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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: Demonizing Moderates Is a Really, Really Bad Idea

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

One more for the “what country do progressives think they’re living in?” file. Anne Kim at the Washington Monthly has the sad tale.

“As one of just seven Democrats from House districts that voted for Donald Trump in 2020, veteran Representative Ron Kind of Wisconsin is exactly the sort of candidate Democrats need to keep their majority in next year’s midterms. A former college football star and an avid hunter, Kind is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, a longtime chair of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, and a vocal champion of the dairy farmers in the sprawling, mostly rural district in western Wisconsin he represents.

But after 13 terms in Congress, Kind has called it quits. “Truth is, I’ve run out of gas,” the 58-year-old said when he announced his retirement earlier this summer. He described himself as someone who “tried to be reasonable, pragmatic, thoughtful” and “worked hard to try to find common ground with my colleagues.”

Kind also called himself a “dying breed in public service,” which could not be more apt.

The moderate Democrat’s likely successor is Trump-endorsed Republican Derrick Van Orden, a former Navy SEAL and café owner who challenged Kind in 2020 and lost by only about 10,000 votes….
Wisconsin’s Third District has grown more conservative. While its voters supported Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama, Trump has not only won it twice but also increased his margin in 2020. As a result, Van Orden will likely join a growing caucus of Trump loyalists in the House that includes Marjorie Taylor Greene (of Jewish space laser fame), Nazi-curious Madison Cawthorn, and gun-toting COVID denier Lauren Boebert. It’s hard to believe that Van Orden could occupy the seat once held by Republican Steve Gunderson, Kind’s predecessor, one of Congress’s first openly gay members, who was known for his bipartisanship.

The departure of a moderate like Kind might be cheered by some progressives. No doubt they’ve been frustrated, often with good cause, by moderates like Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. “Manchema” have not only insisted on slashing President Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion spending package, they’ve also been coy about their bottom line and demanded deal killers like the Hyde Amendment banning federal funds for abortion (Manchin) and no hikes in corporate income tax rates (Sinema).

Nevertheless, Kind’s retirement should be alarming to all Democrats, especially since he’s not the only swing-district Democrat bolting. In addition to Kind, the moderate Democrats heading for the hills in 2022 so far include Illinois’s Cheri Bustos, Texas’s Filemon Vila, and Arizona’s Ann Kirkpatrick. More are likely to come. Their departures show how miserable life has become for Democratic moderates—not just for the coy sorts like Sinema, but for head-down-sleeves-up sorts like Kind. They’re walking away from tough districts, expensive primaries from fellow Democrats, and a Republican Party that often seems to have purged its sane members. The result, however, is a Democratic majority at risk….

Democrats need to keep in mind that the stakes in 2022 are much bigger than the policy debates now dividing them, and that the preservation of the caucus should be their highest priority. Rather than vilifying the party’s moderates, Democrats should be working to grow their ranks.”

This seems stunningly obvious to me. But it does seem to have escaped the notice of many progressives, including politicians who represent +30 Democratic lean districts. Funny thing about that.

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