Read: The Democrats are back, and ready to take on Trump
Here’s the political reality. In 2016, Democrats suffered because too many Americans viewed us as the urban-enclave party. I’m a big-city mayor—these are my people. But I’m experienced enough to know that the fate of Democratic candidates in 2020’s nationwide and statewide contests depends on their ability to win the hearts and minds of the new “Metropolitan Majority,” a bloc encompassing both the progressives who came out for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and the swing voters who live in the suburban and exurban communities that recently turned from red to blue.
Republicans understand that. Their strategy over the next two years will be to drive wedges between the urban and suburban voters. Trump will be relentless in using his Twitter feed to paint Democrats as what Stephen Miller called “cosmopolitans”—urban liberals culturally at odds with the nation’s swing voters. No street brawler has ever won an alley fight by responding to every sucker punch. In the same vein, Democrats will need to be as disciplined in their responses as Trump is strategic in each of his provocations.
Democrats’ first step should be to go back and listen to the candidates who won in the places that swung from red to blue, like the areas surrounding cities such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Houston, and Chicago. How did the new Democratic governors of states Trump won manage to turn the tide? They are best poised to point the way forward.
Read: What the midterms say about America’s divide
Take education as a prime example. Suburban and urban voters are united in their concern that their kids’ schools are getting shortchanged and that college students aren’t able to graduate without mountains of debt. That’s a big reason that, in Illinois, Democrats claimed the governor’s mansion, two new congressional seats, and numerous additional state legislative seats two years after making a massive new investment in schools and universities. Democrats need to stand with the teachers, among others, demanding adequate funding for education in states such as West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Colorado. They need to model programs on the successes that Tennessee, Oregon, Rhode Island, New York, and, yes, Chicago have had providing free tuition to community colleges and universities.
Second, on health care, it’s time for Democrats to move their focus from expanding coverage to controlling costs. The Affordable Care Act has done a world of good reducing the legions of American living without insurance and protecting those with preexisting conditions. But even as Trump tries to undermine the ACA, the more than 150 million Americans who rely on private health insurance are struggling with a different set of problems altogether: skyrocketing premiums, fees, and prescription-drug prices. We need to get tough on the pharmaceutical and insurance industries profiting from those hikes and help average Americans manage those costs.