Discover more from Welcome Stack
Best in the Big Tent: September 2022
Democrats should “just be normal” — and other highlights from this month.
Popularism + Normalism = Good Things
Popularism dictates that candidates who want to win mainstream voters should say and do things that are popular and not things that are unpopular. (If it seems too simple to have to put in words, tell that to the unpopularist far-left.)
But that’s not all it takes to win the middle.
Meet “normalism” — let’s call it Lis Smith’s Law. The veteran Democratic strategist behind Mayor Pete’s meteoric rise has another simple piece of advice for her clients: “Just be normal.”
A recent Vanity Fair piece captured Smith’s framework for winning in today’s climate:
“[Smith]’s come under fire for criticizing what she calls “the online leftist echo chamber” that she says turns off voters who reside somewhere west of Manhattan and right of AOC. When Smith recently told Vanity Fair’s Inside the Hive podcast that the left’s ‘schoolmarm vibe’ alienated voters, it sparked blowback that Smith was using ‘gendered’ language in her critique. ‘They proved my point!’ she says, downing her beer.”
Like most politicos, WelcomePAC co-founder Lauren Harper has a copy of Smith’s last book. Here’s what Smith wrote in it:
Today’s far-left is whiter, richer, and more highly-educated than the rest of the country (and, for that matter, the rest of the Democratic Party). Liberals in elite echo chambers talk in a way that claims egalitarian aims but comes across as super weird to most Americans.
Van Jones put it well in a widely shared CNN clip:
Looking and sounding like (or heck, even being) regular people is a good way to win. Ask New York City Mayor Eric Adams, powered to City Hall by a multiracial working class coalition. Here’s how the New York Times described Adams’ approach to securing victory:
“Eric Adams’s strong showing in New York City’s Democratic primary for mayor reflected his ability to build an old-school political coalition that united Black and Latino voters with unions.
He was able to persuade working-class people, largely outside Manhattan, that he was the best candidate to make the city safe from crime and return it to economic health.”
Sounds like normalism.
In the Ohio Senate race, Tim Ryan is not just running a popularist campaign, but a normalist one, too. Ryan’s half-point average polling advantage over J.D. Vance must be observed cautiously, but it sure seems that he’s doing better than expected in a state that voted Trump twice by healthy margins.
No single piece of campaign messaging captures the popularist-normalist combo than this:
Popularism is vital: Slogans like “Defund the Police” are unpopular and losing messages. When it comes to trade and China, polling and public opinion research show that Ohioans are skeptical. Ryan has every reason to be tough on China. It’s why article after article shows Ryan breaking the Democratic Party’s far-left national brand.
But the obvious normalism is what could seal the deal.
Popular in substance, normal in style. More Democrats should try it.
Democrats’ decent chances.
Democrats were never as screwed as people seemed to think when it came to the midterms.
The Democratic trifecta finally went the popularist route with the Inflation Reduction Act, passing a series of provisions overwhelmingly supported by majorities of Americans. As Lauren Harper wrote earlier this month, the bill is full of common-sense goodies for mainstream voters that reflect Manchin’s prayer-card focus:
“Given Manchin’s mainstream, middle-out orientation, it’s unsurprising that his recently-passed ‘Inflation Reduction Act’ is chock full of highly popular provisions supported by Americans across both parties. A recent Morning Consult poll of registered voters found majority support for 10 of the bill’s 12 core components, with the most popular provision (capping price hikes on prescription drugs) reaching 77% support.”
After many long months in the doldrums, the president’s popularist streak has finally found its way to his approval ratings, too. That’s good news, because the president deserves some credit for what Jennifer Rubin describes as “his success thus far in delivering on his center-left agenda”. But as Gabriel Debenedetti wrote in New York Magazine, Biden has been relieved from center-stage duty by the fact that the GOP just can’t seem to help itself:
“Biden simply isn’t the main character of daily politics anymore — in no small part because the GOP seems unable to stay out of its own way. And his party is reaping the benefits.”
Five weeks until the midterms, Democrats are far from the worst case scenario everyone seemed to be forecasting just a handful of months ago.
Tweet of the Month
Academic Paper of the Month:
Simply titled Moderates: “Our results clarify the importance of nonideologues in American elections… We find that a large proportion of the American public is neither consistently liberal nor consistently conservative but that this inconsistency is not because their views are simply random or incoherent. Instead, we estimate that many of those who give a mix of liberal and conservative responses hold genuine views in the middle of the same dimension of policy ideology that explains the views of consistent liberals and consistent conservatives.” Anthony Fowler, Seth J. Hill, Jeffrey B. Lewis, Chris Tausanovitch, Lynn Vareck, and Christopher Warshaw in The American Political Science Review.
Mainstreaming the Mainstream
Below are highlights from the past month in essential big tent outlets.
But first, here are the best of the rest…
“[Moderate and mainstream] Democrats, he adds, ‘are much better positioned to appeal to swing voters in the majority-making red and purple states and districts. Midterms are always rough for the party in power in the first term of a presidency, but if Dems over-perform historical trends in November, it will be because they put up mainstream candidates to face extremist Republicans.’” Jennifer Rubin with Third Way’s Jim Kessler in The Washington Post: Forget ‘polarization.’ The problem is right-wing extremism.
“The violent Jan. 6, 2021, attack on Congress, meant to prevent the certification of President Biden’s election, was the clearest manifestation of this movement, but it has continued since then. Hundreds of elected Republican officials around the country falsely claim that the 2020 election was rigged. Some of them are running for statewide offices that would oversee future elections, potentially putting them in position to overturn an election in 2024 or beyond.” David Leonhardt in The New York Times: ‘A Crisis Coming’: The Twin Threats to American Democracy
“Rachel is a Democrat and the nominee for Ohio House District 27. Phil is a Republican and a former candidate in Ohio’s 8th Congressional District. We’ve run on opposite sides of the aisle for a combined 60 years… We’ve begun to see eye to eye on many things, including supporting those candidates and organizations who believe in the rule of law, protect our individual rights and reject the radical brand of politics that is threatening the core of our country.” Rachel Baker and Phil Heimlich in The Cincinnati Enquirer: Democrats, Republicans must unite against extremism
“The name of the game in partisan redistricting is vote dilution. In a two-party race, a candidate needs only fifty per cent plus one to win. Every extra vote cast for that candidate is a wasted vote, as is every vote for the loser. You can’t literally prevent your opponents from voting. Even the current Supreme Court, which has hardly been a champion of voting rights since John Roberts became Chief Justice, would put a stop to that. So wasting as many of the other party’s votes as possible is the next best thing. And, in most states, it’s perfectly legal.” Louis Menand in The New Yorker: America Was Never Designed to Be Democratic
“The polling industry faces well-known problems: Only 6 to 7 percent of people will pick up a phone call from a pollster; polls completely failed to find segments of Donald Trump’s base in 2020; and predicting exactly who will vote is mathematically thorny. Yet polls are indispensable. They’re the only data source that directly asks people how they’re going to vote and credibly attempts to represent the whole electorate.” David Byler in The Washington Post: It’s impossible to trust polls — or ignore them. Here’s how to stay sane.
“Activists driven by false theories about election fraud are working to toss out tens of thousands of voter registrations and ballots in battleground states, part of a loosely coordinated campaign that is sowing distrust and threatening further turmoil as election officials prepare for the November midterms.” Alexandra Berzon and Nick Corasaniti in The New York Times: Activists Flood Election Offices With Challenges
Best of The Liberal Patriot…
“Democrats may well do better than expected in the 2022 election. But it won’t be because they’ve suddenly become the normie voter party. That title—and the durable political majority that might accompany such a distinction—will likely remain out of reach.” Ruy Teixeira: What America Needs is a Normie Voter Party
“Maybe instead of a Green New Deal, they’d rather have abundance. It has been a huge mistake for the left to lose sight of the need for faster growth. Growth, particularly productivity growth, is what drives rising living standards over time and Democrats presumably stand for the fastest possible rise in living standards. Faster growth also makes easier the achievement of Democrats’ other goals.” Ruy Teixeira: The Median Voter Doesn’t Want a Green New Deal
“For the non-inflationary price of $0, here’s some simple political advice gleaned from reams of focus groups and studies with regular American voters: Don’t be annoying.” John Halpin: Political parties need to stop annoying people if they want more votes
“Democrats’ uncompetitiveness among white working class voters and among voters in exurban, small town and rural America puts them at a massive disadvantage given the structure of the American electoral system. This problem has only been exacerbated by recent attrition in Democratic support among nonwhite working class voters. Nothing that has happened in the last several months changes this underlying and uncomfortable fact: Democrats have failed to develop a party brand capable of unifying a dominant majority of Americans behind their political project.” Ruy Teixeira: Does the Abortion Issue Mean Democrats Have Won the Culture War?
Best of Slow Boring…
“One aspect of the Biden Administration’s rhetoric that does have a clear point is the president’s habit of drawing a distinction between ‘MAGA Republicans’ and a democratic front that’s composed of ‘Democrats, independents, and mainstream Republicans.’ In other words, he’s trying to create a permission structure for some right-of-center people to vote for him and his allies without abandoning their identity as Republicans.” Matt Yglesias: Defending democracy needs appeals to material self-interest
“It would be an enormous mistake on both constitutional and practical grounds for the Supreme Court to endorse the independent state legislature doctrine, and I sincerely hope the justices rule against the North Carolina General Assembly in Moore v. Harper. The chief justices of all 50 state supreme courts think so, too.” Milan Singh: The dangerous legal theory in front of the Supreme Court
“Ever since Joe Biden became president, conservatives have branded all the problems with the asylum system as ‘Biden’s border crisis.’ This conveniently elides that essentially the same problems existed under Donald Trump’s presidency.” Matt Yglesias: Bring back the old bipartisan immigration consensus!
Best of The Bulwark…
“The black silent majority, largely discounted or ignored by the broader political class, is characterized by pragmatism and a reliance on extant institutions to deliver the democratic participation and economic self-sufficiency that pave the surest path to equality.” Theodore Johnson: The Black Silent Majority
“Moore’s unique selling proposition is that his candidacy and the message of progressive patriotism he is pitching might just win over both groups—the poorer voters who have long been loyal Democrats but are being targeted by the ‘populist’ GOP, and the better-off suburban swing voters who are moving toward the Democratic camp but remain susceptible to backsliding.” Jim Swift and Tim Miller: Can Wes Moore’s Progressive Patriotism Make Him a Democratic Star?
“Trump’s Save America PAC is constructed as a “leadership PAC” with relatively loose rules governing what can be done with the money. The main restriction is that a politician cannot use PAC money to fund his or her own campaign, which means that Trump has great latitude to do what he likes with the money, so long as he doesn’t use it to directly support a 2024 presidential bid.” Amanda Carpenter: Trump’s ‘Save America’ Scam
“In truth, the vast majority of would-be immigrants have done absolutely nothing wrong. It is our own laws that are the problem. Because our political system is so steeped in bile and demagoguery, we can’t adapt to changing circumstances. We desperately need workers, yet the wait for legal immigration options is years long.” Mona Charen: Don’t Blame the Immigrants. It’s Our Laws That Are Criminal.
Best of The Welcome Party…
“Joe Manchin framed his signature piece of legislation as a major win for America, but who will let the country know?” Lauren Harper in The Well: Who Will Sell the Inflation Reduction Act to Voters in the Middle?
“We still have a lot of work to do, and far too many extremists are being nominated, but I take comfort in knowing that we are starting to see that decency from our elected officials still matters.” Ben Samuels in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: There are good reasons to be optimistic if those in the middle can prevail
“All you need to flip a ‘Safe’ GOP-held district is 7 (or 8) percent of voters. Mary Peltola’s historic victory in Alaska is the clearest proof-point yet for the WelcomePAC model.” A Very Special Special Election
“Some Democrats will lose this November. When it comes to why they lost, don’t ask the leaders and groups who didn’t even try to win.” Listen to the Democrats Who Are Actually Trying to Win
“As seen on MSNBC: the villain, the hero, and the message to demonstrate a better way forward for Democrats.” Morning Ken
“The political marketplace is chock full of inefficiencies, but Marcus Flowers’ glitzy-yet-unwinnable crusade against Marjorie Taylor Greene is in a league of its own.” Beware This Year’s Biggest Democratic Distraction
Subscribe to The Welcome Party for more analysis on how Democrats can win the middle and save our democracy