a year ago, Democrats were celebrating the swearing-in of a new governor in Virginia, former Army medic Ralph Northam, who during the election campaign had accused his Republican rival of “fearmongering, hatred, bigotry, racial divisiveness.” Symbolizing the new, progressive South was the election of African-American lawyer Justin Fairfax as lieutenant governor — not forgetting the bravery of Attorney General Mark R. Herring in refusing to defend the ban on same-sex marriage in the Virginia state constitution.

Last week all three men were battling for political survival after a) the publication of a photograph from Northam’s medical-school yearbook page showing two students, one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan hood (it’s not clear which, if either of them, is the young Northam); b) the allegation that Fairfax had sexually assaulted two women, one in 2000, the other in 2004; and c) the admission by Herring that he, too, himself wore blackface in college.


The point is that it is political suicide for the Democrats to embrace the campus socialism of AOC. Just as the #MeToo movement has thus far destroyed the careers of more liberals than conservatives, so the endless scouring of college yearbooks for evidence of racism will destroy the careers of more Democrats than Republicans.

On Monday, AOC and the rest of the House Democratic Women’s Working Group turned up for President Trump’s state of the union address dressed in white, an intended allusion to the suffragette movement and a rebuke to the arch-sexist in the White House. This meme took about 30 seconds to reach my phone: “I haven’t seen so many Democrats in white since they started the KKK.”

Donald Trump’s speech was not only delivered with a panache that took his opponents by surprise, it was also subtly crafted to expose the fatal contradictions between the Democrats and their socialist succubi. Sure, there was red meat for the Republican base on the economy, immigration, and abortion. But the blue potatoes of bipartisanship were more plentiful — infrastructure investment, criminal justice reform, China-bashing — and as appealing to the aging Democratic leadership as they were repugnant to the youthful lefties. I lost count of how many times Trump forced Nancy Pelosi to applaud. AOC’s face was a rictus throughout.


“We are born free and will stay free,” Trump declared early on. “The United States will never be a socialist country.” But he saved the best for last: a devastating broadside against the crumbling Chavista regime in Venezuela, “whose socialist policies have turned [it] from the richest country in South America to the poorest on earth.”

There are a great many reasons why Trump ought to be a one-term president. Yet the further the Democratic Party lurches to the left under the influence of AOC and her fellow social justice warriors, the higher the probability of his re-election. In American politics, unlike in Europe, those who live by the s-word, die by the s-word.

Niall Ferguson is the Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford. His most recent book, “The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power,” is now available as a Penguin paperback.