- The Washington Times
Monday, May 11, 2020

The chief of the brain trust behind Pete Buttigieg’s rise to political stardom is warning the Democratic Party not to get caught up in “Trump derangement syndrome” or risk handing President Trump a second term in November.

Lis Smith, a senior adviser to Mr. Buttigieg’s 2020 campaign, said Monday that presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden’s path to the White House hinges on his ability to provide a positive alternative vision, not waiting on Mr. Trump to destroy himself.

“I think it is completely wishful thinking to think that he will self-destruct and that we can just run against Trump and Trumpism,” Ms. Smith said in a Politico Playbook virtual interview.

She said the many Democrats who flipped House seats in 2018 — including Reps. Andrew Kim of New Jersey, Colin Allred of Texas and Lauren Underwood of Illinois — provided blueprints for how Mr. Biden can run and win over voters in battleground districts.

“There are not the AOC or Rashida Talib types,” she said, alluding to New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her Michigan ally.

Ms. Smith said the swing-district winners from 2018 made it clear they opposed Mr. Trump but did not let their campaign become defined by the unbridled hatred of Mr. Trump that conservatives dismiss as “Trump derangement syndrome.”

Instead, they kept focused on ways the Democratic Party can improve people’s lives.

“They were not yelling and screaming from the rafters about how Donald Trump was a tyrant or whatever it is,” she said. “They offered an alternative view for the Democratic Party — you know, holding up how we could improve health care and making sure they did have a positive and permanent vision for the country.”

Mr. Biden is trying to strike a balance between pleasing far-left activists without turning off voters living in the suburbs who are looking for an alternative to Mr. Trump’s unconventional approach to governing and no-holds-barred style of campaigning.

Mr. Biden leads Mr. Trump in national polls and most battleground state surveys.

Ms. Smith said the party cannot rest on its laurels, noting that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the preferred pick of voters around this time four years ago.

Mr. Biden on Monday wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post that said Mr. Trump’s pledge that “anybody that wants a test can get a test” has proven to be a bald-faced lie.

“The administration is fully aware that this is the right path, too — after all, the president and his staff are now reportedly receiving daily tests,” wrote Mr. Biden. “They knew exactly how to make the Oval Office safe and operational, and they put in the work to do it.

“They just haven’t put in that same work for the rest of us,” he said. “If Trump and his team understand how critical testing is to their safety — and they seem to, given their own behavior — why are they insisting that it’s unnecessary for the American people?”

John Couvillon, a pollster, said Mr. Biden has more room to expand his support by reaching out to independents and moderate voters than he does wooing the party’s activist base.

“What Joe Biden has to do is kind of further reinforce that he is not a partisan Democrat and that he is a viable alternative to Donald Trump,” he said.

Mr. Couvillon is looking to Mr. Biden’s selection of his running mate for clues about whether he is more concerned about pandering to his base or rallying anti-Trump voters who helped Democrats carry swing districts in 2018.

“The reality is given that opinions are as strong as they are about President Trump, there is a very little incremental benefit to be gained from joining in the criticism of him unless that criticism is couched in terms of how Joe Biden would have handled this crisis differently and handle others aspects Trump presidency in a different way,” he said.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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