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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: Quit Whining and Figure Out How to Win!

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

With the sub-optimal down-ballot election results has come the predictable loud complaints from the left about the structure of the American electoral system especially, of course, the Senate. There is no doubt that given the current distribution of partisan preferences the structure of the Senate disadvantages the Democrats. And there is no doubt that if you were designing a fair electoral system from scratch, you probably wouldn’t have the Senate in its current incarnation.

But, in the immortal words of James Earl Carter, Jr., there are many things in life that are not fair–and this is one of them! However, that structure is not likely to change anytime soon so Democrats need to suck it up and figure out how to win with the structure they’ve got. Jeff Greenfield makes the argument well in a recent Washington Post piece.

“The Senate isn’t quite the unsolvable problem that Democratic critics think it is. The chamber’s current Republican tilt is political, not structural — and it could be overcome without any changes to the Constitution. The Democrats just have to start winning elections….

If the Senate’s small-state bias is locked in, that doesn’t mean the upper chamber is destined to remain a GOP bastion. This year, Republicans minimized their potential losses in the Senate by winning every seat in states that went for President Trump, probably retaining control. But you don’t have to look very far back in the past to find Democrats regularly winning Senate seats in states that vote deeply crimson at the presidential level. North Dakota had two Democrats in the Senate from 1987 through 2011, and one until 2019. Both of Montana’s senators were Democrats from 2007 to 2015, and one was reelected just two years ago. Until the 2014 midterms, Democrats held seats from Alaska, Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, Iowa and South Dakota….

None of [Democrats’] hopes for altering its imbalance — granting statehood to Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, killing the filibuster, ending conservative domination of the federal bench — can happen unless Democrats first take the upper chamber, which essentially means winning the battle on a Republican-tilted playing field.

But that’s a political problem, not a structural one. And it’s solvable: Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) have been elected and reelected; are they the only Democrats who can win in increasingly red states? Is it impossible to imagine, for example, that a candidate who acknowledged the failure of both parties to stem the economic decline of the working class might strike a responsive chord? Might a candidate find a way to insulate herself against the more provocative arguments of more progressive Democrats, like “defund the police,” while emphasizing the economic-fairness arguments that bridge the gap between the party’s wings? If Democrats could hold 60 Senate seats 11 years ago, is a return to the majority really beyond reach?”

Difficult but not impossible. So time to stop the whining and figure out ways of winning in places Democrats have been losing. As Greenfield notes:

‘[Democrats] cannot build a time machine to bring them back to 1789, so that they can stiffen James Madison’s spine against the small states’ demands. They cannot erase Article V from the Constitution. They probably cannot persuade Mike Bloomberg and other billionaires to pay for the resettlement of a few hundred thousand Californians and New Yorkers to the Dakotas. They have no choice, then, but to find the messages and the organizing tools that can break through that new red wall that stands between their national majority and the power to govern.”

Greenfield is correct. There is no choice but to do exactly that.

5 comments on “Teixeira: Quit Whining and Figure Out How to Win!

  1. Candace on

    Why do some people lecture progressives about ‘defund the police’ but say nothing about Republicans actually doing this?

    “Donald Trump vs. law enforcement: All the ways he’s hurt policing in America as president
    …the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and Byrne Memorial Justice (Byrne JAG) grants, have for years given local police departments support to hire new staff and to provide for training, equipment, and supplies….
    Trump has spent his presidency seeking to gut these programs.
    In Trump’s first budget proposal, Byrne JAG funding was slashed 11%, or $43 million. Likewise, Trump’s last three budgets have all sought to outright eliminate the COPS office and cleave over 50% from the hiring program. These draconian cuts failed only because of Congress, specifically many Democrats, stopped them.”


    “President Trump has repeatedly proposed cuts in federal funding for police, criticized landmark legislation that boosted financial support for police departments, and is currently involved in blocking legislation that would greatly reduce pressure on local governments to cut police funding. ”


    Cant forget DHS
    *What arent the Republicans defunding and dismantling in this country? Why arent they getting harassed for it?

    “The Trump administration has actually cut government resources to fight white supremacy and domestic terrorism”

    “while the DHS office handling domestic terrorism “managed $10 million in grant funding, 16 full-time employees, 25 contractors, and a total budget of approximately $21 million,” two years ago, today, resources within the office comprise of “no contractors, and no other means of supporting existing programs beyond a team of eight dedicated, full-time employees and an operating budget of $2.6 million.”


  2. R. Kajander on

    Corporate Democrats need to return to the voting strength of the working class, who have been paid lip service by both parties for decades while lobbyists get all the ears. It doesn’t take a genius to understand the resentment to things like NAFTA. Put some TEETH, not just carrots, to American corporations who unplug stateside operations chasing offshore dimes-of-labor. Programs, not talk, for a resurgent US manufacturing base are long overdue as seen in the microcosm of not being able to supply our own PPE during a pandemic.

  3. Rob on

    This is all true, and was my reaction to the “resistance” talk after Trump’s election. One could equally say to the Abigail Spanberger’s of the Democratic Right to stop whining and start winning. It’s unfair that Republican opponents tied you to slogans you don’t support. But guess what- it’s their mission to take all your party’s jobs, every election, and say anything to do it. They always have and always will. If no Democratic pol anywhere said defund the police, the GOP propaganda machine would find one activist, professor or celebrity saying it and do guilt by association to “the left” and then on to you as a Democrat. You never will control what everybody says in a country of 300 million plus. So figure out how to win in that environment.

    • Martin Lawford on

      Rob, mayors and city councils in thirteen American cities have reduced their police budgets in the face of rising crime. That includes New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Hartford Connecticut, Portland Oregon, Austin Texas, and Norman Oklahoma (source: Forbes Magazine). What do the mayors of these cities have in common, politically? They are all Democrats. No “Republican propaganda machine” has to find any “activist professor, or celebrity” to say “defund the police”. All they have to do is point to Democratic mayors and city councils across the country who are actually doing so.

  4. ken brociner on

    Nothing like presenting an analysis as being so insightful that hardly anyone on the Left had thought of it before – when in fact, it is so obviously true that practically every serious progressive would readily agree with it. Why the need to construct strawmen in order to appear so impressively perceptive?


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