In about 30 seconds, one man in Iowa exposed a major weakness in the Democratic Party’s 2020 strategy. It’s a weakness, but it’s also a blindspot.
After a Monday town hall in Grimes, population 13,562, a father confronted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in a photo line. Warren, it should be noted, touts a higher education proposal that “cancels $50,000 in student loan debt for every person with household income under $100,000,” paid for by her 2 percent annual “Ultra-Millionaire Tax” on families worth $50 million and more.
“My daughter is getting out of school. I’ve saved all my money. She doesn’t have any student loans. Am I going to get my money back?” the man asked Warren, who breezily replied, “Of course not.”
“So you’re going to pay for people who didn’t save any money and those of us who did the right thing get screwed,” he continued. When Warren sought to protest that characterization, he kept going. “My buddy had fun, bought a car, went on vacations. I saved my money. He made more than I did. But I worked a double shift, worked extra. My daughter worked since she was 10. So, you’re laughing.”
“We did the right thing and we get screwed,” he told the senator before walking away.
The man’s frustrations are extremely resonant, and will be extremely useful as Republicans make their case in 2020. Wiping out debt is an easy sell in a far left primary being covered by a broadly liberal media. But there’s a dark side to redistributive policies that Democrats will ultimately struggle to counter, particularly with key constituencies in key states–and Republicans know it. As Warren’s stammering response in Grimes suggests, Democrats aren’t entirely prepared to reassure skeptics.
Follow the logic of the father in Iowa: I paid into the system, I did things the right way, and my tax money is going to people who went on vacations instead of working double shifts. Warren’s loan bailout plan isn’t exactly the National Health Service, but it hits the same nerve.
Some people have student loan debt because of bad decisions, some do not have student loan debt because of good decisions. Warren pledges to begin the debt cancellation process through administrative authority “on day one” of her presidency. That would be before any “Ultra-Millionaire Tax” was seriously considered by Congress, meaning the cancellation would not actually be funded by the super rich unless such legislation passed.
Even if that happened, the government would still be rewarding those borrowers in debt for the wrong reasons while the people who picked up double shifts worked that much harder to get nothing from the pool of taxpayer money. In effect, the government would be retroactively covering up to $50,000 of an individual’s education costs, which non-debt holders paid on their own.
It all strikes people as unfair, and the same dynamic is at play in plenty of the other big government policy proposals on the Democratic table in 2020. With liberal audiences, and many in the media, “universal” everything sounds compassionate and plays well. In a general election, it will give Republicans cause to use the “socialism” label, which the party sees as a powerful weapon.
I asked RNC spokesman Steve Guest about Warren’s dust-up in Grimes. Pay attention to the messaging. “From top to bottom, 2020 Democrats are pushing a far-left agenda that will raise your taxes and destroy your job if you’re in an industry they don’t like, all while increasing government control over your daily life,” he said. “The American people will reject these socialist policies of the Democrat Party in 2020 and re-elect President Trump.”
If you’ve seen GOP leaders seek to tie Democrats to socialism lately, it’s because a) the party and its policies have genuinely shifted very far to the left and b) because they know it generally helps Republicans in the binary. They’ve already seen it move the needle.