I'm not sure what's more jaw-dropping -- the disdain Democratic presidential candidates have for rural Americans and their values, or their willingness to make it a centerpiece of their campaign to unseat Donald Trump.
Did they learn nothing from 2016?
Beto O'Rourke's plans to confiscate guns from law-abiding citizens and to put churches out of business, combined with Elizabeth Warren's stinging insult that conservative religious people are too ugly to find a suitable mate, are good reminders that the national Democratic Party has simply abandoned rural and Middle America. The presidential candidates' appearance last week at a CNN town hall tackling LGBTQ issues revealed a serious weakness in Democratic plans to defeat President Donald Trump.
To be fair, these sentiments have been around on the left for quite some time, even if they used to keep it under wraps. When Barack Obama bemoaned "bitter" people "clinging" to guns and religion in 2008, he did so at a private fundraiser in San Francisco. His rival for the nomination, Hillary Clinton, used it against him in fliers and on the stump, saying she was "taken aback" at his "elitist" remarks.
Obama said the quiet part out loud, and Clinton pounced.
But Obama won the war, and Hillary learned her lesson. By 2016, she had gone from defending people in "small-town America" and handing out "I'm not bitter" stickers to calling Trump supporters "deplorable."
And now, in the run-up to the 2020 election, the veil is completely off. The question was simple and so was the answer from O'Rourke, who has little chance to win his party's nomination but has become a suicide bomber for whoever does.
"Do you think religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities -- should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?" asked moderator Don Lemon. O'Rourke didn't hesitate: "Yes."
Say goodbye to your place of worship if Beto gets his way.
Somewhere, a staffer at the Democratic National Committee is wondering: What do we tell African-American church pastors as we try to turn out their congregants? You know, the ones who failed to show up in 2016.
This followed O'Rourke's previous call for mandatory gun confiscation, which, to quote rural philosopher Emmett from the movie "Roadhouse," went over "like an elevator in an outhouse."
Beto's answers on guns and religion weren't all that surprising coming from a thoughtless, skateboarding ne'er-do-well trying to goose a flailing campaign. But the thunderous applause from the studio audiences will ring in the ears of rural voters for quite some time. It's not just Beto -- base Democrats really believe this stuff.
Front-running Elizabeth Warren is no better. The odds-on-favorite to win the nomination took Hillary's "deplorable" quip one step further. Here's NBC News recounting her viral moment:
"Let's say you're on the campaign trail and a supporter approaches you and says, 'Senator, I'm old-fashioned, and my faith teaches me that marriage is between one man and one woman.' What is your response?" asked Morgan Cox, board chairman of the Human Rights Campaign, which co-hosted the event.
"Well, I'm going to assume it's a guy who said that, and I'm going to say, 'Then just marry one woman. I'm cool with that,'" Warren said, to laughs and applause from the audience.
As the clapping subsided, the senator paused before going in for the kill -- "assuming you can find one" -- drawing sustained applause and cheers from the crowd.
It wasn't good enough to stop at "marry one woman." Playing to the audience, she added the final insult -- that people (especially men) with conservative values on traditional marriage are just plain ugly. And this comes from a Democrat who routinely attacks Trump as divisive. What a hypocrite.
But it was an absolutely nuts policy position Warren took that will haunt her in swing states with substantial rural areas. Back in 2012, a more rational Warren, then a candidate for U.S. Senate, did not support using taxpayer dollars to pay for transgender surgeries for prison inmates.
But 2020's version of Warren, further woke and delighted by applause from small crowds locked in television studios, said that now she believes inmates are "entitled" to transgender surgery, at taxpayer expense. Warren perhaps was catching up to former Vice President Joe Biden, who endorsed taxpayer-funded transgender surgeries back in September.
Imagine Democrats going door-to-door in the Pennsylvania countryside next fall on a platform of, "Well, I see that you are too ugly to find a spouse. Anyhow, we are raising your taxes to pay for inmate gender reassignment surgery. Do you have your gun and church directory handy, by the way?"
I hope the applause is satisfying in 2019, because the 2020 electoral results in rural America won't be.
Scott Jennings is a CNN contributor, a former adviser to Republican candidates and causes and a founding partner at RunSwitch Public Relations. He is a 1996 graduate of Dawson Springs High School.