Editorial: Both parties would benefit from some clear-eyed thinking this election season

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

To the uninformed, pragmatism does sound like a condition that requires a trip to the doctor and a strong prescription. Maybe that is why most modern politicians avoid it.

Pragmatism, of course, isn’t a disease. It is a philosophy that embraces practical approaches to problems and affairs. It is a philosophy that allows for compromise because it recognizes that the world is always changing, so sometimes your positions have to as well.

Both major political parties may find it necessary to adopt the philosophy to be successful this election season. At least, we should hope so.

Let’s start with Kansas Republicans. Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is running for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate. Pragmatism would argue that Republicans should reject him.

Kobach just lost a statewide election to Democrat Laura Kelly in the governor’s race. Kobach may appeal to Republican voters in a primary, but he doesn’t appeal to the larger electorate in a general election. Republican voters should do the pragmatic thing and reject Kobach in the primary. Why nominate someone who stands a good chance of losing?

It appears Republicans are taking that approach. The national Republican Party has said it would actively oppose Kobach’s bid. A victory for pragmatism.

It is not yet clear that Democrats have seen such a light. Impeachment talk continues in Congress. This is despite the fact that it is crystal clear there have been no new developments that would lead to the Senate convicting President Trump. An impeachment vote by the House would be a statement of principles. But would it help elect a Democrat to replace Trump in 2020? Pragmatism says no. Voters who want to impeach Trump already are going to vote against him. A failed impeachment bid’s most likely outcome is to energize Trump’s base. Democrats can investigate in hopes of finding that smoking gun that would turn the tide in the Senate. There is a duty there. But there is no duty to conduct a doomed impeachment proceeding.

There also doesn’t seem to be much pragmatism in selecting a Democratic nominee. The political calculation seems pretty simple: The president is unlikely to expand his base. What state did Hillary Clinton win that Trump is likely to win in the next election?

The path to Trump’s reelection seems to be to win the states he won in the last election. Democrats need to change some minds in those states. Pragmatism says to focus on the states where you have the least number of minds to change. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are the three states to focus on. Trump’s margin of victory over Clinton was less than 1% in all those states.

Pragmatism says the Democratic nominee should appeal to voters in those states. It is not clear that Democrats are heeding that message. Former Vice President Joe Biden has that best combination of name recognition and policies to appeal to voters in those states. You can’t blame his Democratic opponents for attacking him — they want to win too — but it would be nice if the attacks were about policies from this decade. Pragmatic voters, though, will keep electability in mind.

Biden also is not doing himself any favors. He has to talk his way out of seemingly supporting the idea of decriminalizing illegal border crossings (Remember when he raised his hand at the last Democratic debate? Don’t worry, Republicans have photos.) Democrats can and should advocate for a kinder, humane immigration system. But if the message becomes immigrants can enter the country without knocking first, Democrats likely will lose another election that is winnable.

A pragmatist would also recognize that there are lots of ways Trump can win this election. He has done many things that appeal to people in those three states. Manufacturing jobs are up, people with less than a college degree have seen economic improvement, the stock market is soaring, and the national economy is generally good.

The country needs more pragmatism because so little gets done without it. Democrats likely are going to need it to win an important election. But it is tough to bet that they will adopt it in time. There are many Democrats who want a revolution. But there are many Americans who just want a moving truck at the White House. Trying to have both might be a good way to get neither.

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