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1 big thing: A new liberalism rises

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

President Trump redefined mainstream conservatism. Now, a cast of rising Democratic stars and 2020 candidates are redefining mainstream liberalism.

What's happening: You see it in many of the major domestic debates of our times.

  • Support for a big government "Green New Deal" to fight climate change. Watch the 2020 candidates jump on this bandwagon. 
  • Support for Medicare for All, calling for a much bigger government role in health care, beyond the Affordable Care Act.
  • A rush away from tough-on-security as crucial to immigration reform, which until recently was seen by most Democrats as essential to not looking soft on crime or terrorism.

In all three cases, these topics are shaping up as the new litmus tests for liberal activists heading into 2020.

  • Why it matters: These ideas and their champions are coming to the fore at a moment when there are real opportunities to begin to realize them.

You can see this shift in one important number: the number of Democrats proudly calling themselves liberal.

  • Gallup said yesterday that 51% of Democrats self-describe as liberal, a new high "following gradual increases since the 1990s."
  • In 1992, when Clinton first won, 25% self-identified as liberal, 25% as conservative and the rest as moderate.
  • And across the spectrum, the country's traditional lean in favor of conservatives has narrowed: 35% of Americans told Gallup they're conservative, 35% moderate and 26% liberal.

Jon Favreau, the former Obama adviser and now Pod Save America star, said people "want ideas that are commensurate with the size of the challenges we’re facing."

  • "No more incrementalism. No more warmed-over white paper bullshit. It’s go big or go home."
  • "When I was working on ''The Wilderness' [documentary], I spoke to Obama-Trump voters and Obama voters who didn’t vote in '16, and both groups were highly favorable toward ideas like Medicare for All, big infrastructure spending, and a $15 minimum wage."

Matt Bennett of Third Way, who is a leading Democratic centrist thinker, disagrees: "The far left is trying to redefine mainstream liberalism. But so far, there’s plenty of evidence that they aren’t succeeding."

  • He argues liberals had a bumpy 2018 election, are struggling to get Medicare for All to catch on, and show no signs of lifting far-left candidates like Bernie Sanders beyond single digits in polls.

Be smart: The momentum — online, on cable, among donors, with newly elected Democrats and among the early 2020 crop — is clearly with the new, more unabashed liberals.Go deeper: