Here's my plan for Democrats to beat Donald Trump: Try having fewer plans


I'm looking for a Democratic presidential candidate who has a three-part plan. First, defeat Donald Trump. Second, take control of the Senate. Third, if time permits, consider making more plans.

Sen. Kamala Harris of California recently announced a new health care plan. Former Vice President Joe Biden has a plan to "Defeat the National Rifle Association." New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker's "Plan for America" includes "end homelessness." Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has a plan to invest $2 trillion in "green research" and a plan to revive rural areas like, say, Iowa.

Warren tops the list. Her overarching plan is apparently to have more plans than anyone else. A policy wonk by nature, her website says the word "plan" more than it does "Warren." Her campaign sells T-shirts that say, "Warren has a plan for that."

Earlier in the campaign, while Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont were furiously releasing plans, other candidates, notably Pete Buttigieg, spoke in broader, less detailed terms. The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, spent much time on the trail introducing himself to voters while generalizing about issues. Critics were quick to cite his lack of full-blown plans.

Let's reconsider this plan thing

Before long, Buttigieg and Harris - who also started slowly with specifics - were issuing plans left and right (actually, just left). Harris now has a wide variety of semihatched plans, such as giving every school teacher an average pay raise of $13,500 a year.

Maybe it's time to take a breath and mull this whole "I have a plan" thing.

Voters need to know candidates' positions on important issues, their basic values and experience. They don't expect them to have everything figured out before Election Day. In fact, even after taking office, presidents don't have all the answers. They point the way, wrangle with Congress, take executive action on pressing matters, and deal with the unexpected. Rarely, if ever, do they manage to implement dozens of sweeping plans - especially complex legislative ones - authored during the campaign.

In the latest CNN debate, a few candidates began pooh-poohing the planners: "You can't just spring a plan on the world and expect it to succeed," warned former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. And Montana Gov. Steve Bullock scolded his opponents for inventing "plans that are written for press releases."

How to beat Trump: Democrats had a winning 2018 playbook. They should use it to beat Donald Trump in 2020.

This year's plethora of plans is due in part to the number of Democrats seeking the nomination, coupled with the fact that all 24 of them agree on the broad strokes of progressiveness. One way to stand out, they apparently believe, is to announce big plans.

Trying to be the anti-Trump

But another reason for the emphasis on planning is to provide a counterpoint to Donald Trump, who won in 2016 despite having basically no plans whatsoever. Trump had a few proposals like "lowering taxes," which benefited from being vague. Imagine if he had released a detailed tax plan revealing that the wealthy would reap most benefits.

Rather than getting bogged down with plans, Trump went for slick slogans: "Build the wall," "lock her up" and, of course, the most vacuous of all, "Make America Great Again." Alas, it worked. The devil might have been in the details - so Trump shrewdly didn't provide any.

No-apologies Republican: I'm telling Democrats how to beat Trump. It's Job One so get over it.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota recently released her "100 plans in 100 days" plan. Some of it is inspired, but parts float between wishy and washy, such as: "Propose landmark legislation that drives our changing economy forward." Another: "End illegal robocalls." Klobuchar even has a plan that involves making a plan: "Make a plan to connect every household to the internet by 2022." And my favorite Klobuchar plan: Permit the indictment of a sitting president.

Biden's website has so many plans that one section is called "Latest Plans." It includes, for example, a plan to "invest $1 billion per year in juvenile justice reform." Is that really a plan or just a very nice thought? Biden explains that he will "push" Congress to act.

Candidates need a vision

And that's where the best laid plans of presidential candidates usually break down. A president needs support in Congress and sometimes, as President Barack Obama discovered, even that isn't enough.

The campaign thus far has been heavy on plans but thin on uplifting oratory. It's fine to counter Trump with detailed proposals, but the Democratic candidate who ultimately breaks through in 2020 will be the one who supplements all that with a vision. It's what I believe Americans are thirsting for.

Peter Funt is a writer and host of "Candid Camera."

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2020 Democrats need more vision, less talk about plans to beat Trump.


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