I do not like President Trump. Except for moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, I am not sure there is anything about his presidency I support.
But like him or not, President Trump – and his 2016 election – exploited what is ailing American politics today – that Americans are exasperated that they play by one set of rules and Washington plays by another. That disconnect caused by politicians, influential industries, and even the media exploiting the political process for their own gain at the expense of the rest of us will only get worse unless the next President appreciates that problem and plans to fix it.
That is what I am looking for as I survey the Democrats running for President in 2020.
To win the Republican nomination, candidate Trump tapped into that disconnect with one issue – illegal immigration. That issue resonated enough to make a difference – and perhaps still does – in part because of how Washington’s failure to enforce immigration laws has impacted thousands of communities, including increased pressures on local school districts and corresponding pressures on state and local budgets.
But where President Trump fell incredibly short is in promising the most unrealistic of solutions – a wall paid for by Mexico. Though the rules of American politics have changed, there is one that remains – never make a promise you can’t keep. Inevitably, it makes voters question your trustworthiness, your effectiveness, and eventually, your ability to lead. Perhaps candidate Trump didn’t know he could not keep that promise or perhaps he didn’t care. Either way, his failure to deliver – and the resulting government shutdown because of his demand that taxpayers pay for the wall – significantly damaged his presidency and further eroded voters’ trust in Washington.
Looking at the 2020 Democratic candidates, I do not want a nominee who approaches problems the same way – exploiting legitimate grievances with unrealistic solutions or no solutions.
On illegal immigration, that means having a plan to secure the borders, stop visa overstays – which is how most illegal immigrants enter the country – and finding a bipartisan solution to allow the approximately 11 million who are in the US illegally today to stay here legally. Deportation is not an option – not only is it impractical, it is also the un-American and morally wrong thing to do.
On healthcare, Democrats should not be allowed to support a single payer system – “Medicare for All” – without answering obvious questions – How much will it cost? Will taxes go up? What happens to those who like their private insurance? What happens to the thousands of jobs that will be lost in the healthcare industry? Until they do, any Democrat supporting Medicare for All is simply proposing a Democratic version of a wall that Mexico won’t pay for.
On education, I want a Democrat with a plan to reduce student loan debt, which has doubled over the last decade to $1.5 trillion. Those who owe that money are unable to buy a home, start families, and launch new businesses. The long-term impact on American society is unclear, but I assure you it is not good. On this issue, Democrats have been almost universally silent other than proposals of “free tuition,” which, of course, is just another variation of that wall Mexico won’t pay for.
On national security, I want a Democrat who recognizes that our enemies live in a zero-sum world; the way China, Russia, or Islamists see it – either they win or we win. I want a Democrat who viscerally understands that and has a plan to harness every tool and tactic to ensure that America not only survives, but thrives as a free country and the dominant world power in the 21st Century. To date, I have not heard a single Democratic candidate or would be candidate talk about national security, let alone present a vision for keeping the country safe in this complex threat environment.
On Israel, I want a Democrat who knows that shared values and shared security and economic interests make the strongest of allies and I want a Democrat who completely rejects the BDS movement.
Democrats will be able to lead in a post-Trump era if they repair the breach between Washington and the rest of the country, which can only be done by offering realistic and effective solutions to America’s difficult challenges. Making promises that are impossible to keep or not addressing the biggest issues of the day will not win the 2020 election and, most importantly, will not move the country forward.
Todd Stein is the former Legislative Director