washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: The Democratic Convention and the Dog That Didn’t Bark

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

The Democratic convention generally went off very well and Joe Biden did a terrific job with his big speech.

But was something missing? It did seem like there wasn’t much of an economic message. Presumably this was intentional and one can understand the logic behind it–keep the election a referendum on Trump, get voters very comfortable with Joe Biden the person, be inclusive in every kind of way from Democratic base groups to defecting Republicans. I get it.

But still….was an opportunity lost to put forward a crisp, clear message of economic growth and renewal that would galvanize working class voters, both white and nonwhite, and make them less potentially susceptible to Trump’s economic messages? I do wonder about this. It could matter for the campaign and also to governing should Biden get elected.

John Judis remarks:

“The Democrats in the past have alternated between being the party emphasizing economic growth (Kennedy’s “get the country moving again”) or redistribution (Mondale’s “making the rich pay their fair share”). Biden’s party, as viewed at the convention, was a party of redistribution. There were scattered appeals to growth (Bloomberg’s speech). There was mention of the “Green New Deal” and “Infrastructure” but no attempt to visualize or in other ways dramatize the promise of economic growth in these abstractions. “Build back better” is a tongue twister, but lacks content. America remains a world leader in high technology, but you wouldn’t have known it from the convention — except for the magic of the virtual presentations….

The Democrats of 2000, 2004, and 2016 failed to make [the] case [that they were the party of the great American middle] . The Democrats of 2020 have a candidate in Biden who embodies this appeal, but much of their rhetoric and the program itself, more clearly reflected the identity politics of 2016 that emphasizes difference and ignores, whether intentionally or not, predominately white, flyover America. The point is not to appeal, as Trump undoubtedly will, only to this America, but to present an image of a unitary American small-d democrat. It may be hard to do,, but the party’s ability to sustain majorities depends on it.”

Ron Brownstein elaborates:

“[Biden’s] speech, as well as the convention itself, had a conspicuous blind spot: The event did not deliver a concise critique of Trump’s economic record or offer a tight explanation of Biden’s plans to improve the economic circumstances of middle-class families. Though Biden ran through an extended list of policy goals on issues including job creation and climate change during his address, he offered vanishingly little detail about how he would achieve them—though, in fact, he’s delivered a series of detailed speeches laying out his agenda….

Even if Biden emerges from the convention with a boost in the polls, his choice to focus less on economic appeals and more on sweeping themes and social issues, particularly racial justice, raises some of the same questions that surfaced after the Democrats’ last national meeting. Though Hillary Clinton’s 2016 convention drew strong reviews, it too emphasized the party’s embrace of diversity, the breadth of her coalition, and Trump’s deficiencies of character without delivering a clearly delineated economic agenda for working families. Those choices faced pointed second-guessing after Election Day, when Trump’s huge margins among non-college-educated white voters allowed him to dislodge the Rust Belt battlegrounds of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin from the Democrats’ “blue wall” and claim his narrow victory….

One senior Biden adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to talk frankly, told me that the issues highlighted during that sequence reflect the priorities of the party’s modern base, as the campaign sees it: young people (guns and climate), suburban women (guns and women’s rights), and people of color (racial justice and immigration).

Yet unless Biden can win across a wide range of Sun Belt states, he’s unlikely to reach 270 Electoral College votes without improving at least somewhat among working-class white voters in the key Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. And analysts have long observed that many older Latino and African American voters in particular are more motivated to turn out to the polls by concrete plans to improve their life than by broad promises of confronting discrimination.”

It’s worth pointing out here that my analysis of Nationscape and other data indicates that the largest contribution to Biden’s improved margin relative to Clinton 2016, both overall and in key Rust Belt battleground states, has been due to relative improvement among white noncollege voters. The campaign should not lose sight of this and the general necessity to have a clear and compelling economic message in the rest of the campaign.

2 comments on “Teixeira: The Democratic Convention and the Dog That Didn’t Bark

  1. David Illig on

    After watching the entire DNC convention programming, I too believe more time should have been devoted to both a critique of Trumps economic mismanagement and Biden’s ideas for economic recovery.
    While it is clear that we cannot really manage an economic recovery without gaining control over the virus, it should be important to both describe how Biden’s economic plans will drive the recovery; and, how Trump’s proposals — such as they are — would not work.

    It would be nice to see the Biden campaign address these differences!

  2. Frank Levy on

    Absolutely right. And in reading through the list of Biden’s Zoom events, I have seen no events scheduled with unemployed workers or essential workers. Using Zoom these events for fundraising is fine but it’s not enough.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.