Election season has taken a bit of a break in the past few weeks, with the Trump impeachment show dominating the news and social media. That’s not to say stuff hasn’t happened, though. Kamala Harris just joined Beto O’Rourke, Bill De Blasio, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Hickenlooper, Mark Sanford, Jay Inslee, Steve Bullock, Joe Sestak, Tim Ryan, Seth Moulton, Mike Gravel, Eric Swalwell, and Richard Ojeda in the also-ran consolation wagon. Still with hat in the ring are Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Tom Steyer, Julian Castro, Michael Bennett, John Delaney, Marianne Williamson, Deval Patrick, and Michael Bloomberg. The fifteen-fifteen split is just coincidence, and we all know that most of the remaining field are dead-candidacies-walking. The next debate will include only the top 6 candidates.

Radio personality Ron Bennington recently opined that this business of having candidates debate each other doesn’t really tell us much, since structured and televised debate is not a skill of any utility to a President. I agree, but it does seem that more than a few are as or more attracted to “personality” than to political substance, at least at this stage of the game. Or, if you prefer, identity and brand politics.

The telltale is the lack of diversity (shocking, I know) in policy. Sure, there is the vague-fuzzy divide between, lets call them the moderates and the socialists, and there are the “here’s my differentiator issue” types like Gabbard’s anti-war stance, but in broad strokes, they’re all promising the same things (even Biden is standing well leftward of Clinton’s platform of three years ago).

In no particular order, we find just about all the candidates agreeing on the following matters, with differences mostly in degree:

  • Gun bans and confiscation.
  • Undoing the fracking revolution and a forced frog-march away from all forms of carbon energy.
  • Taxing the bejeezus out of anyone who’s made or is making big money (even the “moderates” are proposing tax hikes wildly larger than Clinton did in the last campaign).
  • Abandoning any premise of border control, and providing government largesse to anyone who steps into the country.
  • Creating a sheaf of new entitlements, employer mandates, and tax dollar giveaways.
  • Imposing central planning and even more government bureaucracy on, well, everything.
  • Eradicating religious liberty.
  • Curtailing free speech, both political and “identity” related.
  • Regulating the flow of information, across the Internet, on social media, and even in the traditional press.
  • Some form of socialized medicine.
  • A de facto takeover of the entire energy sector, as part of the Green New Deal (which pretty much all of them support).

Even Bloomberg, who supposedly entered the race to save the Democratic party from the excesses of its left wing, will reportedly focus on “climate change, gun violence, income inequality and education.” We already know his attitude toward guns (for that reason alone, I’d rather chew hot gravel than vote for him), but the rest is mere brown-nosing the same leftist cranks that everyone else has been kowtowing to. On top of that, he’s opened his campaign with an apology tour, for both personal and policy transgressions, that’s an obvious pander to voters that still think the path to success is on the road leftmost-traveled.

It is common in Presidential politics for candidates to tack to the margin, left or right, when pursuing a primary victory, then walk things back to the middle for the general election. It’s quite the tightrope today however, with everything a candidate says or writes infinitely and forever available to everyone, and there’s great risk of painting one’s self into a corner. Indeed, it seems that Elizabeth Warren did just that with her Medicare for All proposal. The “ma’am with the plan” took a nosedive in the polls and in the betting markets when she couldn’t give a satisfactory answer to how she was going to pull this massive transformation of health insurance off without taxing the middle class.

Warren’s fall from front-runner status tells a tale. It’s easy to promise the moon early in a campaign, and this pandering has been so successful to date that everyone has done it. But, at some point, the bright shiny promise will require a progress payment in the form of detail, especially when opponents start asking inconvenient questions.

Beto O’Rourke attempted to revive his flagging campaign by boldly declaring that he’d take 15 million rifles away from American citizens. When asked how, he uttered banalities about voluntary compliance (HAHAHAHAHA!!). Shortly thereafter, he pulled the plug on his campaign, and probably on his political career.

Warren’s still a top contender, but she did a lot of damage to her chances with her “where’s the beef” moment. For someone whose attraction has been in no small part her policy wonkishness, failure to deliver the goods on a foundational campaign plank is a critical error.

These falls from grace should, of course, all be expected, since that list of policy commonalities has one other commonality – a combination of unworkability and contrariness to the essence of American culture. Outside of the progressive bastions, taste-maker cabals, and echo chambers, these proposals are radical and off-putting. Even the traditional Democratic power-base – unionized America – isn’t ready to go along with losing (lavish) health insurance and benefits in order to usher in socialized medicine. And, all those oil, coal, natural gas, and fracking roughnecks aren’t going to be rushing to the polls to support a candidate promising to kill their jobs and their industries.

I can’t really blame the candidates. They’re responding to the loudest voices around them. The trouble is – those voices are a minority. As I’ve noted before, a poll conducted by The Atlantic found that only 8% of American voters identify as “progressive activist” (and that 8% is overwhelmingly college educated, six-figure-earning, and white). That they’re writing the agenda embraced by all the candidates at this stage of the process should give pause to the Democrats who see Trump’s flaws and unpopularity as an open-door invitation to the White House in 2021. Sure, the mainstream press is bolstering all these policies, but they themselves are part of that 8%.

“Walking the plank,” a practice allegedly used by 17th and 18th century mutineers to dispose of loyalists without being on the hook for murdering them, has become a euphemism for “forcing to accept the consequences of something.” In this case, the plank is a path leftward (ending, as history has shown us time and again, into a drop into the figurative abyss). Walking that progressive plank is, in my estimation, courting a humiliating defeat on Election Day. As I’ve seen written time and again, in various forms, “this is how Trump wins.”

I suspect that Pelosi and the rest of the Party leadership recognize this problem, and I suspect it’s a motivator in their impeachment drive. Damage Trump so that the jarring nature of their candidates plans and polices gets lost in the scrum. Increasingly, though, it’s more of a Hail Mary than a successful and sustained scoring drive. The public is losing interest, no matter the persistence (and screechiness) with which the charges are flogged, and is souring on the notion of impeachment itself. In addition, it’s hard to imagine that the Democrats’ economic plans, which run contrary to what has been working, will convince swing voters to flock to their side.

While there is a subset of Trump supporters that genuinely believe him to be the Second Coming, I suspect a large percentage (perhaps even a significant majority) are transactional supporters, willing to overlook all sorts of stuff because he is a – delivering the goods in some areas and b – the alternative is dreadful. If the Democrats were fielding a legitimately moderate candidate (not “moderate relative to the socialist loons”), and if the Democrats had not demonstrated a quasi-religious fervor in their desire to unseat him from the moment Clinton lost, I surmise the impeachment effort (if it happened at all) might have a very different tone about it, one much less starkly partisan and more committed to openness and process.

But, that is not the case. The tone set by the endless angles the Democrats pursued in trying to remove him (25th Amendment, Emoluments, Russian collusion, Mueller obstruction, etc) before the Ukraine hullaballoo even came to light has prompted many to simply tune the impeachment effort out, in the vein of “a good prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich” cynicism, actual facts notwithstanding. The Democratic candidates’ leftward plank-walk has only served to exacerbate that outcome.

Last week, the progressives in the UK suffered an epic drubbing (AOC’s endorsement of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party notwithstanding), with the Tories making historic gains and Brexit validated by the populace. The spinmeisters are trying to turn it into a narrow rejection of Corbin’s anti-Semitism, but that’s not going to fly: the voters rejected Labour’s leftward march. This should be an(other) alarm bell for the Democrats, who’ve let a relative handful of mutineers push them to the brink of a progressive precipice.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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