A Historical Look At Whether A Democrat Can Win By Playing To The Progressive Base Featuring Michael KazinHistorians in the News
tags: elections, political history, progressives, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, 2020 Election
The pool of potential candidates to take on President Trump in the 2020 election is split between two types of Democrats.
Progressives like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren tout plans that a few years ago were outside the U.S. political mainstream like “Medicare for All,” while moderate candidates like Joe Biden and Peter Buttigieg favor more middle-leaning stances like Buttigieg’s “Medicare for All Who Want It” plan.
The last time a candidate won the presidency by playing to the progressive part of the Democratic base was former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s reelection in 1964, says Michael Kazin, professor of history at Georgetown University.
“Democrats win by coming up with policies and a message which is popular among not just the base,” he says, “but among independent voters, swing voters as well.”
When it comes to the question of whether moderate or progressive candidates have a better shot at winning the presidency, Kazin says “context matters.”
One important race that Democrats still refer to is when Democratic Sen. George McGovern lost to incumbent President Richard Nixon in 1972.
The Vietnam War was the major issue of the time and McGovern supported pulling out of the country as soon as possible. Activists who supported booming social movements surrounding the rights of the LGBTQ community, women and black Americans supported McGovern, Kazin says.
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