Those of you who frequent the more intensively political regions of the Democratic blogosphere undoubtedly know about Paul Hackett‘s campaign in a special congressional election in Ohio, and his impressive 48 percent showing yesterday. It doesn’t require spin to call this a large moral victory, given the overwhelmingly Republican nature of the district and the difficulty of mounting a successful insurgency in a special election, where turnout is usually abominable. In terms of its broader implications, the result is being widely interpreted as (a) a very good sign for Ohio Democrats looking forward to ’06; (b) a very good sign that Democrats nationally can compete in very red districts in ’06, with the right kind of candidates and committed support; and (c) a vindication of the power of the “netroots,” which raised a lot of money for Hackett and all but coerced the DCCC into a serious effort in this race. Taking these interpretations in order:(a) Absolutely, Ohio Democrats can and should have a spectacular year in 2006. The state’s entrenched GOP leadership, which controls all aspects of state government, has thoroughly worn out its welcome with Buckeye voters, combining bad policies and rampant corruption on a scale that seems to expand endlessly. And Ohio Democrats have properly made reform their mantra. Polls consistently show either of the current Democratic candidates for Governor, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman or U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, with sizeable leads over the most likely Republican candidates. Sen. Mike DeWine’s increasingly obvious vulnerability will almost certainly attract an A-list opponent in the next few months. The legislature is poised to flip. It’s all blue skies at this point.(b) It’s trickier to assume the Ohio Special is a 2006 bellweather nationally, though I obviously hope it is. As I recall, Dems did pretty well in Specials in 2003 and 2004 as well; Stephanie Herseth won in a South Dakota at-large district that was nearly as “red” as Ohio-2. On the other hand, the Hackett race was much more of a referendum on GOP policies in Columbus and in Washington than those earlier Specials. The real question is whether Dems nationally can win big with the kind of reform/anti-corruption message that worked well in Ohio. Yes, Ohio presents an especially lurid example of the consequences of total Republican control, but Ohio GOPers do live in the same debased moral and ideological universe as their brethren elsewhere, especially in Washington. So it’s definitely worth a try in ’06.(c) The “netroots” deserve a lot of credit for making the Hackett race competitive financially and organizationally, and for drawing larger attention to it. But obviously, a quasi-nationalized Special Election is an almost ideal playing-field for netroots-based fundraising and organizing. Replicating their disproportionate Ohio-2 impact in a national campaign with hundreds of targets and a plethora of local factors won’t be easy. The best sign, IMO, is that all this excitement was generated on behalf of a candidate nicely tailored to a “red” district, whose policy views probably were at odds with those of a lot of the folks generating the excitement and the cash. And I gather the national groups and bloggers involved in Hackett’s campaign let the candidate and his staff call all the important shots. In any event, it was a great effort in tough terrain, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing again soon from Paul Hackett.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
While mulling some recent material from The Bulwark, I thought I’d explain something to the converted “Never Trumpers” the outlet represents, and did so at New York:
For a while now I’ve had a guilty-pleasure reading habit: The Bulwark, that semi-official outlet of Never Trumpers who view themselves as having definitively broken with the GOP thanks to their former party’s thralldom to Donald J. Trump. I share its contributors’ belief that they (the tribe usefully described by Miller as Red Dog Democrats) represent not just a self-promoting claque of elite scribblers but a real if marginal faction of the Democratic Party, having burned a lot of bridges on their way out of the GOP. Their views appear to parallel those of a significant number of suburban Republicans and independents who voted Democratic in 2018 and 2020. And given the very close balance between voters of the two parties, as reflected most recently in 2020, Democrats really can’t afford to contemptuously reject any potential adherents, however alien or even repugnant they might find their backgrounds.
So it’s understandable when Bulwark co-founder Charlie Sykes expresses frustration that Democrats refuse to consider their pleas for policy concessions on grounds of holding old grudges:
“The spending. The wokeness. The repeal of the Hyde Amendment. I could go on …
“These are difficult times for folks on the center-right, who’ve tried to join Democrats in a loose alliance to protect the Republic from Trumpism …
“Litmus tests are applied: it’s not enough to be pro-democracy, NTers are also expected to embrace the elements of the progressive agenda — from free community college, to abortion, rent moratoriums, police funding, transgenderism, CRT, social spending, and the candidacy of Greta Thunberg for sainthood.”
Sykes fears it’s all very personal, and warns, “If you cancel moderates/conservatives for their past sins, you don’t have a coalition.”
Here’s the thing, though: It’s not really about the Red Dogs. Yes, I’m sure it’s been tough for them to watch Democrats largely come together around a legislative program that’s significantly more progressive than the one advanced by the Obama administration. But Democrats have been coalescing around the basics of the Build Back Better agenda for some time now. That the famously moderate Joe Biden now embraces it is a sign of how the party has slowly evolved, not some sort of betrayal or surrender to the left. And anyone who paid close attention to the 2020 presidential primaries should have understood that there is less distance between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders than between Joe Biden and the Joe Biden of the 1990s.
Part of what has happened is simply a resolution of internal conflicts among Democrats that left them defensive and at times incoherent. A classic example is one that Sykes mentioned: abortion policy. For years, Democrats claimed to value reproductive rights even as they accepted significant limitations on them: e.g., the Hyde Amendment, which made abortion services, unlike any other medical services, ineligible for any sort of federal support. That amendment, along with acceptance of some largely symbolic restrictions on rare late-term abortions, and the whole “safe, legal, and rare” messaging introduced by Bill Clinton, represented concessions to a significant bloc of Democratic voters and Democratic pols who did not recognize reproductive rights at all.
That has changed over time. Anti-abortion Democratic politicians are a rare and shrinking breed, and there are now significantly fewer anti-abortion Democratic voters than there are pro-choice Republicans. Most Democrats, including Joe Biden, have made the leap into a more coherent and unified position. They aren’t going to turn back the clock to satisfy ex-Republicans, but they aren’t insisting on a “litmus test” just to annoy or exclude them, either. The same could be said for other policy tenets once beloved by a significant number of Democrats — from fiscal hawkishness to armed interventionism to an openness to “entitlement reform” — that remain attractive to the newest proto-Democrats. As for the idea that Democrats are some sort of rigid ideological cult: Come on, seriously? Look at what’s going on with the attempted enactment of the Build Back Better reconciliation bill. If this is an intolerant and exclusive political party, I’d hate to see a loosey-goosey one try to function. It may just be that the issues Red Dogs fret about may lie outside the still relatively loose bounds of party unity.
This doesn’t mean Red Dogs should despair, but it may mean another painful reevaluation of priorities, recognizing that most have already had to sacrifice a lot of old allegiances and even the habitual language used to make sense of the political world. In many respects, the Never Trumpers resemble their spiritual (and in some cases biological) predecessors, the neo-conservatives. These were people who broke with the Democratic Party out of a conviction that Democratic views on national security made continued party loyalty impossible. But most of them retained many views that horrified their new Republican allies until they accepted the inevitable role of a factional minority and grew to accommodate or even share the policy positions and ideological language of the GOP, which was increasingly dominated by conservatives with their own ideological-consistency demands.
Most Red Dogs have no illusions about the party they’ve left and understand their constituencies are too small to form a third force or demand concessions from a position of strength. Most, I suppose, will get used to the strange and sometimes lurid landscape of the Donkey Party. Others will embrace the posture of the gadfly, the people of no party or coalition. But it’s really not personal. It’s just politics.