- - Monday, July 22, 2019


A funny thing about politics today. The Democratic Party’s presidential candidates are sprinting left as fast as Michael Johnson in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics — desperate, they seem to be, to pander to a liberal base clamoring for “free” college, “free” health care, open borders along the Rio Grande, and an apparently gender-less, or at best, “gender fluid” world. (Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts recently helpfully informed her 2.8 million Twitter followers that her preferred pronouns are “She/her.” Now if only she were similarly clear on the matter of her ethnic heritage.)

The Democratic Party’s candidates for the United States Senate, meanwhile, are dealing with an altogether different reality. They’re trying to hew to the political center, realizing, evidently, that their political bread will be buttered by appealing to moderates and swing voters. The question is whether these dual strategies — leftist presidential candidates, moderate Senate candidates — can work simultaneously. It will be a heavy lift.

An Associated Press roundup recently looked at several Senate races across the country where candidates are trying to sound more like the New Democrats of the mid-1990s than the hyper-woke Democrats of today.

Take MJ Hegar, for instance, a Texan challenging Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn. Ms. Hegar “rides a Harley-Davidson in viral videos and has called herself an ‘ass-kicking, motorcycle-riding Texas Democrat,’” the AP notes. Ms. Hegar, a military veteran, pointedly declines to back Medicare for All or the decriminalization of unauthorized crossings at the southern border — both positions that have become de rigueur for the party’s presidential contenders.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s likely Democratic opponent, Amy McGrath, is another example. She stresses her status as a Marine, rather than a veteran of the woke wars. The party’s leading candidates in Iowa and Arizona are also running to the center. In the Grand Canyon State, the Democrats’ leading candidate, Mark Kelly, has “come out against Medicare for All, saying millions of people like their private health insurance, and against the plan to curb climate change called the Green New Deal,” the AP reports.

All of this is well and good — any deviation from the Democrats’ leftward march is only to be encouraged. But it’s a difficult gambit. That’s because the old adage that “all politics is local” is no longer operable. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: National politics dominates everything, from the race to the White House down to the contest for your local dog catcher. Homeowners association (HOA) and student council presidents are likely asked to weigh in on national politics these days. Moderate Democratic Senate candidates, therefore, will find it hard to sever themselves from whichever candidate their party chooses to take on President Donald Trump.

The experience of Mr. Trump and his effect on the Republican Party is instructive here. Early on in Mr. Trump’s political rise, many Republican officeholders tried to separate themselves from the real estate tycoon. This was a quixotic cause: Mr. Trump came to define the Republican Party, and with it, the legions of Republican officeholders well below the presidency.

Anti-Trump Republican senators like Jeff Flake of Arizona were free to criticize Mr. Trump for all they wanted, but they were unable to escape their association with him by virtue of their party. It’s hardly a surprise that Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, the Republican congressman who is most critical of President Trump, recently decided to leave the Grand Old Party altogether. In today’s political environment, it is partisan affiliation uber alles.

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