Discover more from Welcome Stack
A year after the January 6th insurrection, one big question remains unanswered: how can one political party save democracy?
What didn’t happen on January 7, 2021?
That is the question we grappled with this week — and wrote about in The Bulwark: how Democrats missed the opportunity to win over the centrists and principled Republicans who recoiled at the insurrection. We focus on two key issues:
Far-left leaders re-focused the media on Democratic infighting within weeks, launching a high-profile primary recruitment effort against Joe Manchin
Big-tent factions of the Democratic Party — the formerly strong Blue Dog coalition and the emergent “Red Dogs” who switched from red to blue after Trump — were not positioned to aggressively recruit
On #1, moral outrage grew at just how cravenly the far-left used the media’s obsession with Democratic infighting to distract from the authoritarian threat. The AOC alums who started the No Excuses PAC gained significant media coverage less than four weeks after January 6 with the launch of a campaign to primary Joe Manchin. What happened to that effort? Beyond the damage to the legislative year (more on that in one of our reads of the week), it appears like a classic “clicks and cash” operation.
According to FEC filings, the PAC raised $101,562 through the first six months of 2021. It paid Justice Democrats founder and former AOC communications director $42,500 for “communications consulting” over 96 days following the PAC’s launch. It would be interesting to see his performance review: the PAC has not tweeted since 6 days after the launch.
On #2, we received compelling feedback, including a Bill Kristol thread urging Democrats to go beyond passive welcoming and be more proactive in recruitment — to “look more to the model of the Salvation Army and less to that of Quaker meetings.” We’ve also seen growing excitement about two candidates with bipartisan credentials who put democracy on offense after January 6th.
More below and in The Bulwark on why we need more “January 7th Democrats” like these former aides to GOP Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Charlie Baker (support those challenges to authoritarian enablers here)…
But first, some links to what our team was reading and talking about this week:
Sunday Reading in the “Big Tent”
1. Tom Nichols calls for an all-hands-on-deck coalition across political lines in The Atlantic:
“This is more than lip service. This is a vow that you would choose the continued existence of our Constitution over any other political priority that might be dear to you. It means that as much as you think some of our institutions are screwed up, you will respect them even while you work for change.”
2. Tyler Pager in the Washington Post on how the left’s rage at Joe Manchin crystallizes the Democrats’ 2022 dilemma:
“At stake is whether the Democratic Party in 2022, with control of Congress on the line, has morphed into a far-left force energized by its push for a progressive agenda, or a center-left coalition with a broader appeal in rural and small-town America and other communities with centrist or swing voters.”
3. Thomas Edsall in the New York Times, featuring cautions from Rob Stein & Third Way’s Matt Bennett, on how the law of unintended political consequences strikes again:
By funding groups that promote extreme views, “some progressive politicians and funders are contributing to divisiveness within their ranks and giving fodder to the right.”
4. David Brooks in the New York Times on why Democrats are so bad at defending democracy:
“Maybe some of the energy that has been spent over the past year analyzing and berating Joe Manchin could have been better spent grooming and supporting good state and local candidates. Maybe the best way to repulse a populist uprising is not by firing up all your allies in the Northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C.”
The far-left won’t save our democracy
Those on the far-left sure didn’t act like representatives of the party of democracy in the last year.
As we wrote in The Bulwark on January 7th, the AOC-aligned Justice Democrats waited less than a month after the Capitol riots to launch an aggressive recruitment campaign — not to recruit disaffected conservatives and moderates in the wake of the insurrection but to enlist a left-wing challenger to primary Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a fellow democrat.
How did this move translate politically?
“West Virginia is one of the reddest states in the country, making Manchin an electoral miracle; if the group were to be successful in its effort to oust him with a left-wing primary challenger, that challenger would lose to any GOP nominee in the general. Meaning that these progressives watched the January 6 attack on democracy and decided that what America needed was . . . one more Republican senator.”
The founders of Justice Democrats’ crusade against Manchin in the immediate aftermath of the insurrection was more than a pie-in-the-sky vanity campaign: it was a signal that if January 6th was going to change American politics for the benefit of democracy, such change wouldn’t come from the left.
It’s telling that Justice Democrats sells gear in its online store that says “Time to Clean House and Senate” at a moment when Democrats hold both:
January 6th presented Democrats with an unprecedented opportunity to win over the middle of the country, but in a party comprised of sub-parties with their own distinct brands, there was no faction on the center-left equipped to do the work of recruiting Never Trumpers and other pro-democracy conservatives. The once-mighty Blue Dog coalition of centrist Democrats had shrunk too much to bark loudly, and the Red Dog Democrats who swung left in 2018 and 2020 are not yet coherently organized.
But there’s a glimmer of hope to be found in the small but formidable crop of “January 7th Democrats” — leaders with bipartisan credentials running in the aftermath of the insurrection — who have emerged to take on Trump’s allies in Republican-held districts across the country. As we wrote,
“There’s Will Rollins, a former aide to Governor Schwarzenneger, who credits January 6 with his decision to challenge GOP incumbent Ken Calvert (who supported Trump’s attempts to overturn the election). And Ben Samuels, a former advisor to Republican governor Charlie Baker, who cites the insurrection in his decision to do the same.”
What better salve for our democracy than dynamic former aides to Republicans running as Democrats to knock out authoritarian-abetting GOP incumbents?
It’s time for more. It’s time for the pro-democracy coalition to demonstrate that this year after January 6th that the center-left will bark. And bite.
To bite off your share of support for Will and Ben’s campaigns, click here.