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Big Tent 101
A draft syllabus for a crash course in our political reality — with notes on what we can do about it.
Where do you send someone who wants to know how Democrats can win?
On the far-left, there are plenty of options if you want to join a book club with the Democratic Socialists or get regular emails on policy topics like abolishing private health insurance. Trump has rallies and boat parades. The center-right has The Bulwark and other burgeoning communities.
Big-tent Democrats may not have boat parades or swag, but there is foundational reading.
Below are our top ten reads to lay out the need for and path towards a big-tent Democratic Party. Please let us know additions that can help normies get up to speed on our reality and what can be done about it.
The Big Tent Syllabus
1. Moderates have lost ground to extreme factions in both parties because they’ve largely stepped back from the hard work of on-the-ground organizing. Steven Teles and Robert Saldin in National Affairs on how The Future is Faction.
“In the American political system, there are no shortcuts around the hard work of organization, mobilization, and engagement in the sometimes unseemly business of party politics. To put it more bluntly, moderates lose out to the ‘wingnuts’ because those on the ideological extremes, to their credit, actually do the difficult, long-term labor that democratic politics rewards: showing up, organizing, and devoting themselves to building durable institutions for political and intellectual combat.”
2. A growing cohort of Democratic activists, pollsters, and journalists are revisiting the lessons of the Clinton era in order to save the party and democracy. Ronald Brownstein in The Atlantic on how Democrats are losing the culture wars — and what some believe they can do about it.
“A loose constellation of internal party critics is reprising the Clintonites’ core arguments to make the case that progressives are steering Democrats toward unsustainable and unelectable positions, particularly on cultural and social questions. Just like the centrists who clustered around Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council that he led decades ago, today’s dissenters argue that Democrats risk a sustained exodus from power unless they can recapture more of the culturally conservative voters without a college education who are drifting away from the party.”
3. In 2020, polarization declined along racial lines while it increased along educational lines — and these facts offer clues for how the Democratic Party can improve. Eric Levitz and “Popularist” data wonk David Shor in New York Magazine on why Trump was good for the GOP and how Dems can win in 2022.
“If Democrats elevate issues or theories that a large minority of nonwhite voters reject, it’s going to be hard to keep those margins. Because these issues are strongly correlated with ideology. And Black conservatives and Hispanic conservatives don’t actually buy into a lot of these intellectual theories of racism. They often have a very different conception of how to help the Black or Hispanic community than liberals do. And I don’t think we can buy our way out of this trade-off. Most voters are not liberals. If we polarize the electorate on ideology — or if nationally prominent Democrats raise the salience of issues that polarize the electorate on ideology — we’re going to lose a lot of votes.”
4. Democrats did well at the top of the ticket in 2020 but under-performed in key down-ballot races across the country. Third Way, The Collective PAC, and Latino Victory Fund on why that was the case in their 2020 Post-Election Analysis.
“The 2020 election was a mixed bag for Democrats. While thrilled with the Biden win and the new Senate majority, expected victories in many contested races failed to materialize, and the Party lost significant ground in the House… The purpose of this project was to determine what worked well for Democrats in these campaigns and, in particular, what challenges they faced, so that the Party can be best prepared to compete in 2022 and beyond.”
5. The left continues to under-perform politically — and there are a handful of reasons why. Ruy Teixeira in The Liberal Patriot on The Five Deadly Sins of the Left.
“The public just isn’t interested in buying what the left is selling. No matter how loudly the left hawks its wares or how heroically it organizes, it will not succeed… Durable mass support for the left will not emerge unless and until it radically revamps its offering, abandoning the unhealthy and unpopular obsessions that consume its attention and distract from actual solutions. In particular, it must find the strength to overcome its five deadly sins: identity politics; retro-socialism; catastrophism; growthphobia; and technopessimism.”
6. Rep. Jim Clyburn changed the course of history with his pragmatic and tide-shifting endorsement of Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 South Carolina Democratic primary. Lauren Harper on the lessons for Democrats and why we need a Clyburn Day.
“Clyburn steered the party away from further polarization that would have led to a second Trump term. And Biden’s early weeks prove he is a President who fosters healing rather than acrimony. Clyburn chose well. Following his lead, voters did, too.”
7. Things took an ugly turn for the Democrats in the second half of 2021 — and there’s one explanation why that seems to cover them all. Derek Thompson in The Atlantic on how Democrats are getting crushed in the “vibes war”.
“The turn against Democrats wasn’t limited to parents, or Virginia, or white women. Compared with the 2020 election, support for Democrats decayed across states, genders, ethnicities, and counties. Democrats lost because of something bigger than any demographic or issue. They lost a vibes war. Despite many positive economic trends, Americans are feeling rotten about the state of things—and, understandably, they’re blaming the party in power.”
8. Joe Biden’s agenda is popular among Americans, but the Democrats and their national brand are not. Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine on Joe Biden’s Big Squeeze.
“Biden’s victory in the primary temporarily wrested control of the party out of the hands of its activists and placed it back with its voters. Yet as the year comes to a close, he has only been able to pass an infrastructure bill whittled down small enough to satisfy Republicans, the Build Back Better plan has been cut to ribbons, and his approval is in tatters… Biden’s critics in the center and on the right have blamed his excessive liberalism. But the opposite is true. Biden is actually following a plan designed in direct opposition to the party’s movement-driven leftward turn.”
9. It’s time for Democrats to put their policy debates aside and do the most they can to fight the still-encroaching threat of Trumpism — and that means being open to forming strategic cross-party alliances with Never Trumpers from across the aisle. Matt Yglesias in Slow Boring on how nobody is acting like they believe the future of democracy is at stake.
“Now to be clear, if you’d asked me in February 2020 whether I thought Democrats should sideline their policy agenda and try to form a cross-party opposition coalition with never Trumpers, I’d have said no way. Once the pandemic intervenes, I think this idea gets less crazy… But most of all, I think it would behoove everyone to own up to the choices they’ve made — and to own them. A very broad swathe of Democrats, from Bernie Sanders on the left to Joe Manchin on the right and very much including Joe Biden in the middle, chose to prioritize the items on their policy agenda over the alleged transcendent threat of Trumpism.”
10. Over the course of the last year, the signs have become glaringly clear that Democrats are increasingly in trouble with Hispanic voters. Ruy Teixeira in The Liberal Patriot on why the Democrats’ Hispanic voter problem isn’t as bad as you think — it’s worse.
“The Democrats are steadily losing ground with Hispanic voters. The seriousness of this problem tends to be underestimated in Democratic circles for a couple of reasons: (1) they don’t realize how big the shift is; and (2) they don’t realize how thoroughly it undermines the most influential Democratic theory of the case for building their coalition.”
We are working to transform this reality into action. Let us know other reading you consider essential — and let’s get more to take action with us.