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How (if ever) can Democrats reoccupy the White house?

Guest Editorial by Dr. Joel A. Mintz

Guest Editorial – OP/ED

FORT LAUDERDALE/DAVIE, Fla. – The first several months of Donald Trump’s presidency have been riddled with poor decisions, false starts, and miscalculations. At first glance, these errors, combined with his current low standing in public opinion polls, suggest a high level of vulnerability for the president when he seeks re-election in 2020.

Joel A. Mintz, J.S.D.

Joel A. Mintz, J.S.D.

Nevertheless, for Democrats and independents who voted against Mr. Trump in 2016 and oppose his divisive and wrongheaded policies, some caution seems in order. The next presidential election is still a few years away, incumbent presidents are traditionally difficult to defeat, Trump has thus far retained his popularity with most of his core supporters, and voter opinion is often swayed by last minute pre-election conditions and events.

Donald Trump’s surprising victory last year defied nearly all prognostications, underestimating his potential political appeal in a re-election bid would be foolhardy. Nonetheless, given the depth of the division and outrage that Trump’s policies have created, both domestically and globally, careful consideration of how to unseat him does not seem premature or out of place.

One of the lessons of the last general election is that strident criticism of Donald Trump alone — no matter how prescient or factually accurate that criticism may be — will not succeed. Trump has shown great adeptness at casting damaging aspersions on his political rivals. A purely negative campaign against him will most likely present him with an immense advantage. Instead, whoever he or she may be, the next Democratic candidate for president must communicate clearly and plainly what that person, and his or her party stand for.

Prominent Democrats instead need to park their egos and rivalries at door, calmly discuss and promptly agree upon a set of principles that appeal to American voters. And they must start to publicize those ideas right away. I would suggest that a good starting point for building party consensus is the platform that Democrats adopted, with broad intra-party support, in 2016. That document contained numerous sound, appealing ideas. To the sensible Democratic political ideas of last year, however, more must be added. Needed are positive proposals to assist residents of rural areas, and newly minted approaches to helping all families and communities, advancing the arts and scientific research, further improving health care, protecting the environment, and upgrading public education. Democrats must also provide honest information about how much Democratic proposals will cost and how they will be paid for.

In addition, the Democratic Party urgently needs to make wholesale changes to the party’s haphazard and self-defeating primary and caucus system. The 2016 nomination campaign was too long, too expensive, and too divisive. Democrats should replace it with a series of six set of primaries and caucuses: the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary and four regional contests. The latter should be organized by time zone (with Alaskan and Hawaiian voters participating in the Pacific time zone primary), held in an order that is chosen by lottery, and spaced two weeks apart. Such an arrangement, while imperfect, seems likely to produce a Democratic presidential candidate over a shorter time period than in 2016, conserve needed campaign funds for the general election, and allow ample time to unify the party in advance of the conventions and the fall campaign.

None of these reforms will be easy. However, given the current, widespread popular distrust of institutions, Americans continue to thirst for thoughtful innovations and realistic solutions to challenging problems. Democrats can offer those things to voters. However, to their party’s — and our nation’s — great detriment, Democrats will once again fail to win the presidency if they appear trapped in rigid approaches, stale slogans, egotistical personal rivalries, and unrelieved negativity.

It is time to make real changes; and if Democrats want to lead the United States again, they must begin by boldly improving the party they see in the mirror.

 

Joel A. Mintz is a professor of law at Nova Southeastern University College of Law and a Member Scholar of the Center for Progressive Reform.