I was at a friend’s daughter’s confirmation party in eastern Long Island, N.Y. The family Volvo and the Tesla bore Bernie Sanders stickers, one from 2016 and the other from 2020. “The thing about Trump . . .” I began, and the father interrupted me: “. . . he’s not all bad, right?” he said. “I actually like some of the things he’s doing.” He mentioned North Korea and trade protectionism. He cast his eyes about, worried about being overheard.
My friend didn’t vote for Donald Trump and doesn’t intend to in 2020. But he doesn’t despise the president nearly as much as he—being a leftie—is supposed to. I hear that from a lot of my fellow progressives.
.. Centrists who supported Hillary Clinton go crazy when Mr. Trump tweets. His gleefully crass style drives them bonkers. His contempt for identity politics appalls them. Many progressives, on the other hand, are primarily motivated by economic and class justice.
.. That isn’t to say that the Bernie Sanders people approve of family separation or pretending that police brutality isn’t real. But left populists are not entirely unsympathetic to economic nationalism or stronger border controls. For them, American workers come first, and Donald Trump is the first (far less than perfect) president in most people’s lifetimes to walk that talk.
.. And the senator observed last year that Mr. Trump has “very strong political instincts” and knows how to “connect with people.”
.. party leaders will have to face an uncomfortable truth. For a lot of lefties, Trump hatred won’t be enough to get them to vote. They just aren’t that not into him.
.. If Democrats want a united front against the Republican, they’ll have to acknowledge that Mr. Trump has re-created the Reagan Democrat phenomenon among the white working class and its allies. They’ll have to do something to keep the populist left inside the tent.
.. Mr. Trump isn’t the president progressives would have chosen, but his appropriation of policies previously championed only by Mr. Sanders may prove to be a neat trick. He may neutralize enough of the Democrats’ left flank that he won’t be despised enough, by enough of the Democratic electorate, to bring about a wave election.