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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: Where We Are After the Fourth Democratic Presidential Debate

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

So, Where Are We After the Latest Round of Debates?

John Judis’ piece on the Talking Points Memo site is a good place to start, which runs down many of the disquieting and counter-productive (from the standpoint of Democratic victory) stances taken by various Democratic candidates. By my count, he hits points 1,2, 5, 6 and 7 of the Common Sense Democrat creed in his discussion.

As for effects on the nomination race, I think Biden will remain the front-runner with Warren, Harris and Sanders below that and Harris perhaps slipping a bit. Booker preformed well and may get some sort of bump. But, for all the strident positions taken and various attack lines launched, particularly at Biden, I doubt if things will change too much.

It’s interesting to speculate about why so many candidates feel obliged to take non-viable political stances in their quest for the nomination. Kevin Drum has a theory which I cannot completely discount: He blames it on “the twitterization of the progressive movement”.

“No matter how carefully you curate your Twitter feed, and no matter how much you try to take Twitter with a grain of salt, it will inevitably overexpose you to a very specific subset of the progressive movement. This is not just the activist subset. It’s a group that’s way leftier, way louder, way less tolerant, way woker, way younger, and way whiter than the Democratic Party as a whole. Even if you think you’re sophisticated enough to understand this and account for it, spending time on Twitter almost certainly skews your view of the progressive movement….

Many of the Democratic candidates seem like they’re in thrall to the lefty twitterverse, deathly afraid of doing anything that might bring down a viral storm on their heads. And it’s hard to blame them, since campaign reporters also love Twitter, and will turn these viral shitstorms into page A1 stories in the New York Times.”

An interesting twist on this is to consider how this might be leading candidates especially banking on black support like Harris and Booker astray. They appear to be assuming that attacks on Biden on race and on his association with various controversial aspects of Obama’s record will eventually pay off with black voters.

But what if they’re wrong? What if in reality this sort of stuff appeals more to a particular sector of woke white liberals than to black voters? That certainly seems to be the pattern so far. And the latest debates may just confirm that. From a Politico article on reaction to attacks on Obama’s record:

“Henry Crespo, former chair of the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida, who watched the debate with about a dozen fellow black Democratic officials and operatives, cold-called a POLITICO reporter outraged with what he saw transpire on the debate stage Tuesday and the following day, when Harris and Booker appeared to him to be insufficiently supportive of Obama.

“Obama is an icon in our community. And they’re attacking his legacy Obamacare? And Joe Biden is the one defending it?” he asked.

“We were sitting here watching this and wondering: ‘What the hell are you doing? What is wrong with our party?’ It’s like they want to lose,” Crespo said, adding that Democrats like him resent Harris and Booker for attacking Biden’s record on race.

“Joe Biden is not Bull Connor,” Crespo said. “You just can’t make us believe it.”

Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), Biden’s campaign co-chair and the former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Obamacare is widely supported among African Americans because it’s good policy and people know how hard it was for Obama to pass his signature health law.

“I don’t think it’s the wisest move to go after it. You’ve got to realize when you go after it, you’re doing exactly what Trump and Republicans have tried to do, which is repeal Obamacare,” he said. “When you talk about the Affordable Care Act, there’s deep, deep appreciation for it. That was a hard-fought win.”…

“The attacks, particularly from Harris and Booker, have been backfiring with black voters who always show up in Democratic primaries,” said Patrick Murray, a Monmouth University pollster who released a survey last week showing Biden capturing 51 percent of the African-American vote in South Carolina’s Democratic primary, where more than 60 percent of the electorate is black.

“Black voters are significantly less liberal than white voters in the Democratic primary,” Murray said. “So if their strategy is to attack him because he’s not woke enough on race or left enough on issues like Medicare for All, it’s not going to help you with these voters.”

Murray said polls show the dismissal of Obamacare made no sense more broadly with Democratic voters who like the program. Surveys also show voters prefer Biden’s proposal to add a Medicare-like public option to Obamacare rather than scrapping all private insurance and instituting a Medicare for All plan.”

More broadly, Ron Brownstein reminds us that, beyond the leanings of black voters, the overall structure of the Democratic primary electorate makes an approach that works best with woke white liberals and the twitterverse unwise.

“While the attacks on Biden from his left could further erode his position with the party’s progressive wing, his rivals may have simultaneously painted themselves more deeply into an ideological corner that constrains their capacity to grow among more centrist Democratic voters.

In the 2016 race, voters who identified as “very liberal” were the only ideological group in which Sanders ran evenly with Hillary Clinton. But they represented only about one-fourth of all primary voters, according to a cumulative analysis of 2016 exit polls by CNN. Voters who identified as “somewhat liberal” (just over one-third) or “moderate and conservative” (about two-fifths) cast a larger share of the vote. Likewise, voters over age 45 cast fully 60 percent of all primary votes in 2016, compared with about one-sixth for voters under 30.”

In short, it could be that some of the leading candidates are drastically underestimating the number of Common Sense Democrats and vastly overestimating the number of woke progressives. So far, that’s to Biden’s advantage.

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