Like the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland, Republican voters seem capable of believing as many as six impossible things before breakfast. In their looking-glass world, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFears grow over Russian chemical threat to Ukraine Overnight Defense & National Security Senators grill Biden officials on Ukraine Jussie Smollett gets 150 days in jail after faking hate crime against himself MORE trounced Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, the worlds scientists are colluding in a climate change hoax and evil epidemiologists pushed mask mandates to deprive Americans of their liberty, not to protect them from a virus thats killed more than six million people.
Democrats are wondering how they could possibly be losing to a defiantly delusional GOP in party preference matchups. One answer is that midterm elections are always tough on the party in power. Another is that Democrats have been falling into rabbit holes too.
Their illusions are explored in The New Politics of Evasion, a new study by two veteran political analysts, Bill Galston and Elaine Kamarck published by the Progressive Policy Institute. Its a timely and incisive exercise in political reality therapy for President BidenJoe BidenBiden expected to call for nixing normal trade relations with Russia Senate averts shutdown, passes .6B in Ukraine aid GOP senators urge Biden to expedite transfer of airpower, air defense systems to Ukraine MORE and his party, whose public approval has cratered over the past year.
By ignoring defecting swing voters, the authors warn, Democrats could not only take a beating in November but also reopen the door to Trumps return, putting our democracy at risk.
Galston and Kamarck, who served in previous Democratic administrations, dissect three persistent myths that blind their party to todays electoral realities. The first is that people of color are a political monolith welded together by the common experience of discrimination. For decades, party strategists have been predicting that, as their share of the electorate inexorably grows, minorities will combine with white progressive activists to propel Democrats into permanent majority status.
That hasnt happened, for two reasons. First, people of color dont think alike or see themselves as fellow victims of societal oppression. Second, working-class Blacks and Hispanics generally have more moderate views than college-educated and affluent white progressives.
Democrats were shocked in 2020 by Trumps gains among Hispanic voters, and their drift toward Republicans continues. Galston and Kamarck note that Hispanic and Black attitudes diverge across a range of issues, including police reform, critical race theory, foreign policy and governments role in assuring economic opportunity.
They suggest that the Hispanic trajectory in the United States may instead follow that of other immigrants who came here voluntarily. Democrats must consider the possibility that Hispanics will turn out to be the Italians of the 21st century, family-oriented, religious, patriotic, striving to succeed in their adopted country, and supportive of public policies that expand economic opportunity without dictating results.
The second myth is that economics trumps culture. Progressives believe that if only Democrats would champion a truly transformational plan for government action to trammel predatory capitalism and deliver public benefits to working families, voters would tune out the Republicans diversionary cultural war messages and come home to the party of FDR.
But social, cultural and religious values are intrinsically important to U.S. voters of all stripes, whatever their economic circumstances. So simply amping up economic populism isnt going to allay voters qualms about progressive rhetoric on crime, immigration, education, race and gender.
In fact, it works the other way: Democrats will need to embrace cultural moderation if they want to get a hearing on their economic agenda. Even so, working-class voters seem more interested in better jobs and prospects for upward mobility than hand-outs from Washington. Aspiration, not redistribution, seems to matter most to swing voters.
Third is the myth of a progressive ascendancy in the Democratic Party. In fact, the party is about evenly split between self-described liberals and moderates and conservatives. Among U.S. voters generally, Galston and Kamarck note that only 7 percent describe themselves as very liberal and only 9 percent associate themselves with the democratic socialist policies of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders Sanders calls for end to MLB antitrust exemption Reality therapy for Democrats Former Bernie Sanders press secretary: proposed defense budget includes excessive amount for private contractors MORE (I-Vt.) and the House Squad.
This basic electoral math explains why the lefts base mobilization theory of victory always comes up short. Turnout broke records in 2020, but instead of producing a more progressive electorate, the influx of voters helped Republicans more than Democrats.
In a fascinating discussion of the new structure of U.S. politics, Galston and Kamarck illuminate an extraordinary partisan deadlock. In the nine elections between 1988 and 2020, no candidate has come close to a 10-point victory margin, and five of the past six have been settled by margins of less than 5 percentage points. In five of these elections, the winner failed to secure a majority of the national popular vote"
Until this impasse is broken by a political realignment, swing voters will determine election outcomes. Thats true, the authors note, even though the number of swing states has shrunk dramatically.
Rather than currying favor with progressive activists, Democrats should sharpen their appeal to the persuadable voters in the battleground states of the past two election cycles. They need to replicate Bidens success with college-educated suburbanites, and his modest but significant inroads among white working-class voters. They also need to get a better handle on what working-class Hispanic voters really expect from political leaders, and work to prevent further slippage among blue-collar Black voters.
While leftwing purists may not appreciate it, Galston and Kamarck have done their party a great service by illuminating a pragmatic path toward building durable governing majorities.
This is not their first rodeo. Way back in 1989, they wrote the original Politics of Evasion, which punctured the consoling myths Democrats fell back on to rationalize a long string of presidential defeats. That analysis helped make the case for the New Democrat renovation of the partys agenda and Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonReality therapy for Democrats LIVE COVERAGE: Biden delivers State of the Union A promise kept: How Biden can come away with a win this SOTU MOREs subsequent success in snapping the Democrats losing streak.
If Democrats want to avoid disaster in November and keep Trump sidelined, theyd be wise to read the sequel.
Will Marshallis president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI).
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