The past few weeks have put on remarkable display just how far to the left the Democratic Party has moved, with many in the 2020 presidential field now embracing previously untouchable positions on health care and immigration.
Democrats once touted their defense of those with preexisting conditions — a stance supported by the vast majority of Americans — but many leading presidential candidates now support ending the private insurance coverage on which most of the country relies. Democrats used to focus almost exclusively on reuniting migrant children and their families and protecting undocumented immigrants brought here by their parents; now many of the candidates are openly espousing making illegal border crossing a civil offense rather than a criminal one.
The high-profile shifts on issues that voters say they care about most mark a risky gambit by many candidates to tap into new energy in the party’s liberal base, the home of some of its loudest voices in the primary season. But it is triggering new worry that it comes at a cost: confirming Republican arguments that Democrats are far out of the mainstream, a threatening posture when moderate suburban voters have been the linchpin to winning general elections and down-ballot races.
“Donald Trump, you can see it in his face. He thinks the game is coming to him. You can see it in his face every day,” said Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), a presidential candidate who has argued forcefully for more centrist policies.
Bennet is particularly alarmed by the shift on health care. Among the top four Democrats as measured in national polls, only one — former vice president Joe Biden — has vocally opposed ending private insurance in favor of a government-run plan. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) plans to defend his Medicare-for-all plan in a major speech this week.
“If we nominate someone that is for that plan, we will not win the presidency, and we will have no hope of winning a majority in the Senate,” Bennet said. “We should be on offense on health care. But if we’re going to go into this election talking about taking away [employer-based] health insurance for 180 million people, I guarantee we will be on defense.”
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