Being a moderate in today’s political playing field is difficult. Anyone who tries to strike up a reasonable dialogue while playing in the partisan sandbox is likely to be attacked by bullies from Trump’s right-wing nativists and left-wing cultural warriors. It’s safer to stay home (away from social media) and hope the extremes cancel out before you burn down the public park.
Democrats and Republicans have a similar problem with vocal extremists seeking to control individual party messages. On the right, mainstream conservative Republicans are “shunned” by neophyte candidates with few political credentials other than loyalty to Donald Trump. These candidates do not understand or care about public policy. Their strong point is to energize the Trump base and attack all the others.
On the left are cultural activists who have replaced the normal push for gradual cultural change with an accelerated cultural agenda. As part of this trend, Democrats are judged not only by the public policies they support, but also by how “awake” they are about important social issues. This includes calling for police funding, recognizing white privilege and institutional racism, and embracing the extreme element of the Me Too movement.
What’s different between the two political extremes is that most Republicans have greeted the gravitation towards Trumpism as a Faustian deal designed to win back Congress in 2022. The Republican Party is laser-focused and will tolerate little dissent. among its leaders on the road to gain. short-term political benefits.
Conversely, not all Democrats are equally convinced by culture wars. While militant progressives pride themselves on having pushed the Democratic Party to the left, a more measured opposition wants to slow down the process to keep moderates and independents under the Democratic tent.
In the current political climate, the extremist dilemma is a greater obstacle to obtaining and maintaining political power for Democrats than for Republicans. By refusing to show moderation, the Republicans maintained their coalition and gained strength with voters opposed to one or more progressive cultural positions. On the other hand, when the Democratic Party moves more to the left, it turns off voters who fear being labeled left-wing extremists or socialists. Better to be seen as a patriot in favor of God and the homeland than to make neighbors believe that you are a closet Communist.
In my opinion, winning an election remains the ultimate price, not changing social mores faster than the average American can absorb. I’m on the same side as journalist Kevin Drum, longtime writer for the ultra-liberal publication Mother Jones. In a recent article he wrote: “Being personally happy doesn’t mean anything in politics. What matters is how the mid-voter feels and Democrats have been moving further and further away from the mid-voter for years. (If you hate culture wars, blame the liberals, July 3, 2021)
Mr Drum does an analysis on the back of the envelope to conclude that “Despite the endless pleas of hope of ‘but the polls show people love our positions’, the truth is that the Democratic Party has been pulled quite far. left so that even a lot of non-crazy people just find us scary. Moderate voters feel uncomfortable that “their whole life is in the spotlight and deemed insufficient”.
The recent New York Democratic primary provided an interesting glimpse into the state of more moderate Democratic politics. During the campaign, the progressive tendencies of current Mayor Bill de Blasio or Bronx Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were nowhere in evidence. Eric Adams, a former NYPD captain, won the primary. His campaign message was moderate and straightforward, based on recovery from the pandemic and controlling violent crime rates.
The midterm elections in 2022 will determine whether the Biden administration is able to govern effectively in the final two years of its tenure. Democrats cannot forget that the stream of new voters who helped Obama achieve his historic two victories collapsed midway through. This allowed Republicans to control Congress and to functionally end Obama’s ability to pass laws. For Biden to avoid this outcome, several factors are important.
First, it is impossible to win in 2022 without the Democratic base fully engaged. As a result, Biden is right to honor his commitments to his progressive base. However, it should focus on policies, such as infrastructure, which least offend the moderates and independents.
Second, Democrats must use the anti-democratic, anti-immigration, and anti-equality messages of Trumpism with the same fervor as when Trump was in power. The more Trump succeeds in recruiting unqualified candidates into the Republican primaries, the better the Democrats will do in the general election.
Third, Democrats must turn Republican attempts to limit voting into a central campaign issue so that young voters and voters of color have a vested interest in overcoming any obstacles to voting to prove that their voice counts.
Fourth, analysts estimate Democrats will need to capture about 52% of the national popular vote to maintain a majority in the House. This can only be accomplished if many marginal Democratic voters who participated in the 2020 election remain in the electorate.
Republicans have learned that extremism can win local and national elections. Democrats must counter by moderating their rhetoric on sensitive social issues. Keeping moderates and independents engaged is key to maintaining democratic control of Congress in 2020.
Gary Stout is a Washington lawyer.