Former President Carter Warns His Party Against Drifting To The Left

Former President Jimmy Carter is warning his party against drifting too far left as we head into the midterms and, beyond that, the 2020 campaign cycle.

Former President Jimmy Carter has a warning for his fellow Democrats, don’t move too far to the left:

Jimmy Carter has issued a warning to his fellow Democrats looking to oust the Trump administration: don’t go too far to the left.

“Independents need to know they can invest their vote in the Democratic party,” the former US president said in an annual address he gives at his post-presidential center and library in Atlanta.

Carter advised caution about the political consequences should Democrats”move to a very liberal program, like universal health care”.

That is delicate and, Carter acknowledged, even contradictory advice coming from the 93-year-old former president, and it underscores the complicated political calculations for Democrats as they prepare for the November midterms and look ahead to the 2020 presidential election.

“Rosie and I voted for Bernie Sanders in the past,” Carter noted.

He was referring to his wife, Rosalynn, and their support for the Vermont senator, the independent who identifies as a Democratic socialist, over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.

In his address on Tuesday, Carter also said he sees little hope for America to change its human rights and environmental policies as long as Donald Trump is in the White House.

He singled out Trump’s policy of separating immigrant families at the border, including those seeking asylum.

“America is inherently committed to human rights, and I think in the future we will let that prevail,” Carter said, “but for the next two years, I can’t predict the imprisoned children are going to be any better off unfortunately.”


Meanwhile Carter stressed that Democrats nationally must “appeal to independents”, who he warned are souring on the current administration.

There is some historical irony in Carter’s analysis. He came to the White House in 1976 from the moderate wing of the Democratic party. He clashed with party liberals and was later unable to win over independents – who voted Republican and helped deliver a landslide victory for Ronald Reagan in 1980.

These remarks come just about a week after the former President said that Democrats should avoid basing the 2018 campaign on impeachment:

WASHINGTON – Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that talking about impeaching President Donald Trump is “the wrong thing for Democrats to do.”

“I don’t talk about impeachment,” the Georgia Democrat told anchor Neil Cavuto in an interview on the Fox Business Network. “I think that’s the wrong thing for Democrats to do.”

Carter was elected president after the Watergate scandal forced former President Richard Nixon to resign rather than face impeachment.

Carter made his comments in response to a question from Cavuto about Democrats “salivating” at their prospects of winning control of the House from Republicans in November. The Fox anchor said that “many” Democrats are talking about impeaching Trump if they gain the majority.

In reality, most Democrats have shied away from the controversial subject this election year while special counsel Robert Mueller continues his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Republicans, however, have been warning voters that Democrats will try to impeach Trump if Democrats wins the majority in the House. But, even if the House were to impeach Trump, he would have to be tried in the Senate. Few analysts believe that Democrats will win control of the Senate this year.

Cavuto also asked Carter about Trump’s claims that the stock market would collapse if Democrats impeached him. Carter expressed skepticism about Trump’s assertion.

“You know, I think the president has much less influence over the economy than is certainly publicized by the president himself,” Carter said. “But whenever the economy goes up, the president always wants to take credit for it. Whenever the economy goes down, the president wants to avoid responsibility. And I think it’s been that way in our country ever since we started.

In evaluating these comments, it’s worth remembering that, Republican rhetoric notwithstanding, Jimmy Carter was not and is not someone who can fairly be said to come from the left-wing of the Democratic Party. When he was nominated in 1976, and before that when he served as Governor of Georgia, he was widely seen as a counter-argument to the forces on the left that had taken over the nomination process in 1972 and led the party to nominate George McGovern. More or less, Carter was a party of the tradition of centrist to somewhat conservative Democrats that came out of the South in the years before the Republican Party completed its takeover of politics in that era. This also comes notwithstanding the fact that he ended up supporting Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Presidential election, a fact that can largely be explained by the fact that Carter had never been an enthusiastic fan of the Clinton wing of the party going back to the years when Bill Clinton was President. To some extent, this explains Carter’s words of warning to his party as they head toward the 2018 midterms and the 2020 Presidential election.

Regardless of what wing of the Democratic Party the former President comes from, though, Democrats would do well to heed his advice both regarding the warning not to drift too far to the left and the warning against concentrating too much on the idea of impeaching President Trump should they gain control of one or both houses of Congress in November. On the first element, Carter’s advice would seem to be axiomatic. If Democrats are going to win in November or beyond, they are going to have to attract voters beyond their base and beyond the vocal elements of the so-called “progressive” wing of the party that seem to be trying to take over party messaging at this point. This means finding a way to have a party that includes candidates such as Doug Jones, Joe Manchin, and Heidi Heitkamp as well as candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Andrew Gillum, and Ayanna Pressley.

On the second point regarding not focusing on impeachment, Carter is correct for two reasons.

First of all, talk of impeachment prior to the midterms is just as likely to stir up enthusiasm among Trump supporters as it is to energize the Democratic base. This could be the difference between winning and losing in marginal districts and states. Instead of focusing on impeachment per se Democrats ought to focus on the fact that the Republicans in Congress have utterly failed in their Constitutional duty to act as a check and balance on the Executive Branch and have instead, with a handful of notable exceptions that mainly consist of Congressman and Senators who are retiring at the end of their terms, acted as political toadies willing to look the other way as this President undermines political norms, attacks freedom of the press and the Rule of Law, and seeks to undermine the investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This is in addition, of course, to running on the issues that they believe will resonate in their particular districts and states, but the overall message ought to be one in which Democrats as a whole focus on the idea of being the kind of check that the Constitution intended for an out-of-control Executive.

The second reason not to concentrate on impeachment as a campaign message is the fact that, ultimately, it’s not likely to result in Trump’s removal from office. Obviously, if Democrats win control of the House they will have enough votes to approve Articles of Impeachment against the President, but that’s as far as it’s likely to get. Even if Democrats do win back control of the Senate, they aren’t going to have enough votes to convict and remove the President. For that to happen, they’d need the support of up to a dozen Republican Senators, and that’s unlikely to happen absent clear and convincing evidence of laws having been broken that makes it impossible for the GOP to deny reality. As a result, we’d end up with the same situation we saw with the impeachments of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, an acquitted President who would likely take the result of any Senate trial as vindication and victory. Heck, it could even mean to the public rallying behind the President just as we head into the 2020 election cycle. At that point, Democrats will have to deal with both a failed effort at impeachment and a disappointed base that very well could take their frustrations out on their own party.

Will Democrats listen to Carter? That remains to be seen, but they’d be wise to do so.

FILED UNDER: 2018 Election, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. JKB says:

    I’m fair certain this needs an edit, not only in the title. Trump may move left but it will be to claim ground abandoned by Democrats.

    On the second point regarding not focusing on impeachment, Trump is correct for two reasons.

    I believe that “Carter” was the intended president cited.

  2. @JKB:

    You will note that the post title has been corrected. And, yes, that needs to be fixed.

  3. Gustopher says:

    Carter advised caution about the political consequences should Democrats”move to a very liberal program, like universal health care”.

    Well, ObamaCare was supposed to move us towards Universal Health Care, but didn’t do enough to control prices. So, I’m guessing that Carter is referring to Medicare For All.

    And if so, I think Carter is completely wrong. Dealing with and paying for health insurance is a massive hassle for small businesses (and large), and it’s a huge drain on economic growth. And everyone who has health insurance knows the costs are rising unsustainably.

    From a policy standpoint, we have to do something different. Single payer should be on the table — not necessarily the solution, but a possibility.

    From a political standpoint, MediCare For All is probably the best phrasing that keeps that on the table. Old people like their Medicare, and when it is inevitably referred to as Socialism (like any Democratic Plan would be), people reflect on MediCare and say “well, we like MediCare… that’s not so bad, we can accept a little socialism I guess.”

    Or we can just lie and pretend market fairies will make healthcare affordable if you can sell junk policies across state lines and limit malpractice awards. We really need to be better at calling out the lies.

  4. Mister Bluster says:

    …a question from Cavuto about Democrats “salivating” at their prospects of winning control of the House from Republicans in November.

    Blow it out your barracks bag Neil!
    That’s nothing compared to Trump’s Toadies as they slither about drooling and attempt to comply with their Supreme Leader’s Prime Directive “Grab them by the puzzy!”

  5. James Pearce says:

    Great piece, echoes a lot of my own thoughts. (This is a surprise, no doubt, to the OTB commentariat.)

    they are going to have to attract voters beyond their base

    I wish there was more interest in that, but where is the accommodation for non-base views? We live in a “Never Trump” era and there is zero accommodation, even for heretics like me.

    Instead the focus is on motivating a deflated base. What about the swing voter?

  6. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    If the Democrats really need advice such as this, they simply don’t deserve to win. I don’t know why Doug keeps riding this “peril of progressives” horse that he’s on either. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking to reinforce his former “there are no reasons to vote for Democrats” position.

  7. Jay L Gischer says:

    I really love Carter, he’s the best ex-president we’ve ever had.

    @Gustopher: I think you’re actually making the case for universal health care that an independent needs. There’s a whole pragmatic side to this: We already pay a lot for health care, we’re really only talking about reorganizing how we pay for it. It’s not like anyone thinks the way we do it is good, or convenient. It just sort of limps along.

    Also, I think there aren’t that big of policy differences, they are more like branding differences. For instance, Ayana Pressley admitted that on policy, she and Capuano weren’t really very far apart at all, though she is labelled as a lot more “liberal”. But we can change branding from one seat to another.

  8. Matt says:

    Universal healthcare is one of the few things that some of my rightwing friends can agree with me on politically… Several voted Trump because “what do I have to lose” and they hate Hillary for no logical reason. When you ask for an explanation all you get are bullshit talking points. The most intelligent one wanted to vote for bernie but voted for Trump instead and is an avid fan of info wars (apparently he just finds conspiracy theories fun). Just a tiny sampling of my area. I’m sure some of them would turn against universal healthcare if the Democrats actually picked it up as a platform..

  9. Kylopod says:

    I happen to like Carter a lot on a personal level, but it’s important to keep in mind that he was a proto-DLC president, the first Democrat of the modern era to really move the party toward economically centrist positions. He is not that different from Bill Clinton in that respect.

  10. grumpy realist says:

    @Jay L Gischer: One thing we really need to do across the board is make health care costs transparent across the board. There are too many cases where people are told they need surgery and when they ask “how much it will cost” the result is “I dunno.” And nobody knows until after the operation, where your predicted $6K suddenly turns into $116K because of some random decision by your health insurance company.

    We should force hospitals to make all costs public, available, and insist that the same charges should apply to activity paid by insurance companies and similar activity paid by people without insurance.

    (Still paying off a medical bill from earlier this year, grr.)

  11. JKB says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    It was just funny. I clicked over here right after reading about Feinstein’s yellow journalism gambit with the “secret” letter. And there’s Carter speaking of “his president”.

    I assume your day job was busy and it was a quick posting. Happens.

  12. Tyrell says:

    Jimmy Carter has served this nation well as Governor of Georgia, and President. He is a good person, a Navy man*. His presidency came at a time of economic difficulties that would take years to correct. He would also have the Iran fiasco to deal with. His opinions on the current, disturbing trend of the Democratic party are certainly valid and timely. The party is in full retreat from its centrist, working people philosophy of the past. The party that I remember grew up with: it dominated the southern political landscape.
    In the past several years, the party has moved decidedly left on issues and behaviors. In the last few years, more socialists and extreme leftists have come out of the woodwork (UC Berkeley?). Among their proposals are guaranteed income, abolish ICE, no borders, free college education, more sanctuary cities, and staggering tax rates. They oppose any nationalism and favor a type of one world government, with free enterprise, capitalism abolished. Some of the Bill of Rights would simply go by the wayside.
    Carter has distinguished himself in the last several years by helping others in the Habitat for Humanity projects: real service, not a photo op. He has resisted getting involved in partisan politics and stayed above the fray. He even offered to help President Trump. This sort of “roll up your sleeves’, can do attitude is a thing of the past.
    Carter comes from a time when our leaders were statesmen.
    * It would seem to me that it would be better for our country if our presidents had military service.

  13. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Tyrell: Well, you and I certainly share an admiration for Carter. And I think it’s fair to characterize Democrats with the policy ideas you mention, such as guaranteed basic income (Did you know Alaska already has this?), free college, and sanctuary cities. I think many of these ideas are misunderstood, perhaps mischaracterized, by political opponents. But they are ideas that are floating around.

    I do not, though, think it’s fair to characterize the Democratic party with a small group of violent extremists any more than I think it’s fair to characterize the Republican party with people like Dylan Roof or Timothy McVeigh.

    And yeah, I think that rich people – and I mean the 1 percent and the 0.1 percent – should pay more taxes. It’s fair at that level.

  14. Kari Q says:

    This means finding a way to have a party that includes candidates such as Doug Jones, Joe Manchin, and Heidi Heitkamp as well as candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Andrew Gillum, and Ayanna Pressley.

    All those people are Democrats. Democrats aren’t talking about impeachment.

    Mission accomplished.

  15. gVOR08 says:

    The middle and lower classes in this country really are getting screwed. All the benefits of increased productivity and “free” trade are being sucked up by the .01% and the finance industry. Trump was right to pitch a populist line. Of course he was a Republican so he was lying, but we do need some genuine populism. Our “elites” are a problem, and are mostly Republicans. I don’t see why the Ds shouldn’t get in anti-elite, populist game. They can do it honestly.

  16. Gustopher says:

    @grumpy realist: The costs in hospitals are complicated — it can roughly be expressed as the following equation:

    Billed-cost = Actual-cost * (1 / probability-of-payment)

    So, if there is an 80% likelihood of payment for some class, the billed-cost has to be 25% higher than the actual cost. People without insurance are very likely to not be able to pay, so they have to soak the ones that can.

    Requiring a single price would raise the prices for the insured. It would be incredibly disruptive, and would likely create all sorts of insane perverse incentives — possibly leading to something like the hospitals not taking insurance at all. I’m fundamentally conservative — in the good meaning of conservative, the risk-averse and cautious conservative — so I would be wary of that.

    I do think putting a maximum spread, and leaving it pretty wide, could be a good reform. And then we can tighten that spread gradually if needed, and can see the problems it causes and address them before they are huge.

    A really good reform would be to require doctors who operate out of the hospital to accept payment terms agreed to by the hospital — this would cut the surprise when your anesthesiologist is not covered by your insurance, and you get a huge bill afterwards.

  17. gVOR08 says:

    @Kari Q: Thank you. Somebody needed to say that. The scary leftward rush by Dems is largely a creation of the supposedly liberal MSN who need a narrative of conflict. And Dems are avoiding talking of impeachment. No need. It’s out there.

  18. Yank says:

    Jimmy Carter is a good man, but his political instincts have always been crap. It is one reason why he only served one-term.

    Democrats should definitely champion universal coverage, which doesn’t mean single payer. That is one way to achieve the goal, but it is not the only way.

  19. Mike Schilling says:

    that makes it impossible for the GOP to deny reality.

    There is no such thing