The recent general election in the UK was more than just a landslide victory for the Tories and the equally dramatic demise of Labour. It was a blueprint for western left-wing parties on how to lose an election. The question now is whether the US Democrats can learn their lessons from Labour’s debacle.
Labour’s loss did not come as a surprise. Corbyn’s campaign was dominated by fear-mongering and an aimed shakeup of the current system. Traditional working-class areas such as the Midlands or the North of England were thus lost, and former loyal voters chose the Conservatives and Boris Johnson.
This phenomenon is not new. In 2016, Donald Trump demonstrated how a conservative party could reach the working class. Trump spoke a language that was mostly understood by people in the Rustbelt, where the American industry was continually suffering from automation and globalism.
In a nutshell, Labour and the Democrats both lost due to their political visions. These did not match the realities of life nor the wishes of the voters. In broad terms, the Democrats in 2016 insinuated that transgender toilets were more important to them than creating jobs. To Labour in 2019, it was a Green New Deal that seemed more important than the working-class fears of how to maintain jobs in industries that have been dying.
Considering the US election in 2016 and the UK’s this month, two observations appear to indicate a trend. First, a party should not compete with a candidate whom the majority of the population believes is either terrible or unfit for office. Applied to the United States, on the one hand, this can be argued against Donald Trump, who is historically unpopular with his citizens. However, Trump has the support of approximately 33% of the country, his extremely loyal, impervious base. Moreover, thanks to the Electoral College in the United States, these can be sufficient to win an election.
The situation is different for the Democrats. As early as 2016, Hillary Clinton was as toxic for Democrats as Jeremy Corbyn was for Labour. Of the three current favorites, Sanders and Warren proposing a change of the current system – away from capitalism and towards more socialism, open borders, and medicare for all.
Now, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are, despite the shared ideology with Corbyn, quite frankly far more cerebral than the Labour leader and would not pose a threat to national security per se. However, their polling across the nation indicates that their vision of the country cannot command a majority, particularly not through the Electoral College.
Trump is aware of this and does not miss an opportunity to state how the country would suffer under such leadership. Furthermore, even President Obama recently said that “crazy” would not win an election. If a Labor Party with its manifesto cannot win elections in liberal Europe, the uber progressive model will certainly not win an election against Donald Trump in the United States.
The recent defeats, however, do by no means equate to a default setting. The fact that the Democrats can still win elections was demonstrated in the midterm-elections in 2018. Here, Democrats won back the majority in the House of Representatives because they put up candidates – except for “The Squad” – who restrained themselves from conducting identity politics and measures to save the world. As a result, the voting public was not divided into two extremes; one can witness so often these days. Instead, pragmatic moderates won by addressing what people care about, what makes a real difference in their lives, e.g., jobs and fiscal issues.
Hence, if the Democrats seek to learn a lesson, they should have a look not only at Corbyn and Clinton on how to lose but at their victory in 2018. Trump is beatable. Nevertheless, a win will require a candidate who does not dream of an unreachable socialist paradise but promises to solve conundrums that will make the daily life of a majority of the people easier without completely transforming it. Crazy will not and cannot carry the general election in 2020.