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Defending democracy from the middle out
America at our best: a place where people who disagree can come together to beat bad guys (in elections)
Principled conservatives and ex-Republicans were crucial to Biden’s win and in forming a potential firewall to protect democracy. Democrats need more of them to build a durable majority that survives dangers ahead.
Center-right networks that emerged post-Trump must be aggressively recruited by Democrats. Over the course of 2021, these audiences gave us compelling feedback on our outreach:
Last March, we invoked Mayor Pete’s 2020 call to create “future former Republicans” in The Bulwark, the subscription-driven news & opinion community on the pro-democracy right.
In June, we debated the future of the center-right at The Niskanen Center, a new think-tank heralded in the NYT as “A New Center Being Born.” We received inbound calls, emails, DMs, etc. Shortly thereafter, we launched a PAC to operationalize our concept by recruiting brand-differentiated Democratic candidates with the ability to reach out to moderates across the aisle.
In September, we returned to The Bulwark with a call for Democrats to welcome principled Republicans fleeing political violence into their ranks.
In November, we wrote in NBC News about how Democrats need Republicans — both as candidates and voters — in order to protect their fragile majorities in both houses in Congress, which spurred another round of incoming insights.
As 2022 commenced, WelcomePAC took another step this week by releasing concurrent negative ads with the principled conservatives at Renew America Movement (RAM) against Trump coat-holder turned congressional candidate Max Miller in Ohio.
As Democrats, we have been inspired by Mayor Pete’s wisdom about what can happen when we reach out and build a big-tent:
“Buttigieg understood that while he had to build his political brand from scratch out of necessity, that empty white board also gave him an advantage. It allowed him to build a coalition based on addition, rather than subtraction. And that the very act of reaching out would not only bring new voters over but line supporters up behind him.”
As the historian Lara Putnam notes on the effects of Democrats engaging voters in previously uncontested down-ballot races, the act of listening is a moderating force. By engaging with the diverse breadth of viewpoints held by voters on the ground, organizers tend to develop a more pragmatic perspective of their own. This is how a big tent is built.
More below. But first, what our team was reading and discussing this week:
Sunday Reading in the Tent
1. Sam Rosenfeld in the Washington Post on how election results are following familiar patterns, despite Trump’s rise and Jan. 6th:
“For all the alarm and political tumult caused by recent developments in the Republican Party, voting behavior has not changed in response; it’s shown remarkable stability and continuity with patterns established at the outset of the century… If citizens in a democracy don’t shift their voting patterns when the standard-bearer of one party rejects the results of an election, what would lead them to change their minds?”
2. Third Way’s Lanae Erickson and David De La Fuente in POLITICO on how Democrats can pick a better presidential nominee:
“Voters in the largely white and rural states of Iowa and New Hampshire make up one component of the Democratic electorate, but only one. And their preferences are increasingly divergent from the more diverse coalition that delivers the party electoral victories… So here’s an idea that would go a long way towards solving Democrats’ problems with the schedule without completely upsetting the apple cart: Hold the first four presidential primary contests — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — on the same day.”
3. Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker on how our politics got so polarized, with important findings from Chris Bail of Duke University’s Polarization Lab:
“The bulk of Facebook and Twitter users are more centrist. They aren’t particularly interested in the latest partisan wrangle. For these users, ‘posting online about politics simply carries more risk than it’s worth,’ Bail argues. By absenting themselves from online political discussions, moderates allow the extremists to dominate, and this, Bail says, promotes a ‘profound form of distortion.’”
4. Ezra Klein in the New York Times on how Steve Bannon is onto something, featuring this gem from Daniel Ziblatt:
“The people thinking strategically about how to win the 2022 election are the ones doing the most for democracy… I’ve heard people saying bridges don’t save democracy — voting rights do. But for Democrats to be in a position to protect democracy, they need bigger majorities.”
Putting Democracy on Offense in Northeast Ohio
Max Miller does not seem to have many friends. The former Trump aide and likely GOP congressional nominee in Northeast Ohio has been denounced by everyone from his White House colleagues to his high school classmates.
Unsurprisingly, he is not very popular: our September 2021 poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling (pre-redistricting) found that just 24% of Republicans in his district hold a favorable view, with 17% unfavorable. Despite touting the former president’s endorsement, even 10% of Trump voters in the district viewed Miller unfavorably, with 60% saying they would be willing to vote against a Republican depending on candidate quality.
It is not hard to see why a large majority of Miller’s prospective constituents and personal associations may struggle to like him:
On the Trump team, he was reportedly involved in everything from lulling an often-irate President Trump to sleep with Broadway show tunes to tossing back vodka shots in the Presidential Personnel Office.
He is alleged to have played an instrumental role in organizing Trump’s Jan. 6th “Save America” rally that preceded the day’s deadly riot at the Capitol.
His high school classmates reflect unflatteringly on the Miller they knew: growing up in Shaker Heights, he was reputed to be impulsive and short-tempered.
However, as an heir to one of Cleveland’s wealthiest and most powerful families, Miller has been able to rise to prominence in Trump’s GOP (and, perhaps soon, to the halls of Congress) despite his shoddy personal track record.
In other words, Max Miller is precisely the kind of poor-character extremist that principled Americans of all political persuasions can agree belongs nowhere near Capitol Hill. The case against him isn’t about left vs. right — it’s about right vs. wrong.
It will take principled Republicans to beat candidates like him around the country. To go on offense against Miller, we’re jointly running a digital video campaign targeted at persuadable center-left moderates (WelcomePAC) and center-right conservatives (RAM) in his new district with a simple message: Ohio deserves better.
We each ran a version of the ad tailored specifically to our core audience. Here’s our WelcomePAC cut:
As the Duke Polarization Lab study in this week’s links shows, the majority of social media users are more centrist but don’t post as much as their more extreme counterparts. The result is that, in today’s hyper-polarized political conversation, far too much attention is paid to the most extreme and alienating fringes of the political spectrum — to the detriment of our democracy. As Matt Yglesias argues, the best thing those in the middle can do to depolarize the conversation is to participate vocally.
America is the greatest country in the world because people who disagree can come together to beat bad guys. As Democrats committed to making our party more welcoming to those in the middle, we appreciate the chance to collaborate with principled Americans from across the aisle who care as much as we do about protecting our democracy from authoritarian extremists like Max Miller.
Elizabeth Warren has said that organizing is like a muscle, not a battery: the more you use it, the stronger it gets. It is past time to get a gym routine with anyone ready to beat the bad guys.