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Best in the Big Tent: May 2022
In the primaries: Mainstream candidates win in Ohio and beyond, savvy Democrats switch ballots in Georgia, and donors continue to misallocate their resources.
This week marks six months since we started publishing this newsletter each Sunday. What started as a structured way for The Welcome Party team and friends to reflect on our learnings each weekend has grown to more than 850 readers — and we’re receiving increasing feedback on both content and structure.
One request has been to beef up the Big Tent 101 that we originally shared in January as a “draft syllabus for a crash course in our political reality”. This orientation has continued each week in the form of our “Sunday Reading in the Big Tent” suggestions.
Below is our inaugural monthly “Best in the Big Tent” aggregation: a Big Tent 101 recap for May’s most important stories informing a path forward for the center-left. This month’s edition features the most compelling reads on one major issue, but the essential reading from core big tent outlets such as The Liberal Patriot, The Bulwark, and Slow Boring (all of which you should subscribe to!).
A Big Tent View of the Primaries
A dozen states had primaries in May, including Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Ohio. Here are our top takeaways:
1. Starting with Ohio, most primaries provided “a sigh of relief for Democrats who worry about centrist liberalism”
Would-be Squad member Nina Turner was defeated by Rep. Shontel Brown in a rematch of last summer’s special election pitting Whip Jim Clyburn and the moderates against Bernie Sanders, AOC, and the far-left. While the Big Tent Democrats paying close attention may have been breathing easier, this race — along with other major wins for moderates — attracted far less media attention than a scattering of far-left primary wins.
It is true that two of the centrist “Unbreakable Nine” Democrats — who called to split the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill from the rest of Build Back Better — lost primaries. But beware misleading narratives of a progressive resurgence (such as this one in The Intercept) — behind the handful of stories you’ll see about progressives trouncing the center are moderate victories such as these:
Valerie Foushee defeated Nida Allam in NC-4
Val Hoyle defeated Doyle Canning in OR-4
Morgan McGarvey defeated Attica Scott in KY-3
Jeff Jackson won the Dem nomination in NC-14
Don Davis defeated Erica Smith in NC-1
And though the race remains close and is likely headed for a recount, Rep. Henry Cuellar has declared victory against another would-be Squad member who ran against an incumbent Democrat for the 2nd time.
As Third Way’s Matt Bennett has noted, it would take 45 years for the Squad to reach the same size (at its current rate of growth) as the moderate New Democrat caucus. This month’s primaries confirmed that day is not getting any closer.
2. Georgia shows Trump can lose primaries, and Democrats show signs of savvy
Donald Trump (mostly) didn’t get his way in Georgia, and strategic primary voting from Democrats may have played a role as there were an unusually high number of Democrat-to-Republican crossover primary voters in the state this year.
“More than 27,000 of those [Georgia Republican primary] voters, nearly 6 percent, voted in the Democratic primary in 2020 — this is higher than the usual number of crossover voters, who made up around 3 percent of the primary electorate in 2016 and 2018. It’s unclear whether those voters were former Republicans who were alienated by the party in 2020 and are now returning or whether these are Democratic voters who want to support the non-Trump-endorsed candidates in the Republican primary.”
As Jonathan Robinson and Sean Trende wrote in The Atlantic last week, When Your Vote Doesn’t Matter, Try Switching Ballots:
“Most Republicans still prefer centrist Democrats to hard-core progressives, and most Democrats still prefer centrist Republicans to hard-core conservatives. If more voters saw that primary party-switching could work in their interest—under certain conditions—the result in the aggregate would be to help restore a more centrist leadership in Washington, and perhaps even make government functional again.”
Emma Hurt’s reporting for Axios brings at least some clarity to these Georgia primary ballot switchers:
“Most readers [who declared their intentions to vote in the other party’s primary in Georgia] who responded to us said they are moderate Democrats or Republicans who started voting Democratic in the Donald Trump era. Almost all said they pulled the Republican ticket to make sure Trump-backed candidates stay off the general election ballot… Several of you cited the absence of high profile contested Democratic primaries as another reason for the decision.”
Combined with Utah Democrats standing down to support Evan McMullin’s independent bid for US Senate, Democrats appear to be getting savvier both as voters and institutions.
And in National Journal, Josh Kraushaar rattles off Trump’s losses and wonders whether his relatively poor performance last week offers a glimmer of hope for what remains of the Reasonable Right.
Here’s what’s certain: Smarter Democrats + The Reasonable Right = Good Things!
Unfortunately, however, it seems the true Republican base remains under Trump’s spell. When it comes to the party’s primaries, it’s important to keep in mind Sarah Longwell’s recent analysis of the dynamics in most intra-GOP contests:
“Even those [Republican primary candidates] who didn’t win [Trump’s] endorsement still mention him constantly. Mr. Trump might not have endorsed them, but they all endorse him.”
3. Democratic donors continue to misallocate their resources
Last week, Marcus Flowers won his Georgia primary to take on Marjorie Taylor Greene in November. Flowers has raised millions of dollars despite the fact that there’s no Democratic pathway to victory in his district — and despite the fact that the majority of the money raised gets recycled back through Facebook ads and fundraising consultants. WelcomePAC co-founder Lauren Harper was quoted in The Washington Post calling for Democrats to make smarter investments:
“Lauren Harper, a co-founder of the Welcome PAC, an organization that promotes a ‘big-tent’ Democratic Party, said Democrats should train resources on competitive races. ‘We can’t just focus our energy on the people who are driving us bananas,’ she said. ‘It’s a matter of us not using our money as wisely as we could.’”
Tweet of the Month
Mainstreaming the Mainstream
Below are highlights from the past month in the most essential big tent outlets.
But first, here’s the Best of the Rest:
Micah Sifry with Eitan Hersh in The Connector: If Politics is Your Hobby Horse, You're Riding to Nowhere
Burgess Everett with Michael Bennett in POLITICO: In Colorado, Bennet braces for another red wave
Matthew Thomas in Vulgar Marxism: Professional Losers: The Transformation of the Democratic Electorate
Ben Dreyfuss in Good Faith: Progressives Need To Stop Obsessing About What To Name Things
Best of Slow Boring
“There's no cheat code that lets you do politics in a way that is detached from the contours of public opinion, including the reality that self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals by a large margin.” Matt Yglesias breaks down what the Clinton-era Democratic Leadership Council got wrong — and right.
The Republican Party has moved to the right in recent years — and the Democratic Party has moved to the left. Matt Yglesias and Milan Singh how the Democratic Party’s platform has changed since 2012 (spoiler: a lot).
It’s a lot easier to message on popular policies than it is on unpopular ones. Matt Yglesias on how the most important part of "messaging" is picking defensible policies.
Best of The Liberal Patriot
Democrats would be mistaken to write off their own shortcomings in the name of hatred and bigotry from the other side. Ruy Teixeira on the “Mallory McMorrow Fallacy”.
The far-left refuses to “base its political approach on the actually-existing opinions and values of actually-existing American voters,” entertaining fantasies instead. Ruy Teixeira on the electoral bankruptcy of the Democratic Party’s left flank.
Best of The Bulwark
MAGA extremists are running in critical (but unsexy) down ballot races across the country. Mona Charen with a reminder that there are key openings for Democrats to beat them.
Recent wins for mainstream democrats against the far-left signal a political vibe shift in the nation’s most liberal city. Tim Miller on the revenge of the Obama Democrats in San Francisco.
Apocalyptic premonitions won’t solve the climate crisis, but investing in creative adaptations and solutions might. Mona Charen calls for climate catastrophists to chill out just a bit.
The clock is ticking, but it’s not too late for Democrats to salvage what they can of their legislative agenda before it’s totally doomed. Tim Miller wonders aloud whether Democrats will do what they need to do to stave off the worst possible outcomes in the fast-approaching midterms.
And finally: Best of The Welcome Party
Biden’s successful presidential campaign ignored Twitter, but his top White House aide is addicted to the platform. Why Does Ron Klain tweet?
In a week that showed what winners win, the New York Times ran a data-free opinion piece on how Democrats can win — with the wrong advice. Time for a supreme reminder of what follows losing.
A strong centrist Democratic faction wins the middle. Quixotic attempts at a third party could lose it all.
Blunt debates with the partisan-skeptical center are essential, but arguing with the far-left is pointless. Win one with facts, with both with organizing.
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