Discover more from Welcome Stack
But don’t “The Democrats” do that?
As we head into 2022, we cannot forget that “The Democrats” are whoever steps up and does the work of organizing and investing.
But don’t “The Democrats” do that?
It’s a good question — because the answer is complicated for people who don’t spend a lot of time in politics (that is, most people). And as we enter the New Year, it is one we’ve been thinking more about.
More on that below, but first, a few things we’ve been reading recently:
Sunday Reading in the Big Tent
Pundits are throwing in the towel on Joe Biden’s presidency ahead of this year’s midterm elections, but he’s been counted out before. David Axelrod on why It’s Not Over for Joe Biden.
Despite the year’s challenges, Joe Biden and the Democrats have accomplished a lot that’s worth celebrating. Marc Thiessen on The 10 best things Biden did in 2021.
The loose but distinct networks of associations between institutions (politicians, political committees, think tanks, media outlets, organizing and advocacy groups, etc.) and individuals who make up ‘The Democrats’ are not organized in a way that actually puts a single person or entity in charge of, well, most things.
Unlike in many organizations, there is no single CEO or board chair who can approve a five-year strategic plan that allocates resources efficiently, or makes informed trade offs across competing priorities, as happens within most businesses and nonprofits.
In 2022, about $5,000,000,000 will be spent on Democratic congressional campaigns. But that money is spent wildly differently than if “The Democrats, INC.” could allocate those resources across competitive races (of which there are increasingly few) and across time (say, spend more on high-value activities earlier in the cycle) and even across interests (e.g. restrict the ability for the unpopular activities of controversial actors associated with Democrats to damage the party brand).
How inefficient is the Democratic marketplace?
So just how much value will Democrats get in 2022 from that $5B investment?
$1B worth? $3B? We haven’t seen a good estimate of just how inefficient that spending is, but anecdata abounds (examples include the 2020 Democratic nominee for Senate in Maine ending her campaign with $14.8M leftover and some congressional seats having been left uncontested when Hilary Clinton surprisingly won them in 2016).
The Welcome Party launched in late 2019 to target an unfilled niche. As the 2020 presidential primaries began to approach, it became clear that none of the operations within the existing political infrastructure were focused on reaching out to independent voters and encouraging them to participate in the presidential primaries that allow unenrolled voters.
So we launched an independent voter engagement program. In New Hampshire and South Carolina, we talked to the voters who would decide the general election, but were ignored in the primary. That is when we first started hearing the question:
But don’t “The Democrats” do that?
On the surface, it’s mind-boggling that a party would apparently neglect to pursue this kind of outreach, but, then again, there is no such monolith as “The Democrats”. Instead, dozens of individual candidate campaigns and advocacy groups pursued their own interests. Even if the formal state Democratic Party wanted to make such an investment, candidates or advocates who perceive their own cause to be harmed by an increase in independent voters would protest.
Furthermore, with the increasing ability to micro-target voters, each individual campaign more aggressively targets the narrow niche with the greatest likelihood of supporting them. Candidates could load up on YouTube pre-roll ads aimed at the most likely primary voters (often more liberal and more highly educated).
For example, Elizabeth Warren won 27,429 votes in the New Hampshire primary (about 2% of the state’s residents). It may seem obvious, but the sole goal of her $142m campaign was to win the highest share of votes in primary elections — not to engage swing voters to view Democrats more favorably.
Aggregate those incentives, and you get an incredibly inefficient allocation of resources.
But “The Democrats” must do that, right?
We launched WelcomePAC this fall to work on another niche that is related to, but distinct from, the work of other existing entities: supporting former Republicans running for congress as Democrats.
Now, if there’s one thing that a political party would seem to do (especially in a narrowly divided legislature), it would be get people from the other party to join theirs instead.
And, if there’s one thing that you’d want to do with $5B to spend on a limited number of chances to win an incredibly high value zero-sum, it would be to try and increase your overall likelihood of winning as much as possible.
For example, in 2020, with billions of dollars to spend, a congressional majority that one person can count on their hands, and our very democracy on the line, the nominee to challenge Ken Calvert (a potentially vulnerable Republican incumbent in CA-42) was this guy, Liam O’Mara:
O’Mara raised a meager $123,000 and ran on a far-left platform uniquely unsuited for his R+7 district, effectively giving Calvert (who hasn’t had a serious challenger in more than a decade) a free pass, despite his track record of supporting Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, lying about and then admitting to hiring a prostitute, and engaging in suspicious land dealing activity. O’Mara was beaten handily by Calvert in the general election, a phenomenon reflected across a number of winnable Republican-leaning districts where Democrats have lacked a credible challenger.
As demonstrated in the graph below, Democrats have disproportionately dominated in the districts where Trump performed within 3% of his national average. If the party wants to expand its slim majority in Congress, it must compete more seriously in red-yet-winnable districts where Trump won and overperformed his national average by between 3% and 10%.
Over the last two decades, spending on congressional elections has ballooned while the share of competitive seats has decreased by 60%. The growth in spending is not being reallocated towards more effective activities, another symptom of how resources are raised and spent by a myriad of entities whose impact is inefficient in the aggregate.
By investing more earlier in supporting candidates with the capacity to compete in Republican-leaning districts, we can expand the competitive map for Democrats and more efficiently allocate a growing pool of resources.
It should not come as a disappointment that the party’s core committees aren’t concerned with this particular project: “such long-term, high-upside approaches are now best operationalized by outside groups”.
The far-left has succeeded in building out a robust infrastructure on their end of the spectrum. In an NBC News piece early last year, we described how:
In just a few short years, an interlocking group of political entrepreneurs has launched more than a half-dozen related nonprofits, PACs, LLCs, think tanks and polling outfits aimed at mounting primary challenges against mainstream House and Senate Democrats and influencing local races. As outlined in their "Future of the Party" report, they believe the Democratic Party "simply cannot move to the center" on policies and must win without the "mushy middle."
It’s time for us to do what those groups will not.
“The Democrats” are whoever steps up and does the work of organizing and investing. Let’s do it.