Hot Tip for Democratic Candidates Like Amy McGrath: Stand For Something

Politics Features Amy McGrath
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Hot Tip for Democratic Candidates Like Amy McGrath: Stand For Something

We’ve featured Kentucky U.S. Senate candidate Amy McGrath on Paste before, partly because she’s got an interesting backstory, partly because she makes great commercials, partly because she’s good at fund-raising, and partly because it would be glorious to see Mitch McConnell lose. None of these is a bad reason to like her, and in her previous congressional campaign, she came very close to unseating her Republican opponent.

And yet, we can’t ignore things like this:

This raises the question: What does she actually stand for? (Other than saying she would have confirmed Brett Kavanaugh, that is.)

We don’t mean to pick on McGrath, necessarily, but she’s a fair target in the sense that she belongs to the “run now, find my beliefs later” school of Democratic politics. Her commercials are inspiring in the sense of conveying her background and image in a compelling way, but they don’t mention much in the way of specific policy, and as of Tuesday, there’s no sign of anything substantive on her website. To take one issue at random, let’s look at universal healthcare. Does McGrath believe in single payer? Her last opponent accused her of backing Bernie Sanders’ plan, but McGrath was adamant that she did not. However, what she actually does support is a bit more nebulous, and has evolved from “making the ACA work” to “supporting a public option.” But it’s been a battle to get her to state even that opinion, which is still incredibly vague.

Lately, she’s gone moderate, casting herself as an anti-M4A, not-very-pro-immigrant candidate, signalling that she thinks McConnell is unbeatable from a progressive position. But here’s the thing: McConnell is extremely unbeatable from a moderate position, because centrism has nothing to offer.

That’s the mistake McGrath and others have made: You have to start with principles. That should be the motivation for running. Failing that, you’re just inventing them along the way, and in that case, why should voters trust you? Why, indeed, were you running in the first place? Because you thought your broad profile made you a good candidate? Because you think the Republican is so bad that you’ll win by default?

In 2016, we saw how well a moderate candidate whose main platform was “look at how bad the Republican is!” performed. That candidate, Hillary Clinton, gave us President Trump. Unlike Trump, McConnell is not starting as an underdog. It may be impossible to dethrone him from his perch atop the Senate, but if anyone’s going to do it, it’s going to be someone whose politics are inspirational. The key word there is not “inspirational”—it’s politics.