Chait is REALLY cautioning against the hard left swing by several Democratic nomination candidates…
The Democratic presidential primary has worked to the party’s disadvantage by maneuvering its candidates into unpopular positions. This is not quite a crisis, but it is a serious danger that, if not redressed, could blow up in the party’s face.
Democrats have lots of room to run to attack President Trump from the left on economic and social policy while placing themselves on the right side of public opinion. And while the party as a whole has done so, the presidential contenders have been jostling to stand out by adopting a series of highly unpopular stances. To date, the following positions have been taken by some or all the candidates: replace all employer-provided private insurance with a government plan; decriminalize the border while also providing subsidized health insurance to undocumented immigrants; and provide reparations for the descendants of American slaves.
All these positions would likely be serious liabilities in a general election. What’s more, none of them would appear to stand any plausible chance of enactment in the next administration, given that the (current) House majority and (prospective, unlikely) Senate majority both require the support of Democrats far to the right of the presidential field. So these risks the candidates are taking do not bring with them a concurrent benefit. They’re not laying the ground for a sweeping new progressive agenda they can pass in 2021. They’re merely seeding Donald Trump’s attack ads.
Notice that the previous paragraph contains some qualifiers (“likely”; “appear to.”) Modesty is needed in making political projections. Public opinion is never completely fixed, and predicting the effect of any particular dynamic always involves some uncertainty. After Trump, we should retire terms like “unelectable” and its implication of total confidence in political outcomes.
But to acknowledge that we lack certainty about an effect is not to say we know nothing. There is a large body of research showing that voters tend to punish candidates that they perceive as holding extreme positions. Holding unpopular positions in fact tends to make a candidate less popular.
And yet, as obvious as this simple observation might sound, the progressive intelligentsia has devoted enormous energy to denying it. The defensive impulse against any “centrist” critique is so impulsive and so widespread that bad, even silly, political rationalizations for taking reckless positions are now flourishing….