- - Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Democrats’ timing for infatuation with socialism could not be worse. Economically, the country is doing well and perceives itself to be — hardly the recipe for systemic change. Politically, recasting next year’s race from a referendum on President Trump’s incumbency to one on a dismissed ideology is curious at best. Yet, Democrats find themselves in this predicament of their base’s choosing.

Far from an aberration, the 2020 Democratic field’s leftward direction is a continuation. While it did not start with Barack Obama, that was its previous apogee.

Despite working assiduously to hide it then, Mr. Obama was America’s most liberal president — a title he would undoubtedly welcome, and additional indication of the party’s leftward drift today. It is unclear how much further he would have advanced the liberal agenda had Democrats not lost the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014. However, executive actions, coupled with his first two years, suggest plenty.

In 2016, Bernie Sanders, not Hillary Clinton, followed the Obama presidency’s lead leftward. Despite Mr. Obama’s clear support for Hillary Clinton, Mr. Sanders still won 43 percent of Democratic primary votes, even while confronting party establishment opposition. Democrats’ 2018 midterm win advanced it. Now, Democrats’ 2020 campaign field has completely embraced it — even the establishmentarian Joe Biden sounds more like Mr. Sanders than Mrs. Clinton, who he resembles.

The left’s success and attachment to socialism in the Democratic Party today starkly contrasts with that ideology’s history of failure in America. Werner Sombart, the leading Marxian of the late 19th and early 20th century, famously concluded: “All socialist utopias came to nothing on roast beef and apple pie.” Never has a hard-left candidate garnered more than 4 percent of a presidential election’s popular vote.

Capitalist prosperity has continually trumped socialist ideology. It would therefore make sense for a 21st century socialist onslaught to choose its moment when the economy was weak and provided an argument for changing the prevailing economic system. However, the opposite is currently the case.

By any popularly perceived yardstick, America’s economy is the strongest in some time. Inflation is low; unemployment historically so. Growth — measured in real GDP, jobs and real wages — is high.

Democrats’ timing for a leftist ascendancy is bad absolutely, but comparatively, too. The economy, notable for its current strength, is also notably stronger than the previous left-of-center administration’s, which got today’s socialist juggernaut rolling.

Democrats’ bad economic timing joins a bad political one. President Trump appears to offer Democrats the rare opportunity to defeat an incumbent president. Rarer still, Mr. Trump appears to present it despite the strong economy — something the last century’s three elected incumbents who lost lacked.

Democrats loudly profess the president’s weakness. Polling appears to attest to it. And Mr. Trump’s personal style seems to contribute to it.

Democrats look to have the rarest of American political opportunities in their grasp: A weak incumbent despite a strong economy. Changing the upcoming referendum from Mr. Trump’s incumbency to socialist ideology is hardly the course to take. It moves from a stronger position to one, not simply weaker, but — in context with past American presidential elections performances — historically so.

American history argues socialism has failed in the face of exceptional prosperity. Advancing socialism would therefore seem to demand that the economy be weak — if not exceptionally so. If anything, the economy is currently exceptionally strong.

Historically, incumbent presidents running for re-election rarely lose — only three times since 1916 — and never when the economy is good. Yet, Democrats believe to the core of their collective soul that Mr. Trump can — and must — be beat in 2020. It would therefore seem to demand their focus be solely on his unique incumbency. Instead, changing next year’s referendum on a president they disdain and dismiss Mr. Trump to one on an ideology that America has disdained and dismissed seems to loom.

To their timing’s diabolical dichotomy, Democrats can also add foreign policy. On the list of America’s nefarious global adversaries (Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea), those embracing communism — socialism’s further extension — rank at the top. Finally, America’s top global competitor is China Communist China. Having America’s main antagonists be further extensions along the same side of the ideological spectrum, makes socialism an even tougher sell than the hard one it already is.

It is bad timing any time to pursue what history, the economy or politics — domestic and foreign — reject. It is particularly so when all three reject it simultaneously. Only Democrats’ base seems to accept it, but that would be all it takes, for the party to have to embrace it.

• J.T. Young served in the Office of Management and at the Treasury Department.

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