A Republican friend of mine was down in the dumps after the 2008 election. Democrats had won the White House, both houses of Congress and, in North Carolina, the U.S. Senate race, the governor’s office (for the fifth straight election) and both houses of the legislature.

My friend feared for his party’s future. “Don’t worry,” I assured him. “We Democrats will screw it up.”

Sure enough, in 2010, Democrats suffered devastating defeats up and down the ballot.

I’m reminded of that experience today as Democrats celebrate polls showing President Trump’s approval ratings falling and support for his impeachment rising.

There are two big reasons Democrats shouldn’t get too cocky. The first is the economy. The second is the party’s uncertain search for a candidate who can beat Trump.

As James Carville said, it’s always the economy, stupid.

Americans are upbeat, if anxious, about the economy. One poll suggests that Americans have more confidence in Trump’s ability to handle the economy than a Democrat’s.

An October 6-8 Internet Economist/YouGov poll of 1,500 people (including 1,241 registered voters) found that:

■ By 61-39, people say the news about the economy is positive.

■ While Trump’s overall approval rating is under water (43-49 negative), his handling of the economy gets a 47-42 positive rating.

■ If Trump is re-elected, 33 percent think the economy will get better and 37, worse. That’s not great, but only 29 percent think the economy will get better if a Democrat wins; 39 percent say it will get worse.

Which Democrat Can Beat Trump?

The recent 12-candidate Democratic debate showed how split the party is on a presidential nominee. The big split is between moderates and progressives, and there are divisions over race and age.

Elizabeth Warren’s surge in the polls worries moderate Democrats. In the Economist/YouGov poll, 42 percent of people said Democrats are “too liberal.” Only 34 percent said Republicans are too conservative.

That’s why the moderates on the stage — Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg — targeted Warren. They said Medicare for All would cost too much, take away people’s insurance and scare away swing voters.

Bernie Sanders might be over his heart attack, but he gave some Democrats a heart attack when he said out loud what Warren wouldn’t say: Taxes will go up to pay for Medicare for All, although he claimed that premiums, co-pays and, thus, total costs would go down.

Klobuchar and Buttigieg clearly think Joe Biden is fading, thanks to his shaky debate performances and the Hunter Biden questions. They calculate that the moderate lane to the nomination is opening up to an alternative. But the Democratic Party’s debate rules kept other moderates — Steve Bullock, Michael Bennett and John Delaney — off the stage.

Then there’s race. Barack Obama won the presidency twice by turbocharging minority turnout. But neither Kamala Harris nor Cory Booker are winning strong support.

Obama also energized young people. Can a 70-year-old-plus nominee do that? At the other extreme, is America ready for a 37-year-old — and gay — President Pete?

Trump’s At His Best One-on-One

Here’s what will likely happen now: The House will impeach Trump. The Senate will acquit him. Trump will claim victory. And he will end up in a head-to-head, WWE-style mudwrestling death match with one Democrat.

It won’t be Trump against “somebody else.” It will be Trump against somebody. He’ll do just what he did against Hillary Clinton in 2016. He won’t try to build up his numbers. He’ll try to tear down his opponent’s.

And Trump is good in that wrestling ring.

Gary Pearce is a former political consultant and frequent Pilot contributor. He was an adviser to Governor Jim Hunt, 1976-1984 and 1992-2000.

(7) comments

Mark Hayes

Suggested reading, article by Margot Sanger-Katz, Elizabeth Warrens " Medicare For All Math ".

Conrad Meyer

Thanks for sharing that comedy piece. I did the simple math on what we know so far which is a no-go. $52 trillion over 10 years. 329 million citizens. That equates to nearly $16,000 per person per year for the next decade.

Mark Hayes

Yep, I got a laugh out of it, glad you did.

Kent Misegades

The election is already over. Trump continues to deliver on his campaign promises, the best way to get re-elected. The only question is whether he will win the electoral college in all 50 states.

Jim Tomashoff

I offered Kent a wager. He has effectively turned it down. Trump, inmate of the year, 2021!!

Jim Tomashoff

All good points Mr. Pearce. But Trump's behavior/rhetoric is going to become increasingly psychotic as the Impeachment process continues. He's a wounded cornered animal and the danger he poses to our domestic tranquility and national security will increase proportionally. That will scare away all but his base, and his base is already showing some signs of being reduced. And, by the way, Sanders is probably correct, taxes will go up, but the total amount individuals and families will spend on health insurance will go down and there will be no more annual deductions that need to be meet before insurance kicks-in. Moreover, no one is going to have to choose between sending a child to college or paying for the costs of a serious illness. No one will have to worry about the impact of an accident or serious illness, such as cancer, on the financial condition of a family. What is the "value" of having that piece of mind?

Ed Pieczynski

Our current Medicare costs are not sustainable and you think we can expand to everyone? Let's drop the rhetoric of your taxes will go up but you'll actually save money. Let's see Sanders actual numbers. The Sanders plan has significantly lower reimbursement rates to doctors and hospitals. His plan WILL result in hospital closures and fewer practicing physicians.

No country in the world has a system where all private insurance is eliminated and almost all countries have some charges for drugs, dental and other ancillary services.

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