Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., was booed in California Saturday for telling liberal activists that “socialism is not the answer” to beating President Donald Trump in 2020.
Speaking to delegates at California’s Democratic Party convention, Hickenlooper warned that pushing the party further left would only hurt their chances with mainstream Americans. Attempting to boost his own electoral appeal, Hickenlooper noted his success as a moderate in the swing state of Colorado, where Hillary Clinton won by nearly 5 percent in 2016.
“If we want to beat Donald Trump and achieve big progressive goals, socialism is not the answer,” Hickenlooper said.
The audience of party loyalists did not like what they were hearing, and they made their feelings loudly known as the candidate tried to finish his remarks.
“I was reelected in a purple state in 2014, one of the worst years for Democrats in a quarter century,” Hickenlooper continued, barely audible over the chorus of boos raining down from the progressive crowd.
Clearly flustered by the response, Hickenlooper changed gears and issued a stern warning to his critics in the audience.
“Ya know, if we’re not careful, we’re going to end up helping to reelect the worst president in American history,” he said.
Hickenlooper, who is polling near the bottom among declared Democratic candidates, had a moderate record as governor of Colorado. With Republicans in control of the state legislature for most of his time in office, he was forced to work across the aisle.
Speaking to The Hill after being rejected by the California delegation, Hickenlooper insisted that his approach is the best path forward for the party ahead of the 2020 election.
“If we don’t draw a clear distinction between Democrats and our candidates and socialism, the Republicans will paint us into a corner that we can’t get out of,” Hickenlooper said. “Massive government expansions may not be strictly speaking socialism, but trust me: Republicans will make it seem like socialism. In places like Ohio and Michigan and North Carolina and Wisconsin, places we have to win to beat Trump, we’ll be starting out ten yards behind.”
“We need to be laser-focused on winning this election, and that’s going to mean focusing on kitchen table programs that will actually improve people’s quality of life,” he added.
Not just John Hickenlooper was booed
However, Hickenlooper wasn’t the only candidate to be admonished at the California Democratic convention. The crowd also Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., for issuing a similar warning about taking the party too far to the left with “Medicare for All.”
“What we need as Democrats is to build an economy that works, but it’s got to be with smart policies. Medicare for all may sound good, but it’s actually not good policy nor is it good politics,” Delaney said as the audience erupted.
Delaney attempted to clarify his position, but like Hickenlooper, he was drowned out.
A red wave?
California is one of the most liberal states in the country. But in some ways, it seems to reflect the Democratic zeitgeist. In a push led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., leading members of the party have embraced policy ideas that would have been unthinkably left-wing just a few years ago.
Republicans have taken note. Trump and others have used the recent turmoil in Venezuela as an occasion to slam socialism and its sympathizers in the Democratic Party. They hope to make the 2020 election a referendum on the failed ideology.