Sometimes it’s hard to avoid the impression that the left’s intellectual leaders resent Donald Trump for stealing their act. In the estimation of some, it was Donald Trump’s embrace of center-left economic populism that convinced enough voters to look past his unsavory comments about Gold Star families, Mexican judges, and former beauty pageant contestants. That self-congratulatory line of thought is evident in the latest column from the New York Times’s David Leonhardt. According to Leonhardt, the ideological-purity contests and divisive social issues that consume the activist left are anathema to the Democratic Party’s candidates. For Democratic politicians with skin in the game, he declares, theirs is the “smart” kind of populism.
The sum of Leonhardt’s thesis is that Democratic candidates, ranging from Georgia’s gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams to Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb, eschew the divisive politics of the blogosphere. They don’t even talk much about Trump, save for the occasional condemnatory aside. Instead, they’ve focused on left-of-center economic issues. He cites candidates in West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky to reinforce his point. Pragmatic populism, he contends, is the new Democratic vogue.