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When Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., kicked off his 2020 presidential campaign in Brooklyn, N.Y., he noted that his father was a Polish immigrant who fled Europe’s poverty and anti-Semitism. It’s a good thing, said Sanders, because most of his father’s Jewish family was wiped out by Nazis during the Holocaust.
That statement came just days before Sanders was one of at least two other Democratic presidential candidates publicly defending Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., after her series of remarks that many considered anti-Semitic.
Sanders said there’s a difference between criticizing Israeli policy and promoting anti-Semitism—which is true—but Omar’s remarks went beyond policy concerns: In one public setting, the Muslim congresswoman suggested pro-Israeli activists were pushing “for allegiance to a foreign country.”
Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel than to their own nation fits a classic definition of anti-Semitism, according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an organization that includes the United States as a member country.
For a Democratic Party that includes 32 Jewish legislators, as opposed to two Jewish lawmakers on the GOP side, it’s significant its leaders have been so reluctant to call out one of its newest members in Congress on this issue.
But perhaps it’s not surprising given the direction of the Democratic Party ahead of the presidential contests: For Democrats, it appears this election may be more about extremes than the electorate.
In February, when Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., proposed a bill banning infanticide, only three Democrats voted in favor of it. Every Democratic presidential candidate in the U.S. Senate voted against it.
The vote came after New York state passed legislation protecting late-term abortion, and after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam suggested it could be appropriate for a mother and doctor to decide to end a baby’s life after he or she is born.
Over the next month, something remarkable happened: The proportion of Democrats identifying as pro-life went up by 14 percentage points, according to a Marist poll. Whoever Democratic senators were playing to, it wasn’t to an overwhelming number of Americans.
With plenty of moderate and independent voters in the mix in 2020, here’s a mantra worth writing on whiteboards in Democratic campaign headquarters: The electorate often isn’t as extreme as the positions Democrats are pushing.
Failing to recognize that could prove a fatal flaw for Democrats, but it also may provide a natural opening for a more moderate Democratic candidate, even if he or she still might not appeal to most conservatives.
By the end of the week, the House of Representatives did pass a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, along with bigotry against “African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and others.”
It did not mention Omar by name. And despite the events surrounding the congresswoman, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi still claimed: “It’s not about her.”
For Democrats looking to win in 2020, that may be another reminder to jot on the whiteboard.