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Best in the Big Tent: January 2023
Shakeup in the smaller moderate caucus, moderation beats extremism, and more.
Tons of good reading on issues facing the center-left last month. Links below, with two newsy items to start.
1. Shakeup in the smaller moderate caucus
From Politico, a schism in the centrist Blue Dog Caucus:
Seven of the 15 members expected to join the Blue Dogs this year, including Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), are departing after a heated disagreement over a potential name change for the moderate bloc. For now that’s left the Blue Dogs with seven, all male members — their smallest roster in nearly three decades of existence. One freshman member remains undecided.
The breakup unfolded as a result of disagreement over the caucus’ brand identity:
At the core of some of the breakaway Blue Dogs’ demands was a rechristening as the Common Sense Coalition that, they argued, would have helped shed the group’s reputation as a socially moderate, Southern “boys’ club.” Blue Dogs have long stood for fiscal responsibility and national security, issues with broad Democratic appeal, but some members felt the name had a negative connotation that kept their colleagues from joining. A majority of other members disagreed, saying they saw no reason to toss out a longstanding legacy.
The large ideological-ish caucuses for Democrats are the Progressives and moderate NewDems, with ~100 members each. There is some overlap (also with the ~20 Democratic members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers).
2. Mainstream > Extreme
New deep-dive from the data wonks at Split Ticket: Electability, Ideology, and the 2022 midterms. The aforementioned Progressive and moderate NewDem caucuses are too large to make any inferences. But it is not surprising that who the biggest over-performers are (Republicans with bipartisan bona fides), nor shocking that the biggest underperformers are the Squad and the “MAGA Squad”.
As we’ve seen, last cycle’s swing seat overperformers were brand-differentiated, mainstream candidates who went out of their way to welcome disaffected moderates and persuadable Republicans into their big tents.
As the Split Ticket team notes, the takeaway here is straightforward: moderation overperforms while extremism underperforms.
Tweet(s) of the month
Mainstreaming the Mainstream
Below are highlights from the past month in essential big tent outlets.
But first, here are the best of the rest:
Democrats: Don’t let the GOP own patriotism by Aliza Astrow and Rachel Reh in The Hill:
The strongest Democratic communicators recognize the need to reclaim patriotic values from conservatives. President Obama was known for his speeches on American exceptionalism. President Biden has tied his administration’s accomplishments to patriotism and living up to our nation’s ideals… At a moment when the voices on the right are working harder than ever to jeopardize America’s greatness, Democrats have an opportunity to convince voters that we hold patriotic values and are offering them a brighter future.
Matt Bennett on The Democrats’ Image Problem with Yascha Mounk in Persuasion:
Fundamentally, the reason that the red wave didn't materialize was because, in almost every case of a swing district or state, the mainstream candidate beat the extreme candidate—or candidates that were perceived to be mainstream beat those perceived to be extreme. Again, it didn't hold everywhere. There are plenty of exceptions. But on the whole, broadly speaking, that's where people went. [Republicans] were extreme and we weren't.
Biden must lead on police reform by Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post:
Democrats should not be ensnared in a fake debate about “defunding” the police. Instead, they should defend funding the best practices of police. Police departments that employ violence-reduction techniques should get the benefits of federal funding and other protections.
How Much Longer Can ‘Vote Blue No Matter Who!’ Last? by Thomas Edsall:
Ryan Enos, a political scientist at Harvard, emailed to say, “If you’re a Democrat, you might worry that the coalition is not stable.”
Over the long haul, Enos wrote: College-educated whites, especially those with higher incomes, are not clear coalitional partners for anyone — they don’t favor economic policies, such as increasing housing supply or even higher taxes on the rich, that are beneficial to the working class, of any race. And many college-educated whites are motivated by social issues that are also not largely supported by the working class, of any race. It’s not clear that, with their current ideological positions, socially liberal and economically centrist or rightist college-educated whites are natural coalition partners with anybody but themselves.
Enos went so far as to challenge the depth of elite support for a liberal agenda: My sense is that much of the college-educated liberal political rhetoric is focused on social signaling to satisfy their own psychological needs and improve their social standing with other college-educated liberals, rather than policies that would actually reduce racial gaps in economic well-being, civil rights protections and other quality of life issues.
How Democrats got sidetracked in their swing state of the future by Elena Schneider with Rep. Wiley Nickel in Politico:
“There’s a vast group of voters in the middle, and they don’t want people on the far right and they don’t want people on the far left,” said Nickel, who won an evenly divided congressional seat against former President Donald Trump-endorsed Republican Bo Hines. “Anyone who watched our race knows that we were running against extremism in both parties and on the issues that mattered to most folks in the middle.”
Moderate voters matter with Matt Grossman and Anthony Fowler in the Niskanen Center’s Science of Politics Podcast:
It turns out that the vast majority of people do have opinions that are well summarized by a single ideological dimension. Something like three quarters of survey respondents are well summarized by that one dimension. And if we look at their ideological scores, they look more or less like a normal distribution with most people close to the middle. And so the conclusion is that most Americans do have a coherent ideology, it’s well summarized by a single dimension, and most of them are in the middle.
Best of The Liberal Patriot
The Democrats’ Nonwhite Working Class Problem by Ruy Teixeira:
AP/NORC VoteCast estimates the decline in Democrats’ advantage among the nonwhite working class as 14 points between 2020 and 2022, 23 points between 2018 and 2022 and (splicing in some Catalist data, which are consistent with VoteCast data where they overlap) an astonishing 33 point drop between 2012 and 2022.
The 4 Types of Independents by John Halpin:
Independents, on the other hand, mostly believe that both Democrats and Republicans need more moderates: 54 percent of independents feel that Democrats need more moderate candidates while 49 percent of independents feel the same way about Republicans. The remaining half of independents split roughly between those who believe that the parties do not need more moderate candidates and those who don’t know.
The Case for Climate Pragmatism by Ruy Teixiera:
What voters overwhelmingly do want is an all of the above strategy that pushes forward renewables while continuing to use a mix of energy sources including fossil fuels. In this case, what voters want corresponds to the most practical course in pursuing a clean energy transition while assuring a reliable and secure supply of cheap energy. To go against this approach, as urged by climate activists, is to accentuate the Great Divide between postindustrial metros and middle America, between Democratic elites and the working class.
The Disaffected and Disengaged Independents by John Halpin:
Figure out what “moderate” means to this disparate pool of independent voters—e.g. moderate may imply a sentiment or personal trait desired in candidates, or it could imply a way of approaching politics with specific positions that blend traditional liberal and conservative ways of thinking—and deliver more of it.
“More moderation, less extremism” is a simple recipe for increased electoral fortunes among independents.
Best of Slow Boring
Joe Biden's conditional optimism about America by Matt Yglesias:
[Biden] needs to be more present in our lives. More outspokenly normal, and more encouraging of other people to be more outspoken about their normal views. I continue to think that in important ways, the peak of Biden’s political appeal came before he wrapped up the Democratic nomination, when his fundraising was bad and his staff was small and the “Joe Biden” brand was dominated by Joe Biden rather than by his merger into the generalized goo of progressive politics.
Who is included by "inclusive" language? by Matt Yglesias:
Elite institutions and codes of manners are not egalitarian, not just because manners are insufficient but because their purpose is to be inegalitarian. Changing “field” into “practicum” doesn’t include more people — it’s a new means of excluding people whose information is out of date.
Best of The Bulwark
The Rationale Behind South Carolina Becoming the First Dem Primary by Theodore Johnson:
A better way to get a feel for whom Democratic voters want as their nominee is to present the question to a better representative sample of those voters. For the last thirty years, the Democratic presidential candidate who won black voters ultimately won the party nomination. In particular, the preference of black Southern voters, who tend to be older and more pragmatic in their voting choices, has proven prescient.
Moderate Democrats Are the Future of the Party by Jill Lawrence:
The most successful messages in tight races often are boring, as writer Matt Yglesias put it in a recent analysis. I’d add that they’re also basic. The progressive firm Data for Progress makes these points repeatedly in an extensive study of what worked in tight races last year. The top five persuasive messages out of 135 studied came from at-risk Democratic Senate candidates who won.
The Democrats’ Senate Map of Doom by Amanda Carpenter:
In 2024, nearly half of the Democratic caucus—23 senators—is up for re-election. Of those, 8 are considered vulnerable: 5 in battleground states (Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia) and the other 3 in solidly red states (Ohio, Montana, West Virginia). Republicans, on the other hand, have only 11 senators up for re-election in the 2024 cycle, and all of them represent states Trump won in 2020.
Exclusive Bulwark Poll: Most Republicans Want to Move on from Trump by Sarah Longwell:
Since the 2022 midterm elections, I’ve been doing a lot of focus groups with people who voted for Trump in both 2016 and 2020. Very few participants want Trump to run in 2024. “Too much baggage,” is the phrase I hear over and over again. It’s not that they dislike Trump—they simply don’t think he can win. And they’re in the process of shopping around for someone who can. The vast majority of these focus group participants like DeSantis, whom they routinely describe as “Trump without the baggage.”
Finally, the best of The Welcome Party
If Democrats had managed to flip or hold, say, just two more seats, they could be in serious negotiations with the two remaining Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump and moderates like Rep. Don Bacon (who won a district that broke handily for Joe Biden in 2020) to form a coalition majority… And if Democrats had managed to flip or hold a mere five more seats… they could have avoided such negotiations entirely and Hakeem Jeffries would have simply taken the Speaker’s gavel this week.
In Harrisburg and Columbus, Republicans had the majority of votes in the chamber but moderate leverage came from outside the GOP caucus and iced out the extreme right. In DC, bipartisan moderates did not wave the white flag — they didn’t show up to the battle at all.
The reality is that pragmatic political practitioners do spend time “punching left” — but such criticism is usually rooted in an authentic, reality-based view of policy and politics. When those on the center-left critique the far-left, they do so with a focus on effective government, winning power — and, yes, political reality in the bothsidesism-infested media environment.
Most concerningly, the far-left has taken to downplaying their abysmal performance record in swing races. 2022 marked the third cycle of Justice Democrats and Our Revolution — and the third cycle in which they were unable to flip any seats from red to blue… This is empirical electoral reality, but the far-left has not taken kindly to it.
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