Stop Wasting Money And Let Conservative Dems Just Go Extinct
On Monday, beltway bullshit scorecard POLITICOreported that nominal Democratic senators like Joe Manchin, Claire McCaskill, and Heidi Heitkamp appear eager to help the new Republican majority advance legislation. Manchin even called the idea of not working with Republicans to promote their agenda "bullshit." They probably think that burnishing their "moderate centrist" credentials in this way will help them keep their jobs when they face the voters in 2018. They are wrong.
Assuming a Democrat is elected president in 2016, and middle class wages remain stagnant or continue to shrink, here is what will happen to Joe Manchin and Claire McCaskill and Heidi Heitkamp in 2018: They will lose.
It will not matter if Joe Manchin literally shoots every climate bill that hits his desk. It will not matter if Claire McCaskill personally lays the Keystone XL pipeline's ceremonial Golden Pipe. And it will not matter if Heidi Heitkamp drinks a Bakken oil smoothie for breakfast every morning.
All of them will lose. The DSCC and Democratic donors will spend millions of dollars defending these senators, none of whom can be counted on to advance any progressive policy proposal that is not already popular to the point of inevitability. For them, that was the lesson of the 2010 "shellacking" midterms: Going out on a limb for your party is suicide. Of the Manchin-McCaskill-Heitkamp trio profiled in the POLITICO article, only McCaskill had to vote on Obamacare and the stimulus. She voted for both, and was on her way to losing to Todd Akin in 2012 -- overall a good Democratic year -- before Akin started expounding bizarrely on "legitimate rape" and flamed out.
This lesson was reinforced In the 2014 midterms. Every Democratic senate candidate running in a state that Obama lost in 2012 also lost. Mary Landrieu, Kay Hagan, Mark Begich and Mark Pryor all were all facing voters for the first time since voting for Obamacare and the 2009 stimulus bill. Pryor lost badly. Hagan lost narrowly. Begich lost. And Landrieu is not favored in her runoff against Bill Cassidy.
Surveying the carnage, Manchin et al appear to have concluded that their best hope is to act even more like Republicans. Even though some Democrats have the crazy idea that the lesson from 2014 is that Democrats should try acting more like Democrats and running on Democratic principles. But what do they know? As for the Conservadems, if they had any hope at all, that would indeed be their best one. But they don't. They will lose anyway. It will be expensive and demoralizing. But there is another way.
Let them lose. Then start running Democrats who are recognizable as Democrats in a blind taste test. Even in places where the conventional wisdom says they won't play well. These candidates will almost certainly lose too, at first. But at least the party's resources will be spent on promoting candidates who support the core agenda that rank and file Democrats go out and vote for. Maybe undecided voters in "red states" won't trust that agenda in Round 1, but as things stand now, they're not even being asked to evaluate it. They choose between the Republican and the Republican with a "D" next to their name.
Some liberal readers will object that this or that political issue is too important to cede even one potentially winnable seat to the opposition. Judicial nominations, for example. The environment. The social safety net. Racial, gender, and sexual equality.
Well, listen. The best we're going to get out of Joe Manchin in any of these areas is a loose tourniquet. He'll stop the bleeding -- maybe, if he feels it won't cost him his job -- but when it comes to actively doing the things that the median Democratic voter wants? Let's just say he'll never be mistaken for Elizabeth Warren.
And no, a Warrenesque candidate probably wouldn't win West Virginia in 2018 if President Sanders has a low approval rating and nobody's had a raise in four years. But neither would Manchin. So let's cut the Manchins loose and go down with candidates who actually stand for the values of the Democratic wing of the Democratic party. Then, when structural conditions are right again for Democrats to win in "red states," voters will have already seen what a real Democrat looks like up close.
A final point: We have observed that, in reality, a candidate's individual policy positions matter less than people think to the outcomes of elections. This is true even on prominent issues. For example, if Mark Pryor had voted against Obamacare and the stimulus, do you think he'd have fared much better? Of course not! He lost because the economy sucks for many Americans, his state favors Republicans, and a Democrat is president. Period. Would voting against Obamacare and the stimulus have saved Begich? Like, maybe? But how many Democrats does he lose for making and presumably defending those votes? Our very scientific gut says it's a wash.
So why do we just assume that Democrats in "red" or "purple" states can't take liberal positions? Probably because they so rarely try, because they're cowards who don't deserve to be nominated. So let's stop nominating them.
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