- - Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Last week’s first round of Democratic presidential debates had one clear winner: California Sen. Kamala D. Harris, who has moved into second place nationally after winning a tense exchange with front-runner former Vice President Joseph R. Biden on race issues.

That victory, one can safely predict, will be short-lived. There is another round of debates in three weeks and there will be new winners and losers then.

But there was a far more important dynamic in the first round of debates than who over- or underperformed. Nearly every candidate on both stages took policy positions placing them far outside the mainstream of the country.

It was a rush to the left and the clear beneficiary of that will be President Trump.

There were ridiculous moments, with one candidate promising “reproductive justice” and expressing concern for “trans females” having a right to an abortion. But there were far more substantial policy commitments made.



Asked if they supported giving health care to illegal immigrants, every single Democrat raised their hand. That’s a losing issue and they all took that pledge willingly. It’s easy to imagine Mr. Trump arguing that the Democratic nominee wants to give illegal immigrants better health care than our veterans receive.

Asked if they supported decriminalizing the act of entering this country illegally, virtually every Democrat again said yes. This position makes crossing the border illegally a “civil” violation, and even President Barack Obama’s Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson warned recently that this amounted to an “open borders” policy that would only attract more illegal immigrants coming to America.

Asked if they support ending the private employer-based health care industry through a Medicare-for-all proposal, nearly all of the Democratic hopefuls again said yes. There were a few exceptions, notably third-tier candidates like former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney. But the top-tier candidates support so-called Medicare-for-all, which is supported by only 27% of voters after it is explained that ending private insurance is part of the plan. This Democratic position may give Republicans a winning argument on health care. Throwing 180 million Americans off their employer-based health care is politically disastrous.

That said, the Democratic race remains a tough one to call.

The July debates will be similar to the June debates, but in September the field will narrow as the donor and polling participation thresholds increase. Candidates who are kept out of the debates will suffocate for lack of money and attention and quickly fold up their campaigns.

As it stands now, there is a first tier that includes Mr. Biden, Ms. Harris, Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Just outside the top four is South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who raised $25 million in the second quarter of the year, a staggering figure that will give him new momentum and sustain him at least until the end of the year.

The Democratic nominee is highly likely to come from that group of five candidates.

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign raised $105 million in the second quarter of 2019 and has $100 million in cash on hand. The Republican funding advantage will likely stand up throughout the campaign. Mr. Trump’s aides have at least eight more months to themselves to expand their campaign organization, refine their message, continue their advanced digital advertising and targeting efforts and bank hundreds of millions of dollars for the general election.

Democrats may be fooled into thinking anyone can beat Mr. Trump, but head-to-head polls showing the president in trouble mean little right now.

One thing that we know for sure: All five Democratic finalists are running as progressives and they are taking far-left positions on issues that Mr. Trump can use effectively against them next year.

If Democrats lose the 2020 presidential race, we may look back to this period of time to understand why.

• Matt Mackowiak is president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group. He’s a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney reelection campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators.

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