Democrat: Finding the Balance
On top of a deadly pandemic, the largest global recession in decades, and the violent aftermath of Trumpism, an ideological crisis now plagues the Democratic Party. Despite Joe Biden’s presidential victory, the 2020 elections exacerbated the sharp divide within his party; after losing 15 seats in the House of Representatives and 225 seats in state legislatures, the progressive new guard and the moderate old guard now openly point fingers at one another. Progressive Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of NY-14 dismissed defeated Democratic incumbents as “sitting ducks,” blaming their lack of outreach and digital campaigning. In response, moderate Conor Lamb of PA-17 accused the association of all Democrats with “unpopular” progressivism, such as “defunding the police,” that caused Democratic losses in swing districts. The true reason for the Democrats’ loss lies somewhere in the middle: while traditionally centrist (and even right-leaning) voters chose Biden to oust Donald Trump, they still honored their conservative preferences by voting Republican on legislative and congressional ballots.
The upcoming midterms vastly differ from 2018. With no Trump to rally against, Democrats risk losing control of Congress. Hence, with higher stakes and expectations in 2022, Democrats’ survival entirely depends on balancing the new and old: progressives and moderates, grassroots mobilization, and middle-of-the-road bipartisanship. Only by reforming strategies and ensuring successful legislation through a multifaceted approach can Democrats expect success in the coming years.
If the Democratic Party is to remain united, progressives and moderates must find a way to coexist and collaborate. It is true that many Americans generally support progressive ideas such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal—expansion of affordable, government-provided health care and a more aggressive approach to climate change—but are wary of the progressive label associated with the proposals themselves. Instead, they are likely to back more moderate alternatives, such as Public Option, which would not overhaul all private insurance as Medicare for All would, and Biden’s climate plan, which includes less lofty targets for carbon-neutrality and would cost significantly less to implement compared to the Green New Deal. By passing policies that appear moderate in comparison with progressive ideas, while still heading towards the same general goal, both factions of the party benefit.
Although easier said than done, progressive and moderates need to stop squabbling and start responding to the specific problems that plague them. Moderates do suffer from misinformation campaigns; Republican strategists boasted of their effective assault on Democratic candidates with labels such as “radical socialists,” a sweeping and entirely inaccurate generalization which hurts centrists in swing states. Ocasio-Cortez rightfully says that progressives won while remaining true to their beliefs; however, they were running in safer, Democrat-favoring districts, and thus could afford to be bolder. Meanwhile, progressives are right in that the Democratic Party must change and strengthen its outreach tactics. Specifically, the old guard must learn lessons from Trump’s aggressive, and effective, outreach campaigns and further their appeal to a new generation of technology-friendly young voters.
The 2022 Democratic strategy thus requires a case-by-case examination: With a widening spectrum of voters hailing from lower-income, minority-majority areas to affluent, heavily white areas, Democrats cannot use one progressive or moderate strategy for 435 congressional districts and 50 states.
Established moderates’ common strategy has been to encourage centrists in key swing states to vote for them—this often involves focusing on middle-class, white centrist Midwesterners. Their efforts have been effective to some degree, with Biden winning back Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania from Trump. However, the absolutely crucial strategy for a “blue 2022” lies in the recent grassroots mobilization of black voters. An overwhelming 87 percent of African-Americans voted for Joe Biden—most notably in Georgia. With 73 percent of black Georgians leaning Democrat, the efforts of former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams helped cement the blue flip by propelling Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to the Senate. Despite runoff races traditionally favoring Republicans, Abrams encouraged a turnout equal to 93 percent of the turnout of the 2020 general election in precincts where black voters were 80 percent of the electorate, beating out the 87 percent turnout in white, working-class precincts. It was Abrams’ focus on voter protection resources and increased voter registration that allowed Democrats to clinch the presidency and Senate—and the party would do itself a great favor by continuing and expanding Abrams’ grassroots approach in future elections.
The final key to a Democratic victory would be the party’s performance over the crucial next two years of recovery. As absolute party-line voting can never be guaranteed of all Democrats, they have no choice but to return to the challenge of reaching across the aisle. Realistically, bipartisanship is currently impossible for major issues such as gun control, affordable healthcare, and climate reform—the ideological split between the two parties runs far too deep. However, Biden’s art of compromise can make a difference in less controversial topics. In an age defined by fierce, destructive partisanship, even brief bipartisan cooperation on moderate bills would be symbolic and encouraging to a divided, cynical America. And there still remain Republican senators willing to overstep party lines and allow Democrats to narrowly pass the necessary bills—Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and Mitt Romney have already shown they are open to compromise on the Senate floor. Such deals will be moderate—but if united moderates and progressives help restore bipartisanship to Congress, the party’s greater approval and majority in 2022 will allow their joint agenda to continue enacting meaningful change.
The bottom line: Progressives and moderates need to realize that they are all interdependent political allies, sharing in the leadership of the post-Trump age as one party. To succeed in 2022, Democrats must abandon all intra-party insults and spats; they must unite themselves before leading the efforts to unite a fractured America.