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Best in the Big Tent: July 2022
The real math on moderation — and volatility on the rise in Georgia.
July was a big month for moderates. Here are the highlights:
1. Moderate Math: It’s not enough for Democrats to meet voters where they are physically — they must also meet them ideologically.
Moderation isn’t just style, it’s also substance.
WelcomePAC co-founder Lauren Harper was on the record in The Bulwark this week debunking a misleading story from the far-left “that suggests to progressives that they don’t have to make hard choices when trying to win swing districts”.
Here’s the Real Math on Moderation, often overlooked by too many in the mainstream media in favor of a glossy narrative of far-left ascendency:
“Research demonstrates that moderates do better and are more popular than extreme and ideological candidates. The record of the past few years drives that point home: Justice Democrats and Our Revolution, organizations that have been stalwarts of the progressive left’s post-2016 insurgency, have supported more than 100 candidates since 2018 but have yet to flip a single swing district. In fact, the four Justice Democrats-backed candidates who won in 2018 (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar) did so in such dark-blue strongholds that Joe Biden carried their districts two years later with more than 73 percent of the vote. When it comes to which kinds of candidates win the critical races that decide who controls the government and protects democracy, the progressive left lacks any electoral evidence to point to.”
As Lauren points out, savvy red-district moderates like Jared Golden know how to overcome the Democratic Party’s brand problem. It’s time for more candidates on the front lines of the battle for our democracy to follow suit:
“Those trying to win rural swing districts (and even some districts that lean Republican) and save our democracy would be wise to take a page out of the Joe Manchin playbook: Cultivate a differentiated brand that stands apart from the Democratic party’s toxic cable-news caricature.”
2. Moderates Making News: The importance of a revitalized moderate faction of the Democratic Party is now front-page news.
The New York Times and The Economist blared the alarm in a timely pair of high-profile cover stories.
Jason Zengerle’s deep dive into “The Vanishing Moderate Democrat” frames the problem as one of perception: why does it seem like the moderates are all but extinct — especially given how popular their positions are? The piece is chock-full of good examples of the party’s brand problem:
“‘My own mother-in-law, a Republican, believes I’m some sort of unicorn because I can put sentences together and I’m not rabid and left-leaning,’ says Chrissy Houlahan, a moderate Democratic congresswoman who represents a swing district in the swing state of Pennsylvania. ‘I believe the national Democratic Party is where I am. I don’t believe that the way people perceive the national Democratic Party is where I am.’”
The Economist moves a step further, not merely acknowledging the party’s brand problem but calling on the Democrats to rein in their out-of-touch activist wing — for the sake of the country:
“It is not enough for Democrats to bemoan Republican disinformation. They need to counter the idea that they themselves are in thrall to their own extremes.”
3. Moderate Voters Flexing: Independents in Georgia are preparing to cast split tickets.
Despite living in one of the most intense partisan battlegrounds in the country, a growing number of Georgia voters appear set to split their tickets between Republican Brian Kemp for Governor and Democrat Raphael Warnock for Senate this fall.
As Ben Kamisar and Aili Hou report for NBC News, a recent AARP poll found that the rise in split-ticketing is driven disproportionately by independents:
“With Kemp and Walker both winning more than 90% of Republican voters and Abrams and Warnock winning at least 95% of Democratic voters, pollster Bob Ward told reporters Thursday that one key to understanding the difference between the two races lies with independent voters — Kemp has a 14% advantage with those voters (54% to 40%) while Warnock has a 3% point advantage (48% to 45%).”
As Greg Bluestein explains in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, these split-ticket dynamics are consistent across the board:
“Public polling averages… indicate the governor is outperforming Walker by about 4 percentage points — and that Warnock is garnering more support than Abrams by roughly the same margin.”
We have made the case that increased polarization at the partisan fringes makes volatility among less-polarized voters in the middle the defining feature of modern politics. Nowhere is the importance of those depolarized swing voters more evident than in states like Georgia, where split-ticket voters may keep a Republican in the state capital and return a Democrat to DC.
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Tweet 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…
“Schultz, a midwestern guy from Parma, Ohio, understood that the gaffes were part of Biden’s working class appeal—and he believes that the president would be better suited if his team leaned into his charm rather than frantically cleaning up after him.” Tara Palmeri in Puck: Biden’s Advance Man on 2024 and Beyond
“The Democratic Party’s moderates often grasp the abstract value of moderation but have trouble translating it into practical terms.” Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine: The Democratic Party Needs Better Moderates
“Democrats should stress the clash in outlook between the large majority of rational, respectful voters and the delusional MAGA camp. Now is no time to mince words: The current GOP is nuts and unfit to govern.” Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post: MAGA Republicans don’t speak for America. So Democrats should.
“Democrat Tim Ryan is using his big fundraising advantage over Republican J.D. Vance in Ohio's Senate race to define himself as conservative-friendly through TV ads targeting GOP audiences — while Vance's campaign remains silent.” Josh Kraushaar in Axios: Tim Ryan's Ohio ad play: Run to the right
“Despite President Biden’s dismal approval ratings, high inflation and unforgiving historical patterns, Rosenberg says, his party is still very competitive in this fall’s midterm elections.” Greg Sargent in The Washington Post on Simon Rosenberg of New Democrat Network: Meet the lonely Democrat who thinks his party can win in 2022
“Casting himself as an ‘Obama-Baker’ centrist (Charlie Baker is the well-liked Republican governor of Massachusetts for whom Auchincloss had worked), Auchincloss managed to emerge from an eight-candidate Democratic primary that included one opponent endorsed by progressive star Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Bostonian. He did so by running to the center in a district famously (if not always accurately) regarded as among the most liberal in the country.” Alexander Nazaryan in Yahoo! News: Biden's young defender Rep. Jake Auchincloss wants Democrats to fight for their president
Best of The Liberal Patriot…
“It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Democrats’ emphasis on social and democracy issues, while catnip to some socially liberal, educated voters, leaves many working class and Hispanic voters cold.” Ruy Teixeira argues Working Class and Hispanic Voters Are Losing Interest in the Party of Abortion, Gun Control and the January 6th Hearings.
“America has a catharsis culture problem: our fixation on expressing various emotions is crowding out our ability to think clearly and rationally.” Brian Katulis breaks down America’s Catharsis Culture Problem.
“To even get in the door for working class voters to seriously consider their economic pitch, Democrats need to convince these voters that they are not looked down on, their concerns are taken seriously and their views on culturally-freighted issues will not be summarily dismissed as unenlightened.” Ruy Teixeira asks Could “Inclusive Populism” Solve the Democrats’ Working Class Voter Problem?
Best of Slow Boring…
“The 2016 presidential election was obviously an important moment in American history. But one important aspect that I think remains somewhat under-discussed is that the cycle, starting with the primary campaign, put the Democratic Party into a kind of wormhole of misperception that it has been struggling ever since to come out from.” Matt Yglesias explains how Hillary Clinton unleashed the Great Awokening.
“There’s no formal mechanism through which America’s loosely defined political parties can do priority setting. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible… Part of building a more broadly appealing coalition is going to be rebuilding the muscle that knows how to set priorities.” Matt Yglesias on the merits of a "narrow target" campaign.
Best of The Bulwark…
“The hard facts of the case are clear: In general, moderates who can distance themselves from the Democratic party’s far-left national brand tend to do better in swing states than progressives who run toward it.” Lauren Harper with The Real Math on Moderation.
“If there is a GOP wave, it will be the result of a refusal of Democratic voters to turn out. An energized Democratic coalition can break the wave, mitigate losses, and reduce the number of seats Republicans were certain they would win before June changed the dynamics of the campaign.” A.B. Stoddard asks Can Democrats Find Their Fear and Rage?
“Democrats need to be the party that defends America, while working to improve America.” Bill Kristol asks Who Will Both Defend and Reform Our Democracy?
“Since he became president, he staffed up in many ways in many different levels with people who are significantly not particularly moderate and not particularly attuned to the median voter and have their own particular activist priorities—which has had a big effect, I think, on the image and the practices of his administration.” Mona Charen with Ruy Teixeira discuss Why Biden Is Flailing.
Finally, the best of The Welcome Party…
Newly-released campaign finance data shows Democrats underinvesting in potentially competitive swing districts and giving anti-democracy Republicans a free pass this fall. Are Democrats Conceding Democracy?
The media rewards outrage and despair — and the ratings agencies feed it. But don’t buy it: there's too little focus on potential upsides for Democrats this fall. Democrats Aren’t As Screwed As You Think.
The history of the modern center-left shows what a successful intervention can do to transform the party. Moderates Are Back on the Front Page.
Subscribe to The Welcome Party for more big tent analysis and perspective.