Republicans have a very simple strategy for 2020: Sit back and watch Democrats go crazy. And so far, Democrats are sticking to the GOP’s preferred script.
Monday night at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH, several of the 2020 Democrats offered moments straight from a Karl Rove script on “Stuff Democrats say to help elect Republicans.”
For example, Sen. Bernie Sanders reiterated his longstanding support for allowing criminals to vote while still in prison–including, he acknowledged, Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. It’s all part of what Sanders says is “creating a vibrant democracy.”
Of course there’s nothing special about Tsarnaev other than the emotional reaction his name is likely to evoke in New England. Sanders would have given the same answer about Charles Manson, the Unabomber or Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz.
“Even if they are in jail, they’re paying their price to society, but that should not take away their inherent American right to participate in our Democracy,” Sanders told the St. Anselm crowd.
Oddly, despite having seen Sanders flopperoo performance, Sen. Kamala Harris appeared at the same event later in the same evening and flubbed the same question. Instead of saying “Of course a terrorist who murdered people in the Boston Marathon shouldn’t be voting. He shouldn’t be breathing,” the former California prosecutor offered what is becoming her signature line: “I think we should have that conversation,” Harris responded.
In New Hampshire, as in 13 other states, felons are eligible to vote once they’ve been released from incarceration. In 22 states, felons are denied the franchise until they’ve finished their entire sentence, including parole, probation, the paying of fines, etc.
But only two states–Vermont and Maine–let prisoners vote from behind bars, in large part because Americans hate the idea. A HuffPo/YouGov poll from last year found just 24 percent of Americans agree with Sanders’ position–and that’s without the “terrorist bomber” element added. In fact, a plurality of Americans (43 percent) say criminals who commit serious crimes should never be allowed to vote, as opposed to those who believe even these criminals should eventually have their voting rights restored (41 percent).
The policy itself isn’t the Democrats’ problem, however. There’s a message Sanders sends that’s broader than this very specific issue, in the same way that Mike Dukakis utterly mishandled the death penalty question in 1988. It wasn’t just that Dukakis opposed executing someone who had (theoretically) raped and killed his wife. It was the dispassionate tone, the “well, let me give you a textbook answer completely disconnected from the realities of the situation” answer.
That was Bernie Sanders. Where was the outrage over the Marathon bomber or sex offenders’ crimes?
Sanders and Harris helped feed a broader narrative that, in the era of AOC, Democrats are A-OK with any idea, no matter how extreme.
Packing the Supreme Court? Sure! Eliminating the Electoral College? Why not? A 70 percent tax rate? Go for it! Free college tuition, free health care and free daycare? Yes, absolutely and “you betcha!”
Individually these ideas may be good or they may be bad. No doubt that one by one they are intellectually defensible. But if the average American hears the message that being a Democrat means you’re for wholesale, radical change including letting terrorists vote but criminalizing cheeseburgers, and they’re likely to reject the party as a whole.
Which is precisely what Republicans have been hoping for all along.