Opinion: Democrats now have a very sobering challenge
Yes, it’s true that their party just won the House majority and more House seats, 40, than in any election since 1974 (and with the increasing likelihood of a new election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District after confirmed reports of Republican election fraud there, maybe 41) and Democrats have had reason to celebrate — especially after President Donald Trump wrongly stated after the midterms that he “thought it was a very close to complete victory” and, with his signature humility, explained that his own “vigorous campaigning stopped the blue wave.”
But before self-congratulating Democrats put more Champagne on ice to toast their winning the largest, according to the authoritative David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report, midterm raw vote margin ever in House elections (more than 9.7 million votes) — and by the largest percentage margin, 9.6 percent nationally, in the past 16 national elections — they would be smart to look at the awesome challenge they face heading into the 2020 presidential election.
President Trump, though his job rating in the Gallup Poll has averaged only 39 percent favorable since his inauguration, commands a loyal base of supporters and will be — especially if a plausible third-party challenger, such as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg or Ohio Gov. John Kasich, enters the race — a formidable re-election candidate. Now is the time for all Democratic voters to understand, if they are determined to win the White House in 2020, that they have a collective and individual responsibility to nominate not only a candidate who can win a majority of the nation’s vote but also an individual who, once elected, could effectively lead the nation.
Think about 1980. It was the third year of double-digit inflation. Home mortgage rates exceeded 20 percent. Russia had just invaded Afghanistan. Iran was holding 52 American hostages. Serious scholars at the time argued that because of the daunting problems confronting the nation, the presidency was an all-but-impossible job, so difficult as to make it almost inconceivable for any president to win re-election. (We’d had three different presidents in the preceding six years.) Some proposed that the nation should elect a president for just one six-year term. That was, you will recall, all changed by a champion of American exceptionalism, Ronald Reagan, who not only overwhelmingly won two terms but, more importantly, repurchased Americans’ national optimism.
Reagan had previously served two successful terms as governor of California, where he had been forced to deal and compromise with two exceptionally gifted Democratic legislative leaders, Jesse Unruh and Bob Moretti. This experience served him well when he arrived in Washington and had to go toe-to-toe with the formidable House speaker, Democrat Tip O’Neill. The only Democratic president in the second half of the 20th century to win a second White House term was former Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, three 20th-century strong presidents, had both served as governors.
To put it bluntly, U.S. senators raise questions and make tough speeches. Governors and mayors, by contrast, raise taxes and make tough decisions. Senators can and do make self-righteous statements and regularly demonize political adversaries; mayors and governors, who must forge new and different coalitions on a weekly basis, cannot afford to practice such political self-indulgence. Democratic voters, in making their choice for 2020, must pick a nominee who A) could win in November but also B) would, once in office, be able to lead and to repurchase and restore Americans’ confidence and trust in their own government and in themselves. That is a sobering challenge.
— Mark Shields is a columnist with Creators Syndicate.