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We must think differently to save democracy over the long haul. Here’s a guide to some of our ideas.
This weekly Substack was born out of emails between our team, family, and friends. As we launched WelcomePAC, we emailed around notes on questions we stumbled upon, from gaps in the market (Wait, no one tells independents they can vote in primaries??), opportunities to welcome people in (If voters know their neighbors split their tickets, will they be more likely to?), structural problems in the political industry (Why are millions going to unwinnable races while winnable races are ignored?).
And tbh, we got some questions - “Why don’t The Democrats do that?” - so often that it was easier to send a link rather than rewriting an email for the 381st time.
This summer we looked back at the last 90 weeks of reflections and organized them into ten categories. The characters are familiar: far-left political entrepreneurs, brand-differentiated moderates winning swing voters, the highly inefficient political marketplace, and the political scientists who make sense of it.
Below are the ten core themes, many of which informed two structured learning projects - the Win the Middle bank of case studies, and Centrist School, a 10-part newsletter launched last week to take lessons from Massachusetts national.
Reply to this email with any ideas or feedback - it keeps this all going. On to the 10 themes:
1. The future is faction.
There’s much to be learned from the political entrepreneurs who spun out of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and powered the rise of the far-left faction that elected AOC and the Squad. Political scientists - led by the Niskanen Center’s Steve Teles - argue that “Building moderate factions within the two major parties is the best investment of time, energy, and money for those who want a more deliberative, entrepreneurial, and productive political system.” Moderates must study the far-left playbook to strengthen the center-left faction within the Democratic party that wins the middle.
Organizing Beats Debating (Apr 2022)
What the Center Can Learn From AOC (Mar 2022)
“Popularism” but for Organizing (Dec 2021)
Moderates Are Back on the Front Page (Jul 2022)
2. The political marketplace is predictably bonkers.
The Democratic marketplace is full of organizations and candidates acting and investing rationally at the individual level, but these actions aggregate into something irrational and inefficient at the ecosystem level. The result is an environment in which longshots in unwinnable seats are showered with millions of dollars while candidates running in far more winnable battlegrounds may go underfunded.
Democracy Deserts (Aug 2023)
The Worst Investors (Mar 2022)
Market Correction (Jul 2023)
Interrupting the Rage Cycle (Jun 2022)
Are Democrats Conceding Democracy? (Jul 2022)
Predictably Bonkers (Oct 2022)
3. There’s no such thing as “The Democrats.”
The “Democratic Party” is little more than a loose-knit network of institutions (committees, think tanks, media outlets, organizing and advocacy groups, etc.) and individuals (politicians, activists, voters, etc.). There is no centralized decision-making apparatus to define priorities, make tradeoffs, and allocate resources. This means “The Democrats” are simply whoever within the coalition steps up and does the real work of organizing and investing.
But don’t “The Democrats” do that? (Jan 2022)
Lost Dogs (Jan 2022)
4. Volatility, not polarization, is the defining feature of contemporary electoral politics.
The flip side of rising polarization at the partisan fringes means that volatility among the shrinking (yet still substantial) population of depolarized swing voters in the middle becomes all the more important in deciding the outcomes of today’s close elections.
What the Polarization Hawks Aren’t Saying (Feb 2022)
Enough with the Polarization Porn (Apr 2023)
Democrats Aren’t As Screwed As You Think (Jul 2022)
A Very Special Special Election (Aug 2022)
Cashing the Bet Slips on Volatility (Nov 2022)
5. To harness volatility and win the middle, listen to the candidates who have actually done it.
There’s no use in asking Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (who represents a district Joe Biden won with more than 73% of the vote in 2020) for her take on why Democrats win or lose in swing districts. Instead, Democrats and the media should pass the mic to the candidates who have run (and won) in those kinds of highly competitive seats for a real sense on what it takes to win the middle and save our democracy.
Interview: Tim Ryan’s Theory of Everything (Feb 2023)
Interview: Everybody Knows a Murphy (May 2023)
Interview: Mr. Jackson’s Neighborhood (Apr 2023)
Interview: Greg Landsman’s Majority Against the Freedom Caucus (Apr 2023)
6. Democrats must be a big-tent party to win sustainable governing majorities and save democracy.
That means reaching out to and welcoming in moderate independents, ticket-splitters, and center-right Republicans. Democrats can mount serious challenges against anti-democracy MAGA Republicans in potentially winnable GOP-held seats by running brand-differentiated moderates (including former Republicans) who can win red-to-blue crossover voters.
Manchin’s Judges — and Democrats’ Judgment (Dec 2021)
Joe Biden: President of Independents (Apr 2023)
Who decides who’s a Democrat? (Feb 2022)
Biden’s Big Tent (Mar 2023)
Empathy for the Middle (Jun 2022)
Only One Option Left (Aug 2022)
7. Far-left candidates underperform while brand-differentiated moderates overperform.
Political science and election results are both clear: moderates do better. The far-left has never flipped a single seat from red to blue — and far-left candidates incur a “progressive penalty” in swing seats and blue strongholds alike. Meanwhile, moderates who differentiate from their party’s toxic cable news caricature overperform (and win) in the most competitive districts in the country.
The Other Eastman Memo (Dec 2021)
Red Wave, Right Lessons (Nov 2022)
Oregon Fail (Dec 2022)
Reaching Escape Velocity (Feb 2022)
A Supreme Reminder of What Follows Losing (May 2022)
8. The far-left has peaked.
Not only has the far-left never flipped a single seat, but the “Squad” has seen its growth (which unfolded only in some of the bluest districts in the country) slow dramatically since its inception in 2018. The slowdown has also unfolded in the entrepreneurial groups that powered the far-left’s rise, with flashy and disruptive upstarts like No Excuses PAC and New Consensus appearing to have fizzled out entirely with little to show.
Has the far-left peaked? (Mar 2022)
Bad Week for Team Red (and Red Roses) (May 2023)
Justice Dems in Disarray (Jul 2023)
Still No Excuses (Feb 2023)
9. The most effective way for centrists to exert an influence on our politics is through moderate partisan factions, not third parties.
Vaguely defined anti-partisan centrist groups like No Labels and Andrew Yang’s Forward Party dilute moderates’ political power by diverting critical resources away from the center-left and center-right partisan factions where they could have a real impact and toward quixotic third-party efforts that are doomed to lose in our “first past the post” electoral system.
Two Arguments to Win (May 2022)
10. We need a new game plan to save our democracy.
Democrats responded fiercely to Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in 2016, but the energetic reaction was co-opted by the far-left and grew into a slash-and-burn approach that has not delivered reliable victories. It’s time for a more sustainable and disciplined big-tent movement to defeat Trumpism over the long haul and save our democracy.
Second Wave Resistance (Jun 2023)
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