The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Three cheers for the moderates

Rep. Jacky Rosen (D- Nev.) won a U.S. Senate seat, defeating incumbent Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) Nov. 6. (Video: The Washington Post)

NBC News reports:

“They flipped exactly zero House seats. Zero point zero,” said Matt Bennett, a senior vice president of the centrist Democratic thank tank Third Way, referring to two prominent progressive groups that emerged from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid — Our Revolution and Justice Democrats.
Our Revolution did not dispute that figure. Spokesperson Diane May said the group still won at least 67 races overall and noted that two of its endorsed candidates, J.D. Scholten, who challenged Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and Liuba Grechen Shirley, who took on Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., came “very close to unseating incumbents.”
On the other side, according to the moderate New Democrat Coalition, which cast a wider net in its endorsements, candidates in 23 of the roughly 29 seats Democrats have netted so far were backed by the group.

Democrats who were smart enough to unite around a singular focus on health care — gosh, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) turned out to be a pretty good strategist, huh? — should be smart enough to learn that, outside deep-blue enclaves, they better run candidates who will win and hold onto all those new female, suburban and college-educated voters.

It is also important to note that the difference between moderate and progressive Democrats is much smaller than the gap, say, between the Freedom Caucus and the defeated suburban House Republicans. (“Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, cited as an example Jacky Rosen, who won a Nevada Senate seat Tuesday by ousting Republican incumbent Dean Heller. ‘I don’t think anybody thinks of Jacky as a foaming-at-the-mouth liberal, she just holds the values of reproductive freedom, gun safety and expanding access to healthcare and made her case to the people of Nevada in an authentic way,’ Hogue said.”)

In fact, the definitions of “moderate Democrat” and “progressive Democrat” are shifting as even red America embraces issues such as Medicaid expansion and minimum-wage increases. (Missouri and Arkansas voted to raise their minimum wages to $12 and $13 dollars, respectively, over several years.) It’s not as though moderate Democrats want to cut entitlements or round up and deport “dreamers.” The biggest distinction may be whether Democrats embrace the Our Revolution list of “free” things (e.g., single-payer health care, free college education), and whether they look at the private sector as either a benefit and potential agent of positive change or as an enemy of social and economic progress.

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The leaders of Third Way made another sound observation in an op-ed for The Post:

All of this belies the lazy conventional wisdom that has started to solidify about the new diversity in Democratic politics: Support for the magnificent range of diverse candidates who have been inspired to run simply does not equal a demand for democratic socialism. These midterms will usher in a new generation of Democrats that is more representative of the full panoply of voters than any class in history. In the 116th Congress, close to 40 percent of the Democratic caucus in the House will be women, nearly half the caucus may be nonwhite, and the LGBTQ community could boast as many as eight representatives — all a record. That is a welcome and overdue change for the party. But don’t assume people of color, women and LGBTQ candidates are all populists or far-left progressives. They run the ideological gamut inside the party. . . .
You don’t get that sort of diversity anywhere else. In fact, in its groundbreaking 8,000-person survey, More in Common found that “progressive activists” in the electorate are 92 percent white. Of all the “political tribes” it identified in its report on “The Exhausted Majority,” only “devoted conservatives” (at 94 percent) are more consistently white.

That might explain why, despite his socialist moniker Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), sounds tone-deaf at times. (“I think you know there are a lot of white folks out there who are not necessarily racist who felt uncomfortable for the first time in their lives about whether or not they wanted to vote for an African-American,” Sanders said, unbelievably. I don’t suppose he’d win Florida in a general election after essentially calling them bigots.)

Now, not all super-progressives lost, and moderates had their own losses — most glaringly in Senate races in Missouri and Indiana. For now, the party should be happy that both Sen. Jon Tester, a moderate, ran and won reelection in Montana and that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive, ran and won her congressional race in New York.

As for 2020, Democrats would be wise to do two things. First, work on getting young and nonwhite voters engaged and ready to turn out in places such as Texas and Arizona. The next time a Beto O’Rourke runs, he might win. Second, remember, as a party out of power, Democrats must maintain a broad coalition — keep their loyal friends loyal, cement ties to first-time Democratic voters who fled the GOP, and find a presidential ticket that can mirror the success of winners such as Rosen, new Rust Belt Democratic governors and new suburban Democratic House members. Follow the winners’ advice, not the losers’.