The near-unanimous verdict across the mainstream media about last week’s Democratic debates — from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal — is that the party has moved so far to the left that it is jeopardizing its chances to unseat President Donald Trump in 2020.
The concern from left-leaning outlets like the Times can be interpreted as a warning to the Democratic presidential primary field that they need to find a way to shift back toward the center — even superficially — right away.
The media did not treat the leftward drift of the Democratic candidates as a problem until frontrunner Joe Biden looked vulnerable. The former vice president had been portrayed as the “moderate” option, the wise elder statesman who would prevent the party from circling the socialist whirlpool to self-destruction.
But Biden neither looked wise nor stable last Thursday night. The well-planned attack by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) on Biden’s positions on race may have inflicted a mortal political wound.
Yet even absent Harris’s attack, Biden would have been in trouble. That is because he joined the rest of the field in raising his hand to endorse the proposal of providing illegal aliens with free health care.
That radical policy was unthinkable until recently. In 2009, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-DC) had to apologize for shouting “You lie!” during a joint session of Congress when President Barack Obama claimed illegal aliens would not qualify for Obamacare. Biden could have dissented from the pack; he failed.
Biden had also already abandoned his decades-long opposition to federal funding of abortion. After much flip-flopping back and forth, Biden announced earlier in June that he would not longer back the Hyde amendment. His stance was applauded by his rivals, some of whom demanded that he shift leftward on other positions, as well. (“Now do the Iraq War,” Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) tweeted.) The so-called “moderate” alternative had staked out a position far to the left of the American electorate.
If Biden, as many now expect, fades from the lead, there is no serious moderate candidate to replace him.
Former Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) offered a stirring defense of private health insurance in the first night of the debate, but no one in his party seems to be listening. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) declined to join his rivals in calling for illegal border crossings to be decriminalized, but then he headed to Homestead the next day and blamed climate change for the ongoing crisis at the border.
President Trump suggested the Democrats might rename themselves the “Socialist Party.” Indeed, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), once considered far-left, is now a relative moderate. In the midst of the debates, she came under attack by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) for giving in to the GOP on border spending.
The same fate awaits any candidate who dissents. It is not clear Democrats can right themselves. They are gambling the country will hate Trump so much by 2020, it will not matter.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.