Win the Middle Part 3: The Path Forward
What must be done for Democrats to win the middle?
It’s a good question, because the answer is complicated — especially for people who don’t spend a lot of time in politics (that is, most people).
The reality is that there is no such thing as “The Democratic Party, Inc.” In the real-world, “The Democrats” are just a loose coalition of institutions (committees, think tanks, media outlets, organizing and advocacy groups, etc.) and individuals (politicians, activists, voters, etc.). Unlike in most organizations, there is no centralized decision-making apparatus — no C.E.O. or Board of Directors — to define priorities, make tradeoffs, and allocate resources.
Democrats spent upwards of $3.5 billion on federal campaigns in 2022. But that money was 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).
This means “The Democrats” are simply whoever within the ecosystem steps up and does the work of organizing and investing.
This fact has been leveraged by the far-left to enable a relatively small but focused ideological group to have an outsized impact on the party and its brand. In just a few short years, the far-left has succeeded in building a robust ecosystem of 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, changing the party’s message to voters, 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.”
We disagree. In fact, we believe the so-called “mushy middle” is ripe for the taking if we can only listen to these voters and give them a party they can identify with. Moderates don’t want to side with the party of election deniers and conspiracy theorists. But the current national Democratic brand — which has been pulled away from the mainstream by the far-left — isn’t winning them over either.
We believe there is a clear path forward to win a sustainable majority for the Democratic Party by building a strong moderate faction and ensuring that the party remains a big tent that welcomes in voters in the middle.
Here it is, in five (we won’t call them easy) steps:
1. Create a Differentiated Moderate Faction Within the Democratic Party
There’s a lot 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. Moderates should take a page out of the far-left playbook by organizing and building a coherent and robust center-left faction within the Democratic party that can connect with and win the middle.
The Future is Faction (National Affairs): Moderates will need to organize as a coherent bloc, recruit attractive candidates, mobilize moderate voters in each party to participate in partisan politics, and develop ideas to inspire their bases.
Organizing Beats Debating (The Welcome Party): In the debate on the future of the Democratic Party, one side has the facts — but the other side is more organized.
Popularism, But for Organizing (The Welcome Party): Debates over the best Democratic message may be intellectually appealing, but the real impact lies in recruiting center-left leaders and community members to deliver that message.
What the Center Can Learn From AOC (The Welcome Party): Risks to American democracy require an entrepreneurial response. What can those seeking to win the middle learn from the far-left’s success?
Moderates Are Back on the Front Page (The Welcome Party): The history of the modern center-left shows what a successful intervention can do to transform the party.
2. Compete Everywhere
Democrats conceded more than a dozen potentially winnable GOP-held House seats in 2022. If they had played to win in more battlegrounds, they could have held the House in the midterms.
Democratic Centrists Lament Missed Opportunities to Keep the House (New York Times): After an election this close, Democrats are debating whether losing the majority was so inevitable after all.
Democracy Conceded (WelcomePAC): In at least 17 undervalued districts, Democrats lost without putting up a fight in 2022 — but they were competitive in the seats where they did invest.
Democracy Deserts (The Welcome Party): There are democracy deserts in some of the most flippable seats on both the right and the left.
Add A Zero (The Welcome Party): What is the value of one US House seat?
What the Polarization Hawks Aren’t Saying (The Welcome Party): Growing polarization makes volatility the most important story of modern politics.
Cashing the Bet Slips on Volatility (The Welcome Party): Massive returns on low-probability bets in our inefficient political marketplace.
‘What the hell are we doing?’ (The Boston Globe): A party desperate to protect its narrow majority in Congress is leaving key races in Michigan, Ohio, and Florida virtually uncontested.
The Chart (The Welcome Party): A picture on $400m+ in political spending is worth more than a thousand words.
3. Recruit “Future Former Republicans”
In 2020, Never Trump Republicans joined forces with Democrats and sent Joe Biden to the White House. Democrats must remain a big-tent party in order to win sustainable governing majorities and save democracy, and that requires reaching out to and welcoming in moderate independents and center-right Republicans — not just as voters, but as candidates. Especially in redder battlegrounds, brand-differentiated moderates (including former Republicans) can win red-to-blue crossover voters and defeat authoritarian MAGA candidates.
Red Dog Reality (The Bulwark): Republicans have abandoned truth, lost their minds, and are kicking their anti-Trump colleagues out. Democrats should take advantage of this stupidity and make an all-out effort to bring these marginal Republicans onboard.
If Democrats want to win in 2022, they need Republicans — as candidates (NBC THINK): Democrats must become more welcoming and proactively recruit independents and ex-Republicans as both voters and candidates.
Seven Entrepreneurial Paths Toward a Democratic Majority (The Bulwark): Are there some plausible and attractive paths forward for enterprising Red Dogs? Are there opportunities for entrepreneurial talent or risk-taking venture capital? I dare say so.
Joe Biden: President of Independents (The Welcome Party): Moderate independents flipped on Trump in 2020. Biden is now focused on keeping them heading into 2024.
Who decides who’s a Democrat? (The Welcome Party): The party recruited an ex-Republican in Michigan, but some tried to veto.
Revenge of the Never Trumpers (The Bulwark): Never Trumpers propelled the Democratic House victory in 2018 and Joe Biden’s victory in 2020, and they were also behind some of the Democrats who overperformed in 2022.
Empathy for the Middle (The Welcome Party): Democrats must understand voters in the middle — and call them into a big tent to avoid losing.
Only One Option Left (The Welcome Party): Peter Meijer and Liz Cheney have lit up the only path to saving democracy. It is not reforming the GOP from within.
4. Fix Democratic Fundraising
The Democratic political marketplace is highly irrational and inefficient. This inefficiency is not the fault of any organization or individual. It is a market failure. Each individual political organization acts rationally in response to incentives. In 2022, this meant that long shots like Marcus Flowers were showered with millions of dollars in unwinnable districts while Democrats went underfunded in more than a dozen potentially winnable seats.
Democratic Donors Are Getting Bamboozled (The Bulwark): You save democracy with actual wins; not fantasies.
Some Democrats fear a 2020 repeat as cash flows to long-shot candidates (CNN): Marcus Flowers raised millions of dollars in 2022, despite the fact that no amount of money could have given him a realistic chance of winning.
The Worst Investors (The Welcome Party): Following the money to its sad conclusion: Democratic donors have no clue what they’re doing.
5. “Popularism”: Embrace Popular Policies
Sometimes Democrats choose the maximalist policy positions that are popular with their base but may lead to losses (either at the ballot box or within a legislature), and other times they build a broad-based coalition to win over a majority of voters. The latter approach — alternatingly referred to as “Democracy 101” or by its wonkish name, “popularism” — is an approach that emphasizes elevating areas of broad consensus (things that are popular) over those that are fringe (read: unpopular). And it wins where Democrats don’t.
What was the popularism debate? (Slow Boring): It is counterproductive to progressive causes to push candidates in tough races to take high-salience public stances in favor of unpopular progressive causes. Instead, candidates should embrace popular progressive causes and allow them to make tactical retreats from fights where conservatives have public opinion on their side.
Popularism Works (The Welcome Party): The successful “No” campaign against a constitutional amendment that would have banned abortion in Kansas shows how Democrats can win in red states.
Smearing Popularism Doesn’t Help Black Voters (New York Magazine): One can’t persuasively rebut popularism’s arguments without first trying to understand them.
Socialism Sux (The Bulwark): Every time a Democrat says “socialism,” a voter swings to the right.
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