Jonah Goldberg: If Democrats want ‘normalcy,’ why are candidates so radical?
In the 1920 presidential election, Warren Harding won in a landslide by promising a “Return to Normalcy.” Today’s Democrats would be wise to make that same pledge for 2020. They probably won’t, however, which is why President Trump might get re-elected.
Harding’s concept of normalcy has been ridiculed and reviled by progressives and liberal historians for 100 years. Some falsely claim it was merely a call for a return to the isolationism of the prewar years. But Harding wasn’t just tapping into the unpopularity of the First World War: He also spoke to Americans’ worries about the widespread tumult of the Progressive Era. Race riots, labor violence, anarchist terror bombings, the Red Scare, Prohibition, censorship, political oppression and mass arrests were also on voters’ minds.
Even important progressive advances — like women’s suffrage — caused disruption.
Nothing in the past two years approaches the turmoil of the Woodrow Wilson administration, but that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of Americans feel like they’ve been through the wringer.
Given the roaring economy, with near full employment and rising wages, a normal president would avoid fueling the unease that has kept Trump from breaking through the 50% approval ceiling. But he is incapable of doing that, which creates an opportunity for Democrats to win despite a healthy economy.
Democrats seized such an opportunity in the 2018 midterms. The president’s constant trolling of the political and media establishment is music to the ears of his supporters, but it is an unsettling din to the most important constituency in American politics: the vast, mostly moderate middle.
While firebrand freshmen such as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., get all the attention, most of the Democrats elected in the 2018 landslide were moderates from purplish districts that will decide the 2020 election.
Right now, Joe Biden is the only Democratic presidential contender who seems capable of pursuing such a strategy. The rest of the field seems to think that Twitter likes and retweets will count as primary votes, and that there’s an appetite in the country for left-wing radicalism on a par with what they see as Trump’s right-wing radicalism.
Rather than vow to keep the economic boom going while returning Washington to normalcy, they talk about socializing medicine, making slavery reparations, forgiving student loans, banning guns through executive orders and implementing a Green New Deal.
That stuff is super-popular with young, college-educated activists and journalists, all of whom are wildly overrepresented on social media.
But most Democrats belong to what CNN’s Harry Enten calls the “hidden Democratic Party.” Enten notes that a majority of Democrats are over the age of 50, at least half call themselves moderate or conservative, and a majority don’t have college degrees. Biden’s lead in the polls is explained almost entirely by his support from older Democrats.
Moreover, many blacks and Latinos aren’t nearly as “woke” as progressives assume they are. Even Ocasio-Cortez underperformed with those groups.
The college-educated barista socialist constituency dominates in states the Democrats will win no matter what. But the battleground will be in states that narrowly went for Trump. Biden, a gaffe-prone 76-year-old with a terrible track record in presidential contests, is best positioned to beat Trump, but first he has to survive the death by a thousand tweets the vocal minority has in store for him.
Jonah Goldberg is the author of "Suicide of the West."