Moderate Democratic Governors Are Worried About All the Wrong Things

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It is a day that ends in ‘y’, so we have another article about how Democrats are flubbing 2020 by not doing exactly what Hillary Clinton did in 2016, which, as we all know, worked.

Today it’s the New York Times, reporting from the Democratic Governors Association retreat in Nantucket. The paper reported that there was “as much anxiety as optimism” about the 2020 elections, and that some governors are “alarmed that their party’s presidential candidates are embracing policies they see as unrealistic and politically risky.”

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For these moderate Democrats, the only voters that matter are the largely-mythical swing middle. As Eric Levitz at New York noted yesterday, moderate Democrats in Congress aren’t doing anything for the pocketbook issues, either: they “blocked their party from passing a bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices,” for example. But uh, did you know Medicare for All would eliminate private insurance (and thereby your insurance premiums)? It’s those guys that are stopping us from proposing anything to help your pocketbook, you see!

Throughout the Times piece, it’s clear that these moderate governors do not consider anything that doesn’t affect white, middle-class, largely suburban people a ‘real’ issue. Take this quote from Rhode Island governor and venture capitalist Gina Raimondo:

“We cannot become the party of the checklist,” said Ms. Raimondo, alluding to litmus tests on cultural flash points. She urged the 2020 hopefuls to resist proving their liberal credentials on every issue and instead focus on “economic security for everyday Americans.”

Thanks to that dumbass horserace writing we all know and love from the Times, it’s really not clear what kind of “checklist” Raimondo is talking about. I guess we’re all just supposed to understand that “cultural flash points” means “things that matter to people of color?” Or is it “anything lefty,” which is somehow now a “cultural” thing? Is abortion a checklist issue? What about defending the rights of immigrants? Is that just virtue signaling, since no ‘real’ voter could care about that? What about Medicare for All? Is that just about showing off how lefty you are, because it couldn’t possibly be about actually helping the 30 million uninsured Americans or the 29 percent of people with insurance who are underinsured?

Gina Raimondo, by the way, was in a “a three-way tie for the second-worst approval rating nationwide along with two other Democratic governors” in April. Ma’am, have you considered focusing on the real issues?

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Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, the daughter of an insurance executive whose campaign was supported by fundraising from the Michigan arm of Blue Cross Blue Shield’s PAC and who appointed the CEO of that company to her transition team, also had some thoughts about what voters like:

While some Democratic governors have at least rhetorically backed single-payer systems, most have used their political capital to put in place and protect the expansions in the A.C.A. while also enacting measures aimed at controlling insurance costs.

And they warn that openly pledging to end private health insurance will only hand ammunition to the Republicans.

Noting that many voters were already uneasy about losing their coverage, Ms. Whitmer said, “I don’t think feeding into that is a good idea.”

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I know this, she could have added, because I asked my dad, the former insurance executive.

Here is an idea: Instead of constantly worrying about feeding into Republican lies about your policies—which they are going to tell whatever policies you propose, from the most moderate, measured reform to overhauling the system—you could try proposing a good policy that would actually establish universal healthcare.

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But it wasn’t just healthcare. Whitmer also knows just about how Democrats should talk about immigration: By not talking about it.

But in the aftermath of last month’s debates, when a number of candidates, for instance, favored decriminalizing illegal border crossings and offering federal benefits for undocumented migrants, the governors are taking their pleas public.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, who won last year with a mantra of “fix the damn roads,” recalled the show-of-hands moments in the first presidential debates, which she said illustrated the party’s shift left but were so terse as to offer no context or explanation about the candidates’ positions.

“Raising hands and not really talking about the fundamentals is counterproductive to the average voter who really wants solutions,” she said.

Ms. Whitmer noted that at one event on Nantucket, the Democratic strategist James Carville said the candidates should have responded to the raise-your-hand questions with a middle finger. “The American people deserve more, they deserve better,” Ms. Whitmer said.

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First of all: what? Why is everything in this article written in code? I feel like I need a centrist-to-English dictionary to understand this. Why is she mad at the Democrats for responding to a question asked of them in the debates? Is she mad that they didn’t more skillfully avoid taking a position on whether border crossings should be decriminalized by, for example, flipping off the moderator? In this case, not taking a position is fundamentally the same as taking the “no” position—if you’re not for it, you’re against changing the law.

So, to clarify: It’s not “fundamental” to talk about immigration or defend immigrants, and Democrats should say ‘fuck you’ to anyone who asks about it. Got it.

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What else do these folks believe on immigration? Nothing; they are motivated entirely by fear of the mythical white moderate who might vote for them if they never mention immigration again.

Ms. Raimondo was similarly unequivocal on the issue. She argued that Democrats had to both enforce current immigration law and pursue an overhaul that would offer a path to citizenship for those living in the country illegally but not breaking any other laws.

“Come on, secure the borders, people need to be safe, people need to feel safe,” she said, while noting that she had taken steps to protect the “Dreamers” in her state, those children brought to the country illegally by their parents.

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It is straight up racist bullshit to act like voters are not “safe” unless we “secure the borders.” There is no association at all between increased undocumented immigration and crime, and immigrants, legal and undocumented, commit crimes at a lower rate than their native-born counterparts. Repeating the idea that borders equals safety is not just politically dumb; it actively feeds into racist Republican rhetoric about immigrants.

So, too, is this:

“That just scares too many people who don’t know anything about immigration,” said Ms. Lujan Grisham, who worked on the issue as a local official and in Congress before being elected governor. She said Democrats should lash Mr. Trump for “closing the border,” because it only prompts asylum-seeking migrants “to sneak around” instead of coming to points of entry.

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Good idea, madam. Call Trump soft on immigration. That will win over the crowds of people currently baying for the blood of Muslims and Central Americans at fascist rallies.

These people are, and I cannot stress this enough, very dumb. They do not recognize that the white voter who is fearful of immigrants and doesn’t want to give up their private health insurance (which they just love), but also would vote for a Democrat, is at worst imaginary and at best a dying breed. The Democratic party simply must build a path that is not dependent on Panera Bread voters, because the country is becoming less white. If you chase people who are worried about closing the border, you are going to lose to the Racist Party every time. Focus on engaging the truly lefty base and turning out people of color, and you might actually have a lasting coalition, not a cobbled-together bunch of low-key racists and high-key insurance executives that will fall apart as soon as Trump leaves office, if not sooner.

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Make no mistake about it: People who got into office on the backs of health insurance company checks and frowning about the border must be defeated by people who will fight for a diverse working class instead, or we will all suffer the consequences. Because they know that the biggest threat they face isn’t losing one election to a Republican and having to go lobby for pharma instead—it’s being in a party that doesn’t tolerate their warmed-over bullshit anymore.

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About the author

Libby Watson

Splinter politics writer. libby.watson@splinternews.com