The Winning Formula for Democrats Has Already Been Found: Obamacare and Pragmatism


The media keeps telling us that all the “energy” in the Democratic party is with the hardline Left and self-styled “democratic” socialists.

This gives me flashbacks to 2016, when Hillary Clinton was cast as the ‘boring’ candidate and Bernie Sanders as the one drawing large crowds and the master of the ever-elusive “enthusiasm.”

Then the primary actually happened. Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders by almost 4 million votes, a brutal 12-point margin. Clinton would go on to secure the third highest popular vote total in the history of presidential races in the general election, more than any man ever with the exception of Barack Obama. As fate would have it, an institution created to preserve the power of slave states, the electoral college, would award the presidency to the loser of the popular vote.

I digress. My intention in this essay is not really to rehash the painful memory of the 2016 elections. But now that a presidential primary is upon us again, it’s time to examine the ubiquitous claim once again that the Leftist flank of the Democratic party is where it’s at. It bears merit to examine what has happened Trump’s ascendance to the White House, and what kind of Democrats have actually been able to win competitive races for a more objective measure of where people’s appetite - and “energy” - really lies.

Democrats have gained significant power at all levels of government since the devastating presidential election of 2016. The 2018 midterms saw a blue wave that built throughout election night to result a historic 40-seat net gain in the House of Representatives, returning the Speaker’s gavel to Nancy Pelosi. On that incredible night, Democrats also flipped over 300 legislative districts from red to blue, as well as gained seven governorships. Just this month, Democrats have flipped another governorship, in Kentucky, and defended their only governorship in the deep South, in Louisiana. Before November of 2017, Republicans controlled 66 out of 100 seats in the Virginia State House of Delegates, as well as that state’s Senate. Since that time, Republicans have lost 21 seats in the VA House, and will have a minority of just 45 seats come January.

So, who have been winning these seats? Who have been flipping the districts and governorships? Who flipped those 40 House seats?

The answer, almost universally, is pragmatic, usually moderate Democrats who are talking about making progress with concrete, deliverable steps, not a demolition derby of the current system in hopes that a Phoenix will rise from the rubble. These Democrats are talking about universal pre-K, and lowering the cost of higher education including trade school, not paying off big banks for debts trust fund babies acquired. These Democrats are talking about common sense gun reform and the need to enact clean energy and climate legislation. Democrats everywhere are winning by going back to basics: focusing on the issues their communities are facing, while Republican attempts to nationalize the races in ruby-red states are falling flat.

One interesting note isn’t just who has been winning these elections, it’s what. The answer there too is nearly universal: the candidates are winning with one common health care theme: Obamacare - specifically, the expansion of Medicaid available to every state under the Affordable Care Act. By blocking expansion of Medicaid into a benefit based on income, Republican politicians are keeping 5 million Americans from health care they would otherwise be eligible for at a negligible cost to their states, and that’s a major electoral loser for the GOP. In Kentucky, Governor-Elect Beshear has promised to move swiftly to remove draconian work requirements from the state’s Medicaid, and in Louisiana, Gov. Edwards ran on his record of expanding Medicaid, and won re-election despite Trump begging the state’s Republican voters to do otherwise.

Nearly three years after President Obama left the White House, and more than nine years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare is proving effective at slaying Republicans everywhere, including the south.

It is fair to say that the people who are winning come mostly from the center-Left on most issues, but it is also true that for each given issue, the ideological spectrum is broad. Some candidates are more liberal on health care than others, some are farther Left on climate change legislation. But they have - almost to a person - won by sticking to pragmatic steps even if those steps are not a given candidate’s ultimate goal. In other words, candidates who are winning competitive races are willing to compromise in order to govern and to make progress.

This is a model people like, especially when compared with hardline positions of the Republicans these candidates are beating. As President Obama has warned, Leftist dogmatism has not and will not fare better than right-wing hardlining.

The path forward for Democrats is clear. Crowd sizes don’t determine votes. Unquestioned adulation is not “energy.”

The truth is that most people don’t go to political rallies. Most people don’t donate to candidates. Most people are not married to a single set of solutions to any given problems. Despite the riveting political stalemates that make the news, what most people really want is for their representatives to solve problems and move the ball forward. People don’t expect perfection; they want progress. They want things that will help them now, not to engage in a long national screaming match about tearing down current systems. People want a government focused on doing, not talking.

At least, that’s what the votes are showing.