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Last week’s special congressional races in North Carolina show that both Republicans and Democrats face big dilemmas in 2020. The difference is that Democrats have a choice about what to do, but Republicans don’t.
The Republican dilemma: Will President Trump hurt or help them in 2020?
One way you can look at the 9th Congressional District result is that Trump spells real trouble for Republicans in 2020: Dan Bishop won by less than two points in a district Trump won in 2016 by 12. It’s a district that was gerrymandered “with surgical precision” to favor Republicans, as a special three-judge panel recently wrote.
Or you can say Trump saved Bishop and he’ll boost Republicans in 2020: Bishop won even though he was opposed by a central-casting Democrat, a centrist businessman and Marine veteran who was well-funded and had been campaigning for 27 months. Bishop won, as Trump himself noted, after Trump had a rally in the district the day before the election, made a TV ad for Bishop and turned out his famously loyal base.
Either way, Republicans have little choice next year. Like it or not, they’ve got Trump. They’re like Captain Ahab tethered to a Great Orange Whale.
Democrats, on the other hand, have a choice. Their problem is that Tuesday didn’t make it any clearer what’s the right choice to beat Trump in 2020.
Nominate a Dan McCready-like centrist who can take swing voters from Trump — Joe Biden, for example? Or roll the dice, pick a candidate who risks being tagged a “socialist” and bet on turning out minorities, millennials and new voters looking for someone totally different from Trump?
One millennial Democrat described the choice to me this way: “Do we want a revolution or a restoration?”
Liberal and moderate Democrats were at each other’s throats before Tuesday. The results didn’t resolve the dilemma and debate.
As a former Democratic political consultant, I confess I have no idea what the right choice is. But I can assure you that Democrats are perfectly capable of making exactly the wrong choice, whatever it is.
Here’s a thought to ponder.
Something strange has happened in American politics the last few years. Maybe it started with the 2008 financial meltdown and the recession. Maybe it started on that terrible 9/11 day.
People all over the political spectrum, and from all walks of national life, are angry, disillusioned and anxious. They have lost confidence in politics, politicians and public institutions. They may be doing OK financially or they may be on the brink of bankruptcy, but they’re all uneasy about the economy.
They’re willing to throw the dice. In fact, they already have. They have elected the two most unlikely presidents you could imagine: a cerebral African American man who was serving his first term in the Senate and, then, a flashy promoter and reality TV star who had never served in public office.
Americans rejected the most traditional and respectable candidates you could imagine: John McCain, Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton. In fact, Democrats almost rejected Clinton in 2016 in favor of Bernie Sanders, not even a Democrat, but a “democratic socialist.”
Maybe we want a return to normalcy. Or maybe politics has left the gravitational pull of earth. I wouldn’t bet against anything happening in 2020.
Gary Pearce is a former political consultant who advised Gov. Jim Hunt. He blogs at www.NewDayforNC.com.