Leftward Ho!—Over the Cliff?

I have a simple theory about why the Democrats’ 2020 presidential field is lurching so far and fast to the left. Now I know what you’re thinking: “It’s in their DNA, dummy!” Yes, this is true, but that hasn’t kept clever Democrats in the past like Bill Clinton, and even Obama to a large extent, from attempting—often with success—to conceal their leftism. This current crop of Democratic White House hopefuls are letting it all hang out.

My simple theory is that Democrats think that Trump is going to be so easy to beat that they can go for it, that they can campaign on a far-left platform and then implement it after they win.

In other words, as I have written here a couple of times before, the Democrats are having another “McGovern moment.” And they are actively trying to talk themselves out of the possibility that this McGovern moment will end any differently than the last one.

Consider Ed Kilgore writing back in August in New York magazine:

McGovern Didn’t Lose in 1972 by Going Too Far Left. Neither Will 2020 Democrats.

One of the most persistent arguments surrounding the 2020 presidential contest is that Democrats are heading “off the deep end” on a left-wing ideological bender that will mean disaster in the general election. The warning is very often associated with the specter of 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern, who lost 49 states four years after Hubert Humphrey lost by an eyelash and four years before Jimmy Carter won the presidency. The obsession with the idea that 1972 may repeat itself is a bipartisan phenomenon. . .

A fresh examination of the evidence, however, should pretty much put to rest the idea that McGovern and his supporters guaranteed a disastrous defeat that might otherwise have been a victory by “moving too far to the left” and by challenging Democratic orthodoxy.

Kilgore goes on with a long chain of reasoning that I recommend only for punishment gluttons and other sadomasochists. It’s the conclusion that counts:

The best evidence we have is that thanks to extreme partisan polarization exacerbated by the terrifying example of the 45th president, any competent Democrat, whether she or he is a centrist or a progressive — a moderate or a democratic socialist — can beat Trump . . .

Not so fast says the . . . New York Times?!?! Yup: File this under “even a stopped clock. . .”:

One defining feature of the Democratic primary so far has been the party’s leftward turn. In recent debates, candidates have supported policies like offering health insurance to undocumented immigrants, and commenters have warned about the potential electoral penalty of repelling persuadable voters. . .

When deciding between Mr. Trump and the Democratic nominee, voters in the middle — the independents who could ultimately tilt things in Mr. Trump’s favor — became six percentage points less likely to vote Democratic after reading about the leftward turn compared with the independents who had read the innocuous content. . .

[P]laying to the Democratic base seems to have its limits, with no evidence suggestive of mobilization potential. Democrats who read about the leftward positions did not indicate they were more motivated to vote and campaign for the eventual nominee than those who hadn’t read about them.

The results suggest a double-edged sword, but with one clearly sharper side: the potential of producing Republican gains among a key swing group.