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Best in the Big Tent: July 2023
No Labels labeled a spoiler, Democrats pivot to the middle, and more.
Here’s our roundup of the best big-tent stories from the month of July…
No Labels Labeled a Spoiler
One of the surest signs that your third-party bid for president is a spoiler is when the candidate to whom it would tip the election views your effort as being likely to benefit him.
That’s precisely what Jonathan Martin insinuated last week in POLITICO:
One person who clearly grasps this is named Donald J. Trump. That’s partly why, I’m told, he made clear to Representative Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) that he would not endorse Mooney’s Senate candidacy. Trump knows that Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) would much rather run against the hardline Mooney than Gov. Jim Justice next year. If Justice appears to be the certain GOP Senate nominee, by this logic, it’s more probable Manchin would run for president and potentially siphon votes from Biden.
For the many other reasons to be skeptical of No Labels, check out Third Way’s analysis here. By now, it is well understood from the left to the right that No Labels is paving the path for Trump’s return to the White House. There’s a reason only one side is pushing back.
Democrats Pivot to the Middle
Mainstream moderates continue to leverage their better-than-the party’s brand to win the middle. That starts at the top of the 2024 ticket, where — despite his low overall approval — The Liberal Patriot notes that Biden’s centrist brand may be his saving grace:
Biden himself enjoys a 10-point advantage over Trump in terms of which leader is closer to voters on ‘being culturally moderate and not extreme’ (45 percent to 35 percent, from the split sample test of leaders alone). In the end, Biden’s personal brand compared to Trump’s may be his saving grace.
Meanwhile, as Jennifer Rubin writes in The Washington Post, Two women — Democrats, centrists, national security experts — aim higher:
[Abigail] Spanberger and [Elissa] Slotkin, models for fellow Democrats worried about losing the heartland and/or working-class White voters, refute the GOP talking point that Democrats are a bunch of socialists. At a time when deep tribalism pervades politics and the Republican Party has descended into reactionary nationalism, these are the sort of politicians (akin to Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana) who can appeal to Democrats, independents and the kind of normal Republicans whom defeated and indicted former president Donald Trump alienated.
As we celebrated earlier this month, the market is finally moving to recognize that once-upon-a-time “likely Republican” seats CO-03 and CA-41 are, in fact, quite flippable — and that moderate leaders like Adam Frisch and Will Rollins are the candidates who can do it:
On Thursday, Cook Political Report moved two race ratings from “Lean Republican” to the “Toss Up” column. The changing political forecasts in the districts — CA-41 and CO-03, WelcomePAC’s inaugural House targets — tell us a lot about the political marketplace: it is still broken, but there is a clear playbook to fixing it…
DailyKos’ new House fundraising roundup shows Adam Frisch (CO-3) and Will Rollins (CA-41) raised the most money out of all Democratic challengers. The financial market has corrected — and so have the ratings agencies.
At the same time, the insurgent far-left that sprung out of Bernie’s 2016 campaign (and hasn’t flipped a single seat from red to blue in its entire history) is in retreat. We wrote about layoffs at Justice Democrats last week — and The Huffington Post’s Daniel Marans has a deep-dive on the predicament facing the broader far-left ecosystem:
The newer crop of insurgent progressive groups, which lack the same levels of support from big donors, have sustained a proportionally even bigger hit: The Sunrise Movement, a climate action group closely aligned with Justice Democrats that was influential in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, began laying off 35% of its 100-person staff in April 2022. And Middle Seat, the digital fundraising firm behind many progressive success stories, laid off about one-third of its staff earlier this year, though it has grown its workforce since then.
The battle for democracy will take place in the hearts and minds of swing voters across the country. The candidates who know how to win these voters are now having their moment.
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Tweet of the Month
Mainstreaming the Mainstream
Check out highlights from the past month in essential big-tent outlets.
But first, the Best of the Rest
Men are lost. Here’s a map out of the wilderness. by Christine Emba in The Washington Post:
If the right has overcorrected to an old-fashioned (and somewhat hostile) vision of masculinity, many progressives have ignored the opportunity to sell men on a better vision of what they can be.
Democrats and Republicans Are Living in Different Worlds by Tom Edsall in The New York Times:
If Joe Biden and the Democratic Party allow the turnout patterns of 2022 to define turnout in 2024, Biden will lose, and Republicans will be odds-on favorites to control the House and Senate. Trump is a master of turnout. In large part because of Trump, voter turnout in 2020 — measured as a percentage of the voting-eligible population — was the highest in 120 years, at 66.7 percent.
We fixed I-95 in 12 days. Here are our lessons for U.S. infrastructure. by Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro in The Washington Post:
Today it often seems like every project — big or small — gets mired in a slog of reviews, permits and delays. This saps our innovative spirit, reduces citizens’ trust that government can get things done and ultimately slows our progress as a nation… After a critical stretch of Interstate 95 — one of the nation’s busiest highways — collapsed in Philadelphia in June, experts told me it would take months to get traffic flowing again. Instead, state and local leaders and project managers on the ground made decisions quickly, thought creatively and worked together to rebuild and reopen the highway in just 12 days. The playbook we developed shows that Americans can do big things again.
Best of The Liberal Patriot
A Lot of Voters Who Dislike Trump Dislike Biden Too by Ruy Teixeira:
These “double haters” at this point seem to lean toward Biden. But closer scrutiny of this group, afforded by a 6,000 person survey from the Survey Center on American Life (SCAL), suggests Democrats’ hold on this group is not at all secure. First, while the SCAL survey also finds that double haters lean toward Biden against Trump, a matchup of Biden against DeSantis finds the same group leaning toward DeSantis and even more heavily. So the Biden support here is quite soft.
Politics Isn’t Life by John Halpin:
Around three in 10 voters say they have posted about politics on social media—the highest ranked activity of the bunch. Roughly one fifth of voters say they have contacted an elected official and slightly less than one fifth have donated to a candidate or party. Activities that require some physical presence in politics—like volunteering for a party or candidate, attending a rally or protest, or attending a town hall—are undertaken by very small percentages of Americans.
The Damaged Brands of America’s Two Political Parties by John Halpin:
These findings should serve as a wake-up call to the two major parties. American voters by-and-large think that both Democrats and Republicans have become too ideologically extreme for their tastes. Yet the current dynamics within both parties suggest that left- and right-wing factions will continue to hold sway over party brands—to their mutual detriment. As mentioned in an earlier post, the saving grace for Democrats in the 2024 cycle is that President Biden currently outperforms both his party and Donald Trump on several key dimensions—most importantly, on perceptions of which leader is closer to voters in terms of “being culturally moderate and not extreme…”
The Democratic Party Left vs. the Center by Ruy Teixeira:
Cultural leftism not only does not represent the views of most voters; it also doesn’t represent the views of vast segments of the very party—the Democrats—that is now identified with promulgating said cultural leftism. This is not how a big tent party should act. Many Democratic politicians appear to believe they can get away with indulging, if not promoting, such cultural leftism because Trump and the Republicans are so terrible. This is short-sighted. The best and surest way to beat Trump and Trumpism is to embrace the electoral center of the country (not to mention the views of tens of millions of their own partisans) and assure these voters that Democrats are their party and not beholden to an aggressive leftist minority in their own ranks.
Best of Slow Boring
How critical theory is radicalizing high school debate by Maya Bodnick:
When debaters reject the topic and advocate for these critical theories, they choose not to engage in pragmatic policy discussions. Instead, they condemn American institutions and society as rotten to the core. They conclude that reform is hopeless and the only solution is to burn it all down… High school debate has become an activity that incentivizes students to advocate for nihilist accelerationism in order to win rounds. It’s the type of logic that leads young people to label both parties as equally bad and to disengage from electoral politics.
Biden made the right call on Willow by Matt Yglesias:
One strain of electoral conventional wisdom holds that candidates need to pander to the base in order to win primaries, but we see over and over again — John McCain in 2008, Mitt Romney in 2012, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016, Joe Biden in 2020 — that relatively moderate candidates beat more extreme alternatives in primaries. The subset of people who regularly vote is more polarized than the public as a whole, and the people who vote in primaries are more polarized than the general electorate. But donors, activists, writers, intellectuals, and people who post about politics on Twitter are all even more polarized than primary voters. Both money and media hype are, of course, important for a successful campaign, so it’s not totally crazy that DeSantis is courting people who wish Trump were more extreme.
Best of The Bulwark
Joe Manchin Is Attacking Democrats As If He’s a Republican by Jill Lawrence:
Manchin does support many Democratic nominees and policies, and they are central to last year’s Inflation Reduction Act. But when he was asked at the No Labels town hall if he’s a Democrat or Republican, he replied, to laughter: “I’m the most independent Democrat you’ve ever met.” Running against your own party is a tried and true tactic for politicians in precarious states or districts. When vulnerable House Democrats would attack then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the campaign trail, her response was classic realpolitik: “Just win, baby.”
What an Undecided Trump-Biden Voter Sounds Like by Rich Thau and Matt Steffee:
The overwhelming majority of Trump-to-Biden voters we focus group monthly for the Swing Voter Project, as well as those we interviewed in May with the Washington Post, do not want either Donald Trump or Joe Biden as their choices in 2024. But if they had to select one of these two unappealing options, most would swallow hard and take four more years of Biden over four more years of Trump. Then there is a much smaller percentage who’d take Trump back—mainly in hope of an economy better than the current one. And then, beyond them, there is an even tinier minority who truly struggle to make up their minds.
It Wouldn’t Take Much for a Third-Party Candidate to Give Trump a 2024 Win by Mona Charen with Bill Galston and Damon Linker:
There’s an asymmetry between the two political parties. Put very simply, the Republicans are a much more uniformly conservative party than the Democrats are uniformly a liberal party. You ask Republicans for their ideological self-identification, about three quarters of them say that they’re either conservative or very conservative, and about a quarter admit to being either moderate or liberal. For the Democrats, it’s about 50 percent who call themselves liberal or very liberal, and the remaining half of the party thinks of itself as moderate or conservative. There are simply more center-leaning fish in the Democratic pond than there are in the Republican pond. And other things being equal, a centrist, independent candidacy is bound to have more appeal to more Democrats than to Republicans.
No Labels? No Ideas. by Dennis Aftergut:
No Labels calls its platform “Common Sense,” but Tom Paine, who authored the original anti-British pamphlet with that title, must be looking for an air-sickness bag in his grave as he rolls over in it. His revolutionary tract did not equivocate or indulge in bothsidesism…. In sharp contrast, this new document is a manifesto of the mealy-mouthed. Instead of acknowledging that one of our two political parties is directly challenging the democracy upon which our freedom stands, No Labels acts as if all will be well if we just vote for a sensible third-party candidate in the middle of the road. But the problem with their 2024 brand of being in the middle of the road, to adapt the old saying, is that we’re the ones who’ll likely end up roadkill.
Best of The Welcome Party
The Democrats' Elite Progressive Staffer Problem by Lauren Harper:
Being a well-educated progressive is not the issue. The problem arises when campaign staff, who are crucial in the fight for democracy, let their uncompromisingly progressive orientations get in the way of their ability to connect with and win over critical voters in the middle. Many progressives have mistakenly allowed their preferences to get in the way of how a candidate speaks to voters and about issues. Let’s all begin to realize that true “wokeness” is waking up to the reality that no one outside of DC talks about the issues that way.
American politics is plagued by many problems. Polarization is bad, and our system of electing candidates is imperfect. But cynicism and electoral reform are not the only paths. We are simply Conceding Democracy in more than a dozen potentially winnable congressional districts at a time when control of the House is decided by less than half that margin. There are more CO-03s and CA-41s out there. The road connecting “Safe Republican” to “Toss-Up” is shorter than you think.
The path forward in the Biden era will run through a big-tent movement capable of welcoming voters in and winning swing seats. The far-left isn’t doing that — and never was. Groups like Justice Democrats had a few high-profile wins in a handful of deep-blue districts — and an abysmal track record in swing districts. But they’ve peaked, and it’s now the middle’s turn. There’s a lot the center can learn from the far-left’s rise and fall. As we said back in March of last year, it’s “time for the center-left to have its own big five year run.”
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