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Who decides who’s a Democrat?
The party recruited an ex-Republican in Michigan, but some tried to veto.
The 38 year-old Mayor of Michigan’s fourth-largest city backed Trump in 2016 and nearly ran for congress this year as a Democrat.
This is progress!
Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor is a former Republican who didn’t just support Donald Trump in 2016 — he endorsed the GOP challenger to a Democratic US Senator in 2018. In 2020, however, he publicly denounced Trump and endorsed Biden. Until deciding against it last week, Taylor was in serious talks to run for office in the state’s newly-drawn, Republican-leaning 10th congressional district as a Democrat.
This recruitment offers a promising path forward in swing districts like MI-10: to win the middle in 2022, we need ex-Republicans like Michael Taylor on our team. These are the concrete actions we need to answer Pete Butigieg’s call to make more “future former Republicans.”
That won’t make everyone happy, and interest groups believe they have veto power over candidates. Who gets to decide who is a Democrat?
More on that below, but first what our team was reading and discussing this week:
Sunday Reading in the Big Tent
1. Larry Diamond in the New York Times calling on Democrats to focus on the possible when it comes to saving democracy:
“The only remaining option is to pare back the reform cause to a much narrower agenda that can command bipartisan support. Democrats must recognize that politics is the art of the possible, and democratic responsibility demands that we not sacrifice what is valuable and possible on the altar of the unattainable. That means supporting the bipartisan efforts to reform the Electoral Count Act.”
2. David Graham in the Atlantic on the collapse of the Republicans’ Big Tent:
“Once upon a time, not so long ago, the Republican Party prided itself on being a big-tent party. This didn’t mean that anything went—generally, members were expected to adhere to a philosophy of free markets and small government—but the party tolerated the left-leaning Nelson Rockefeller as well as the rock-ribbed Barry Goldwater, the conservative Ronald Reagan and the moderate Arlen Specter. The GOP no longer has many coherent policy goals, mixing free traders and tariff fanatics, entitlement-cutters with populists. The single unifying requirement is paying fealty to Donald Trump. Pretty much anyone willing to do that is welcome. This resolution is a demonstration of that fealty.”
3. Louis Jacobson in Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball on the three demographics that help sort the states:
“Put simply, Republican candidates now perform strongest among white voters without a college degree, especially if they live in rural areas. And Democrats, conversely, are performing best among minority voters, those with at least an undergraduate degree, and those who live in or near urban areas… Once we had all 3 rankings in hand, we simply added together the rankings for each state, then rank-ordered that composite score for the states from 1 to 50. The states that ranked closer to 1 offered more friendly demographics for the GOP, while the states closer to 50 offered demographics more friendly to the Democrats. Spoiler alert: With a handful of exceptions, the top half of the list voted Republican in the 2020 presidential race, while the bottom half of the list voted Democratic.”
4. Rosalind Helderman in the Washington Post on all the ways Trump tried to overturn the election — and how it could happen again:
“Here is a guide to the increasingly radical strategies attempted by Trump and his allies to reverse Joe Biden’s victory, beginning right after the election and persisting after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.”
Big Tent Deniers
The DCCC’s effort to court an ex-Republican was treated as a controversy, with some party members calling the move “a bridge too far.”
That is a problem we expect, and one that Big Tent Democrats must name in order to confront. The reality of our political moment is that Democrats have no choice but to build bridges wherever we can — or admit the alternative of increasing our chances of losing.
Democrats are at many disadvantages. Most conversation on Republican advantages focuses on the structural and systemic issues (GOP presidents appointing more supreme court justices, rural states getting more US Senators, Republicans more aggressively gerrymandering House districts, etc.) and yet there are significant challenges inherent in the left that go beyond those structures.
Ideologically, just a quarter of Americans consider themselves liberal. According to annual Gallup surveys, conservatives have outnumbered liberals by double digits for at least the last 30 years.
Solidarity is a worthy ideal, but core Democratic interest groups hold a wide range of stances, some ideological, some values-based, others self-interested. The party has always been — and must remain — a Big Tent.
As for allegations of “wokeness” and cultural incompetency, those are simply accelerants to what has long been a challenge for Democrats: how to ensure that small but powerful stakeholder groups have a voice but not a veto.
Building a Big Tent Democratic Party will require more aggressive outreach to those who currently feel unwelcome in our ranks. Following through on that invitation will sometimes require overriding vetoes from interest groups or factions.
Pew has found that most partisans don’t agree with their party on at least one major issue. Among self-identified Democrats, only 42% agree with the party on all seven major issues and 29% agree with the party on three or more.
If interest groups representing any of those seven issues are able to veto any potential candidate, Democrats would soon be fighting with Greens and Libertarians as a minor party incapable of governing.
United Against Small Tent Politics
In the case of MI-10, it was organized labor that sought to veto the candidate. In Nebraska in 2017, it was pro-choice advocates. Next year, it’ll be someone else.
With a potentially disastrous 2022 on the horizon (not only does the party in the White House typically lose seats in its first midterm cycle, but Biden’s approval ratings are in the dumpster and the GOP currently touts a five-point national edge), Democrats cannot afford to apply 100% of ideological or interest group-driven purity tests on 100% of candidates 100% of the time.
The fact that our fragile Congressional majority is on the line this year means that measures to restrict who can join the party beyond the fundamental criterion of support for democracy and the rule of law will make it harder for us to defend both at their darkest hour, let alone pass our legislative agenda.
The solution is a revitalized commitment to maintaining and supporting a genuinely Big Tent Democratic Party, one capable of welcoming former Republicans like Michael Taylor rather than deriding his potential candidacy.