An idea so crazy it’s worth trying again
Another subtweet to Kamala and her team:
Candidates of color can win. Candidates of color who want to win the whole country need to appeal to at least some right-leaning voters.
Candidates of color who would rather appeal to left-leaning voters will never win national elections.
Don't run from Kamala the cop. Lean into it. Expand on it. If your old allies on the left are not calling you a traitor, then you're not going far enough.
“I bet a bunch of young, college-educated, city-dwelling staffers for the campaigns faced some eye-rolling from their young, college-educated, city-dwelling friends about some of their messaging choices.”
I think this is likely true, and I think the big unmentioned variable here - how Trump was a very different opponent than McCain or Romney - made it a lot more difficult for campaign organizations to hold their nose and stick to a tactically sound line. By raising the rhetorical stakes through his various outrages Trump goaded his opponents into electorally dubious moves like Clinton’s “deplorables” speech and Biden flirting with Defund the Police and packing the Supreme Court ideas.
I think Matt mentioned this on a Weeds podcast one time, but you may not even have to necessarily compromise on unpopular positions- just don’t talk about them. He pointed out that Republicans are really interested in lowering taxes for the rich, (look at one of Trump’s only substantive policy wins) but they never campaign on it. They campaign on other, more popular stuff and then do the tax cuts when they win. And perhaps more importantly, the donors/activists who want the tax cuts for the rich ALSO know it’s not popular, so don’t publicly pressure the Republicans to commit to it in campaigns. They are secure in the knowledge that they’ll get them when their candidates when. It’s a dynamic that Democrats could learn from.
All the Democrats need to do to win the downscale white vote is to come out swinging against all this woke nonsense. That stuff is hugely popular with about 3% of the population, tolerated by the rest of the Democrats who just roll their eyes and try to brush it under the rug, and despised by Republicans and most independents. Anti-wokeness is the entirety of the Republican platform, and motivates huge swathes of the electorate to vote against their interests. There's a chasm between being anti woke and being actually racist, and Democrats should occupy that space. It's the only way to pick up lots of new voters and they won't lose any of their existing voters. A no brainer.
Another factor in Obama-to-Trump voters:
There are many voters who don't research positions, don't follow politics, and vote on a whim. Novelty appeals to them. Let's give that new guy a try.
These people function like random number generators, introducing noise into any political analysis. When sober researchers are poring over Obama's rhetoric, color, positions, and so on, they are looking for patterns that, with respect to the random noise voters, just are not there.
Step 1: Move your center of operations and thought out of Brooklyn/DC. I daydream about a Democratic Party based in Madison or Des Moines or even Chicago. Hillary's campaign went the Amazon route and chose...Brooklyn.
What does this mean in practice? Does whoever is running against Ron Johnson in 2022 come out in favor of "bathroom bills" and ban teaching about slavery because it's a way to signal being one of the good democrats who hates wokeism? Do democrats need to pretend that there were election irregularities in 2020 that require investigations just so the median Fox News voter considers voting for them?
This comes off snarky but I mean it as a genuine question. At some point, there are policies attached to positions and candidates have to have stances on those. What is the optimal mix for some of the upcoming senate contests? How much pandering and to what extent? Is there a bridge too far? Do principles matter?
I'm sure I'm not the first person to whom this has occurred, but the corollary to the perception that Obama had to tread carefully on progressive policy priorities (lest he be stereotyped, because of his race, as an angry radical; some of you will you remember the infamous New Yorker cover) was the enhanced ability that his racial background -- his Blackness, if you will -- gave him to stand up to his party's left flank.
I voted for Romney in 2012, and then moved to Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020. Bluntly, I firmly agree with Matt here, because if Mitt Romney was the candidate (running a relatively similar campaign) I'd strongly consider returning to the GOP. I find Donald Trump deplorable, a danger to our democracy, and now his party must be stopped. But given better choices, I would find the Democratic Party far less palatable, especially if the Bernie Sanders/AOC wing takes charge.
Replace “pander” with “accommodate” and this is a good take. “Pander” suggests smug condescension and it is part of the problem people are reacting to.
As Matt has pointed out before, Democrats also need to govern well where they have power. I think a lot about policing and crime, recently.
If this murder wave were happening in our neighborhoods, we'd be treating it as the emergency that it is. Educated black activists are well represented in our leadership and media, black people who live in dangerous neighborhoods are not. It's always uncomfortable to admit when Trump is right, but he was largely right about Democrats controlling the cities where we're having the most problems. We need to lead.
Are we comfortable following the science, so to speak? Can we even get away with it? It looks like more police in more places definitely plays a role in preventing crime. Are Democrats even comfortable saying that part aloud? Have we allowed or created an environment where we can't? If I were still working as a lefty activist, I certainly wouldn't, not if I wanted to keep doing that work. I'm a white guy who still has a trace of a southern accent, for Pete's sake.
I see several issues where data might lead us in a direction, but it feels like our activists and media would tear us apart. I'm sure I'm not the only one who notices Matt stepping gingerly around some of these things. David Shor came through the other side and now does it loudly and proudly, bless him. Are our politicians and journalists capable of same, or will they try to destroy anyone who steps out of line with ist/phobe type accusations? We don't just need a Sister Souljah moment, we need a Sister Souljah movement.
I know a lot of people who are in denial, but we do have a speech problem on our side, leading to the letter that Matt signed. b the reaction to that anodyne free speech endorsement was alarming.
This issue isn't a simple matter of ignoring some activists. We have to find our way back to a speech environment that allows us to unabashedly use data to approach problems. All the messaging in the world can't save us if we cannot approach problem solving in an honest, effective way.
The situation at the border has been "disappeared" by the left-of-center media outlets. I can go for days or weeks without seeing any coverage of the situation from CNN, MSNBC (never), WaPo, NYT, etc. The issue just somehow doesn't exist.
It increasingly seems like news coverage is being driven by activists, in both parties. On the right, Rush Limbaugh found that the base has shifted more than he had, and he had to play catch-up. Fox News tried to dis Trump in 2016 and after the 2020 election, but the base of viewers wasn't having it. OAN and NewsMax gave the base what they wanted and Fox responded. The same thing happens on the left. So another 'fantasy" among Democrats is that Fox is driving the agenda on the right. Seems like Fox is enabling, rather than driving, the agenda, in order to keep up their ratings. The left's interpretation of what is happening is driven by a collective delusion, wishful thinking.
Kamala Harris is very much in this camp and if she faces DeSantis or another saner version f Trump, she will lose badly. We don't have to go down this road, but I don't see how we can avoid it, given how the D party is evolving. The left is misreading the room. They have gone much farther left than the country is willing to go. We need to stop blaming the Electoral College, or "sub-human" WWC voters (to quote a commenter on Dan Pfeiffer's Substack). Agree 100% with Matt's project of trying to pull the party back to reality.
Thank you, yes!!! I think that Democrats need to focus on economic issues of importance to less prosperous white voters because they are more likely to feel the impact of higher incomes, access to health care, and more food security. As an upper middle-class person, when my income goes up, I don't really notice. But, a family that now has $50-$100 more to spend a week, has more money to spend on essentials and periodic treats.
Back in 2000, my daughter was attending an in-home daycare run by a seriously conservative Christian woman. When we talked about the 2000 election, however, she said that she and her husband were planning to vote for Gore. She noted that her family had been blessed with economic prosperity during the Clinton years, and that Bush was an unknown quantity.
I know that's n=1, but I do believe that people appreciate policies, programs, and assistance that makes their lives easier, especially if they live at the margins. Instead of focusing on the latest culture war rant and rage, Democrats need to get back to basics.
This is a post begging for a part two that more specifically offers a deeper dive into the emphasis on the message discipline that Obama was imposing on his campaign and surrogates.
Because we don't live in a parliamentary system in which we have a strong party system that can impose control on individual politicians. Our party system is known for being notoriously weak. And if you're talking about messaging discipline from 2008 or 2012, several years in the past, it can be a little hazy and I think needs more explanation than just the closing paragraph.
In 2008 the party also had a number of existing surrogates, incumbent politicians, who themselves predated the ongoing sorting of college/non-college/upscale/downscale voters, and offered a base of support for the style of politics emphasizing outreach to secular downscale white voters, mostly in the Midwest.
How much of Obama's 2008 campaign was top-down decisions to embrace the choices narrative you're offering up, versus a realpolitik admission to pander not just to those downscale whites, but tackle the fact that there was a bloc of Democratic members demanding that those views be taken seriously.
So it's not just a question of why did Obama choose to shift to the more leftist style of politics later in the administration, but a discussion of how the 2010 wave and beyond eliminated the faction in the party that also pushed for him, or any Democratic leader, to stay mindful of downscale white voters.
I basically agree with this piece. But I think the counter-argument is that many of these folks are unreachable- more unreachable than they were in say 2008, which was 13 years ago!- due to the growing salience of culture war issues. Transgender issues, defund, open borders, kneeling..... these are the Most Important Issues In The World to a lot of relatively uneducated people. I also think Facebook has turned up the temperature on culture war politics in a way that just wasn't true in 2008. Supposedly it optimizes for engaging/outrageous/divisive content, and it helps a lot of people (not just on the right!) sit & stew in a constant bath of culture war fury at all times.
A surprisingly large chunk of the country believes that Defunding The Police & Open Borders are the official policy positions of the entire Democratic Party. I'm not really sure how to reach them any more than I'm sure how to 'talk someone out' of QAnon or what have you. It's not so much that I disagree with this piece- the last 5 years have just made me really pessimistic
The relationship of Obama to the white working class is more complicated than that. There is a fair amount of moral license at work here. Obama got a lot of praise for not being the 'typical' African-American politician like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton which was a dogwhistle that he wasn't one of "them". In hardcore white supremacist circles a lot is made that Obama is ackshually biracial.
And by voting for Obama once, the more knuckle-dragging voters were given license to go hard on the Trump train. The Obama-Trump voter is not such an unpredictable phenomena as people make it out to be. And the real outcome is that these voters are now even less likely to vote for a Democratic candidate, particularly a minority group member because the box has been checked.