Socialism and the stakes of Election 2020

The Briefing, Vol. VII, Issue 8

February, 25, 2019

This week:

  • Minnesota mean
  • How socialism became a thing again in the U.S.
  • Florida and Trump’s fight against Latin American socialism

President 2020

Klobuchar: It may not cost her a shot at the Democratic nomination, but the story about Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., as an abusive employers is at least destroying the positive, Minnesota-nice aspect of her presidential candidacy.

Klobuchar is not just a senator who makes subordinates shave her legs, or who sternly berates them for minor mistakes in late-night, all-caps emails, and throws office supplies at them for being such idiots, creating a tense atmosphere of panic in her office.

More to the point, she is a senator whose employees detest her enough to speak out, in a town where people are usually known for fanatical loyalty to even the most abusive bosses. It cannot be overstated how rare it is for multiple employees to come out against their boss.

This is why, even though these revelations are obviously motivated by leaks that other candidates are trying to encourage, they should still add some perspective to the stories about her cruel and belittling treatment of employees.

Bernie Sanders: To no one’s surprise, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is running for president once again. And to no one’s surprise, Democrats are already scheming to harm his candidacy by requiring a formal statement of party membership for candidates.

Sanders will overcome that (as he did in 2016). And he can actually expect less trouble from the Democratic establishment this time. But now he has a different problem: Far too many opponents running on a similar far-left platform.

In the meantime, Sanders’ odd, late-career prominence is something worthy of remark.

Sanders spent most of his political career as an insignificant and eccentric socialist congressman from a backward state with a quirky record. In line with Vermont’s local culture, he supported gun rights in spite of his socialist leanings. Then he ran for president, and everything changed.

Yes, Sanders had to back off on guns during the 2016 cycle in order to avoid alienating too many Democratic voters, but that’s really the least significant part of his transformation. This fringe politician, after a lifetime of laboring in obscurity, is now considered almost single-handedly responsible for introducing socialism to Americans as something positive, after a century of Americans rightly rejecting this ideology as something alien and destructive.

How did this happen? There is no single explanation, but rather a confluence of circumstance.

For one thing, it helped that the man running against the deeply unpopular Hillary Clinton was calling himself “socialist.” This gave both Sanders and socialism a huge boost.

For another, his campaign was well-marketed. His Simon and Garfunkel ad alone was enough to make his primary campaign. The Democratic Party’s clumsy attempts to stifle him were an even better form of advertising. They only made him stronger and his followers more loyal to him and less loyal to the Democratic Party.

For another, the younger generation no longer fears the term “socialism” in the same way their parents rightly did. Poor history and civics education, along with the passage of time, have obscured the horrific lessons of twentieth century socialism — of its destructive effects in shedding blood and destroying national wealth. It’s up to conservatives now to connect the dots and make convincing arguments. They must not settle for merely discussing what’s happened in Venezuela, but also make a positive case for free markets and economic freedom.

The bottom line here is that even though President Trump is right to exploit Democrats’ leftward lurch, conservatives would be wrong to assume complacently that far-left ideas like socialism will be unpopular by default, especially with younger voters.

In the end, Sanders is very unlikely to win the Democratic nomination. His advanced age and the multiplicity of left-wing candidates stack the deck against him. But he has made his mark on American political life.

Venezuela: Yes, this dovetails with Sanders to some extent. But it’s also an important political question for President Trump. He has bipartisan support from most members of Congress — even Sanders has been critical of the Maduro regime. But a persistent and successful policy that topples Venezuela’s socialist dictatorship will be very popular for him in Florida. It should not be lost on anyone that the survival of Cuba’s socialist dictatorship may depend on Nicolas Maduro’s survival, via the mechanism subsidized oil.

So long as he stays the course, Trump’s strong position on this issue will have political implications in Florida, a state thick with Cuban exiles. Trump did surprisingly well in Florida in 2016, winning in spite of (or was it because of?) heavy Hispanic turnout.

In 2018, Republicans also just narrowly won two critical elections for Senate and governor against a national partisan tide that heavily favored Democrats. That’s great news for Trump. If his campaign operation can lock down Florida and Ohio — both difficult but very much attainable goals — it makes his re-election fight that much more straightforward for 2020.

Bill Weld: As primary challenges to Trump go, that of former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld is some pretty weak sauce. The key to giving Trump trouble in the primary is to run a staunch ideological conservative. That may already be too much of a stretch, as Trump has clearly consolidated support. But there is definitely no hunger within the party at all for a liberal Republican to depose Trump and take up the party’s standard.

Senate 2020

Alabama: This is the easiest ticket to the Senate for any Republican, as Democratic Sen. Doug Jones — elected thanks to Roy Moore’s nomination in 2017 — is considered a dead man walking. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R, has jumped into the race. The Club for Growth is clearly hostile toward Byrne and released a push-poll designed to encourage Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., to jump into the race instead.

Kansas: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, R, will not run to replace Sen. Pat Roberts, R. This nearly guarantees a crowded and unruly GOP primary with an unpredictable result. Needless to say, this is not a seat Republicans can afford to lose.