Harrop: Want to win in 2020? Use good manners, moderation

You don’t have to be a moderate to be well-mannered, but it comes easier to those in the middle.

By Froma Harrop / syndicated columnist

Moderation along with good manners delivered impressive victories to Democrats this week. Case in point was Andy Beshear’s win over Republican incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin in the Kentucky governor’s race.

Beshear’s margin was slim, it is true, but Kentucky is a state that backed Donald Trump in 2016 by 30 points. The president was so alarmed at the closeness of the race that he swooped down on the state the day before to tell his rallygoers that the race was about him.

Apparently, it was. Dislike of Trump no doubt played a part in turning out 400,000 more voters than the 2015 governor’s race.

The soft-spoken Beshear campaigned as a moderate while big-mouth Bevin governed like a brute. One of the more astute comments came from a woman from the suburbs across from Cincinnati. Bevin had “bad manners,” she said.

And he did. He called teachers nasty names and reveled in cutting back health coverage for poor Kentuckians.

Beshear campaigned on keeping health care, education and pension reform. Bevin campaigned on how much he is like Trump.

Virginia saw the most dramatic turning of the tide. Democrats took control of the state legislature. (They already hold the governorship.) Here, too, the Trump creep show had turned off the formerly Republican suburbs.

Good manners have a power of their own. Recall the dignity and measured testimony of Ambassador William Taylor and former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch as they appeared before the House committees.

Rep. Adam Schiff’s self-control and reserved demeanor lend power to his leadership role in the impeachment inquiry. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also has the power, made greater when she reins in Democrats who use crude language.

Now, moderation isn’t the same thing as good manners. There are fine-mannered radicals on both the left and right. But to the extent that good manners require acknowledging the feelings of those who disagree, they more easily coexist with moderation.

Pelosi is wisely urging Democrats to nominate a moderate for president. That means not Elizabeth Warren; and, of course, not Bernie Sanders. Warren would sow chaos in the nation’s health care system, though more modest, less scary initiatives would move things in her direction. She would tear apart big tech companies. Even if you like these ideas — and I think work is needed in both areas — be mindful that they are not going to happen.

A President Warren could not get such legislation past a lot of Democrats, much less Republicans who have the Senate votes to stop progress. More to the point, there would not be a President Warren because she’d be sure to lose; even against Trump.

The battlefields Democrats should focus on are not Iowa and New Hampshire, where the Democratic electorate is heavily weighted with the white liberal gentry. Warren or Sanders could do well in those places.

The important battlefields are Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the three states that delivered an Electoral College victory to Trump. Recent polls of matchups in six swing states suggest how vulnerable Warren or Sanders would be against Trump.

Granted, it’s early for such polling, and the margins are small, but the RealClearPolitics poll averages show Biden ahead of Trump in all six. Warren and Sanders would be edged out by Trump in Florida and Arizona. In North Carolina, Biden’s polling average puts him 5.4 points ahead of Trump. Warren would slightly trail Trump.

When Republicans put up reasonable candidates for president, Democrats have the luxury of backing contenders whose positions they prefer. If that person loses, disaster won’t ensue. This time is different. This time there is one issue: defeating Trump. The candidate has to be the Democrat who can do it.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. Email her at fharrop@gmail.com.

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