James Carville thinks his party is losing its mind.
“We got to decide what we want to be,” the longtime Democratic strategist and mastermind of Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory told MSNBC earlier this week. “Do we want to be an ideological cult or do we want to have a majoritarian instinct to be a majority party?”
At the heart of Carville’s critique is the party’s embrace of, in his words, extreme liberal positions like “people voting from jail cells. … We’re talking about not having a border.” (In the Democratic debates, several presidential candidates expressed support for decriminalizing illegal immigration. And at a CNN town hall in the spring of 2019, Sen. Bernie Sanders suggested he might back allowing jailed criminals to vote.)
More broadly, Carville believes his party has gone off the liberal deep end — supporting policies on immigration and health care (among other things) that simply lack the support of a majority of the country.
That criticism is aimed directly at the likes of Sanders, a Vermont independent who, heading into next week’s New Hampshire primary, is one of the favorites to be the Democratic nominee.
“Bernie Sanders isn’t a Democrat,” Carville, who has endorsed the long-shot presidential bid of Colorado’s Sen. Michael Bennet, told Vox in an interview that ran Friday. “He’s never been a Democrat. He’s an ideologue.”
(That sentiment echoes the critique of Sanders offered recently by Hillary Clinton: “Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It’s all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.”)
For supporters of Sanders, attacks from an establishment figure like Carville will come as no surprise — and are likely to further fuel their belief in the rightness of the senator’s cause, and the need to reject calls for moderation and pragmatism.
But what Carville has done — with his viral rant on MSNBC and his follow-up interview with Vox — is frame the choice for Democrats in 2020 better than any candidate.
Are Democrats about purity or pragmatism? Or, in Carville’s words:
“The real argument here is that some people think there’s a real yearning for a left-wing revolution in this country, and if we just appeal to the people who feel that, we’ll grow and excite them and we’ll win. But there’s a word a lot of people hate that I love: politics. It means building coalitions to win elections. It means sometimes having to sit back and listen to what people think and framing your message accordingly.”
The Point: You may not like Carville — or the blunt way he expresses himself. But he’s not wrong. Democrats are at a fork in the road, with two very different paths before them. What path they choose could well determine their chances not just in 2020 but well beyond.
And that wraps up a VERY busy week in 2020.