This should be the best time in recent history for the Democratic Party. We have a president who, according to The Washington Post,will soon have made 10,000 false claims since he was elected. President Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, just testified that Trump is a racist, a con man, and a cheat. The highly touted talks with North Korea failed. And, the federal deficit is up 77 percent, as revenues from taxes decline and government spending increases.
“This is our moment,” says Angela, a Democrat from Arizona. “The other side is reeling. All we need is to make progress on the issues of the day and to find a terrific candidate for president who can bring us together.”
Instead, according to my panel of 500 voters, the party is experiencing an identity crisis of the first order.
“I am so over Trump,” says Jeff, an independent from Massachusetts. “But what is the alternative? A party whose stars are a shoot-from-the-hip left-wing extremist and a congresswoman from Minnesota who tweets about the evil-doings of Israel? And a bunch of senior leaders who support them? Virginia state leadership that has demonstrated racism and sexual assault [but] who are still in office because they are not a hot story anymore? And socialism as the new platform?”
Among the 240 Democrats in my panel, over two-thirds agree with Jeff that the party is in crisis. “What are we doing?” asks Mitchell from Nebraska. “This should be a slam dunk — and instead we can’t get out of our own way. We are the party of radicals, socialists, freeloaders, man-haters, and anti-Semites, and I am just praying that we will get our collective act together.”
The burgeoning crop of candidates doesn’t make voters feel better. When asked whether they see people they would be excited to support among the group, only 28 percent of Democrats answered yes. Says Tim from Colorado, “I mean, even (former Colorado Governor John) Hickenlooper, who is moderate and sane, was barely willing to say he is a capitalist on TV this week. Have we gone mad?”
Jocelyn from New York, a liberal Democrat, sums up the general sentiment: “Unless the Democrats can pull themselves together and come up with a strong, compelling, sane, and electable candidate, we’re doomed to — ugh, I can’t even bring myself to write it — four more years of Donald Trump.”
Most voters I interviewed are not inspired by what come across, variously, as wishy-washy values, an obsession with investigations, and a radical platform — even at a time when the president is stumbling. The Mueller report could change everything — or not. Joe Biden could bring us together — or not. My panel, which reflects the 2016 electorate, might have left out a new crop of Americans who didn’t vote in the past but who would turn out for a super-progressive liberal — or not.
It’s urgent for the Democratic Party to do some soul-searching. As many candidates line up to propose what seems like free everything for everyone, financed by the rich, they need to ask whether this is the best way to accomplish the party’s objectives. Across our country, there is an enormous desire for us to come together as Americans and to make government truly effective. And there is so much common ground on policy: Most Americans are for reasonable gun control regulation, for lowering the age at which people can qualify for Medicare, for investing in badly needed infrastructure, for overhauling our criminal justice system, for combatting racism, and for creating a path to citizenship for the so-called Dreamers.
Instead, at least in terms of the optics, voters see a party that is mostly focused on investigating the president. Or, when the Democrats propose legislation, voters see it as too radical. Case in point: the Green New Deal, which includes, on top of climate-change legislation, everything from “repairing historic oppression of vulnerable communities” to guaranteed economic security.
It’s almost spring — and much can happen in the next several months. At this point, however, well over half the voters I speak with are concerned that their choice in 2020 will narrow down to a president who acts like a thug and a Democratic contender who is a radical socialist. As the pendulum swings back and forth from far right to far left, it is not too late for something in between that has the potential to bring us together, to give us better choices, and to bring both realism and integrity back to Washington.
Diane Hessan is an entrepreneur, author, and chair of C Space. She has been in conversation with 500 voters across the political spectrum weekly since December 2016. Follow her on Twitter @DianeHessan.