washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

November 10: The Centrist Third Party Delusion

Some new data relevant to one of my favorite false political theories became available, so I wrote about it at New York:

An enduring fantasy about American politics is that our polarized two-party system may give way to a centrist third party that will rise to power on the frustrations of voters tired of gridlock and refusals to compromise in the national interest. You hear this cry for a fresh option more and more as Republicans systematically deploy the filibuster to obstruct Joe Biden’s agenda, and Joe Biden’s Democrats cannot or will not chase Republicans around Washington with candy and valentines until deals are cut and things get done. Indeed, Gallup found earlier this year that a record-high 62 percent of Americans agreed that “the parties do such a poor job representing the American people that a third party is needed.”

That’s in theory, of course. In reality, a lot of Americans who say they are angry at the two-party system are really just angry at the party opposing their own for failing to get out of the way or go off to die. And even if you could somehow get all the malcontents together in one room, do they actually speak the same ideological language and agree on what is to be done when all the “getting things done” commences?

A new typology of American voters from the Pew Research Center shows why a centrist third party is problematic in the extreme. After asking a very large sample of voters a battery of questions aimed at determining their partisan leanings and ideological tendencies, alongside positions on key issues, Pew came up with nine groups. Four (Progressive Left, Establishment Liberals, Democratic Mainstays, and Outsider Left) are Democratic leaning, four more (Faith and Flag Conservatives, Committed Conservatives, Populist Right, and Ambivalent Right) are Republican leaning, and one (Stressed Sideliners) leans neither way.

If you take the left and right groups least intensely partisan (the Outsider Left and the Ambivalent Right) and add them to the nonpartisan Stressed Sideliners, you get a substantial 37 percent of the electorate, enough to form a plurality in close three-way political contests. But there are two big obstacles to them becoming an effective Third Force, notes Pew:

“Surveys by Pew Research Center and other national polling organizations have found broad support, in principle, for a third major political party. Yet the typology study finds that the three groups with the largest shares of self-identified independents (most of whom lean toward a party) — Stressed Sideliners, Outsider Left and Ambivalent Right — have very little in common politically. Stressed Sideliners hold mixed views; Ambivalent Right are conservative on many economic issues, while moderate on some social issues; and Outsider Left are very liberal on most issues, especially on race and the social safety net.”

These three groups do have one negative point of conjunction:

“What these groups do have in common is relatively low interest in politics: They had the lowest rates of voting in the 2020 presidential election and are less likely than other groups to follow government and public affairs most of the time.”

So even if you designed a party or a candidate that could somehow appeal to all of the politically dispossessed, many in the target audience might not notice or wouldn’t vote anyway. And if they did get motivated enough to consider the Third Force, they might tear each other apart on the way to saving the country.

Ultimately, the purported constituents for a centrist third party aren’t as large a group as is often imagined and aren’t really centrists, either. And their alienation from both parties may be more about alienation from politics or, to put it another way, from the prospect of doing anything about their grievances. This fantasy will never die, but it’s not springing into real life in the foreseeable future.


The Centrist Third Party Delusion

Some new data relevant to one of my favorite false political theories became available, so I wrote about it at New York:

An enduring fantasy about American politics is that our polarized two-party system may give way to a centrist third party that will rise to power on the frustrations of voters tired of gridlock and refusals to compromise in the national interest. You hear this cry for a fresh option more and more as Republicans systematically deploy the filibuster to obstruct Joe Biden’s agenda, and Joe Biden’s Democrats cannot or will not chase Republicans around Washington with candy and valentines until deals are cut and things get done. Indeed, Gallup found earlier this year that a record-high 62 percent of Americans agreed that “the parties do such a poor job representing the American people that a third party is needed.”

That’s in theory, of course. In reality, a lot of Americans who say they are angry at the two-party system are really just angry at the party opposing their own for failing to get out of the way or go off to die. And even if you could somehow get all the malcontents together in one room, do they actually speak the same ideological language and agree on what is to be done when all the “getting things done” commences?

A new typology of American voters from the Pew Research Center shows why a centrist third party is problematic in the extreme. After asking a very large sample of voters a battery of questions aimed at determining their partisan leanings and ideological tendencies, alongside positions on key issues, Pew came up with nine groups. Four (Progressive Left, Establishment Liberals, Democratic Mainstays, and Outsider Left) are Democratic leaning, four more (Faith and Flag Conservatives, Committed Conservatives, Populist Right, and Ambivalent Right) are Republican leaning, and one (Stressed Sideliners) leans neither way.

If you take the left and right groups least intensely partisan (the Outsider Left and the Ambivalent Right) and add them to the nonpartisan Stressed Sideliners, you get a substantial 37 percent of the electorate, enough to form a plurality in close three-way political contests. But there are two big obstacles to them becoming an effective Third Force, notes Pew:

“Surveys by Pew Research Center and other national polling organizations have found broad support, in principle, for a third major political party. Yet the typology study finds that the three groups with the largest shares of self-identified independents (most of whom lean toward a party) — Stressed Sideliners, Outsider Left and Ambivalent Right — have very little in common politically. Stressed Sideliners hold mixed views; Ambivalent Right are conservative on many economic issues, while moderate on some social issues; and Outsider Left are very liberal on most issues, especially on race and the social safety net.”

These three groups do have one negative point of conjunction:

“What these groups do have in common is relatively low interest in politics: They had the lowest rates of voting in the 2020 presidential election and are less likely than other groups to follow government and public affairs most of the time.”

So even if you designed a party or a candidate that could somehow appeal to all of the politically dispossessed, many in the target audience might not notice or wouldn’t vote anyway. And if they did get motivated enough to consider the Third Force, they might tear each other apart on the way to saving the country.

Ultimately, the purported constituents for a centrist third party aren’t as large a group as is often imagined and aren’t really centrists, either. And their alienation from both parties may be more about alienation from politics or, to put it another way, from the prospect of doing anything about their grievances. This fantasy will never die, but it’s not springing into real life in the foreseeable future.


November 4: Democrats Can Only Lose Again By Abandoning Their Agenda

In the wake of the disappointing 2021 off-year elections, I heard disturbing reactions from Democrats and responded at New York:

Things did not go well for Democrats in the 2021 elections. Most notably, Terry McAuliffe lost the governorship his party had held since 2009 in Virginia, a state that Joe Biden carried by ten points just last year; Democrats also lost the state lieutenant governor’s race, are behind in the state attorney general’s race, and may lose control of one chamber of the legislature. In New Jersey, Democratic governor Phil Murphy, expected to romp to an easy reelection, is in a near dead heat with Republican Jack Ciattarelli with the outcome still in doubt. And Democratic Senate president Steve Sweeney is in danger of losing to an anonymous schmo who barely even had a campaign. In New York, three Democratic-sponsored ballot initiatives aimed at making voting easier and simplifying redistricting went down to defeat. Happy days are not here again for the Donkey Party.

There are myriad factors that went into these disappointing but hardly atypical off-year setbacks, perhaps the most important being simply an age-old and nearly universal backlash against the party of newly elected presidents (Republicans got waxed in New Jersey and Virginia in 2017). And yes, such losses usually portend a poor showing in the upcoming midterm elections (the president’s party has lost U.S. House, Senate, and gubernatorial seats in the last four midterms).

But some narcissistic congressional Democrats seem to assume the bad Election Night is all about them, and they want to learn exactly the wrong lesson going forward. Punchbowl News reports:

“Numerous Democrats privately have told us they’re uneasy with the contours of the massive Build Better Act despite weeks of intra-party negotiations. They believe the party leadership is rushing through the final stages of these talks. Last night’s loss – or losses – won’t end Democrats’ quest to pass the massive reconciliation package, but it will certainly impact it. Pelosi and her leadership team were hoping for floor passage this week. However, Tuesday losses will give new heft to those voices that have been suggesting the speaker slow the agenda down and bring it back to the center.”

“Bring it back to the center” is code for reducing the size, scope, and ambition of the Build Back Better package, which has, as a matter of fact, already happened thanks to the demands of Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and their House allies. Some of these same “centrist” Democrats typically think House passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill would send some sort of important signal to voters, and they may even be under the illusion that the Virginians who elected Youngkin in a high-turnout contest were somehow longing for the roads and bridges they have been denied. (To be clear, some Democrats thought of as “centrists” or “moderates,” like the Third Way organization, have rejected the let’s-do-less mantra emphatically).

Actually, the House progressives with whom the centrists are battling fully plan to vote for the infrastructure bill, perhaps even without conditions. But the single quickest way to show Democrats can get something done is to unlock the logjam by reaching quick agreement on BBB and then immediately passing the infrastructure bill. That’s the opposite of “suggesting the speaker slow the agenda down.”

Beyond that, Democratic centrists need to get out of the habit of thinking that voters are watching their every move and will reward or punish them instantly for too much perceived liberalism. Even before the November 2 setbacks, the odds of Democrats holding on to their trifecta in 2022 were extremely low. On the two occasions since 1934 when the president’s party gained House seats in a midterm, the president in question (Bill Clinton in 1998 and George W. Bush in 2002) enjoyed approval ratings in the 60s. In this polarized moment of American political history, Joe Biden couldn’t match their numbers even if COVID-19 disappeared, the economy boomed, friendly unicorns romped across the landscape, and lollipops dropped from the sky. Instead of decimating their own agenda in an uninformed and likely vain effort to head off the inevitable, congressional Democrats should focus on what they can accomplish in this fleeting moment of power, which may not recur for years. Lowering their sights and abandoning legislative goals — goals whose achievement actually may, for all we know, make them more popular in 2022 — gives Republicans an anticipatory victory they have by no means earned.

Losing elections is painful, and as my colleague Eric Levitz points out, the 2021 defeats are particularly painful because Republicans have never paid the price for their obeisance to the outlaw president who may yet head up their next presidential ticket. There could be discrete lessons to be learned from what happened on November 2, including the inadequacy of a playbook that focused too much on COVID-19 mandate debates and the specter of Trump, who wasn’t on the ballot. And more generally, Democrats need to adjust to the fact that we are in a period of high voter engagement in which just inflaming your own base won’t be enough.

But there is no sensible interpretation of the 2021 defeats that suggests a muddled, cramped, confusing, diminished, or delayed legislative agenda will save Democrats in 2022 and beyond. They still have a good chance to hang on to the White House in 2024; after all, Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama won reelection after terrible midterm performances by their party. But more importantly, they need to remember the purpose of political power: to accomplish things they cannot get done in opposition or in periods of divided government. The future truly is right now.


Democrats Can Only Lose Again By Abandoning Their Agenda

In the wake of the disappointing 2021 off-year elections, I heard disturbing reactions from Democrats and responded at New York:

Things did not go well for Democrats in the 2021 elections. Most notably, Terry McAuliffe lost the governorship his party had held since 2009 in Virginia, a state that Joe Biden carried by ten points just last year; Democrats also lost the state lieutenant governor’s race, are behind in the state attorney general’s race, and may lose control of one chamber of the legislature. In New Jersey, Democratic governor Phil Murphy, expected to romp to an easy reelection, is in a near dead heat with Republican Jack Ciattarelli with the outcome still in doubt. And Democratic Senate president Steve Sweeney is in danger of losing to an anonymous schmo who barely even had a campaign. In New York, three Democratic-sponsored ballot initiatives aimed at making voting easier and simplifying redistricting went down to defeat. Happy days are not here again for the Donkey Party.

There are myriad factors that went into these disappointing but hardly atypical off-year setbacks, perhaps the most important being simply an age-old and nearly universal backlash against the party of newly elected presidents (Republicans got waxed in New Jersey and Virginia in 2017). And yes, such losses usually portend a poor showing in the upcoming midterm elections (the president’s party has lost U.S. House, Senate, and gubernatorial seats in the last four midterms).

But some narcissistic congressional Democrats seem to assume the bad Election Night is all about them, and they want to learn exactly the wrong lesson going forward. Punchbowl News reports:

“Numerous Democrats privately have told us they’re uneasy with the contours of the massive Build Better Act despite weeks of intra-party negotiations. They believe the party leadership is rushing through the final stages of these talks. Last night’s loss – or losses – won’t end Democrats’ quest to pass the massive reconciliation package, but it will certainly impact it. Pelosi and her leadership team were hoping for floor passage this week. However, Tuesday losses will give new heft to those voices that have been suggesting the speaker slow the agenda down and bring it back to the center.”

“Bring it back to the center” is code for reducing the size, scope, and ambition of the Build Back Better package, which has, as a matter of fact, already happened thanks to the demands of Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and their House allies. Some of these same “centrist” Democrats typically think House passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill would send some sort of important signal to voters, and they may even be under the illusion that the Virginians who elected Youngkin in a high-turnout contest were somehow longing for the roads and bridges they have been denied. (To be clear, some Democrats thought of as “centrists” or “moderates,” like the Third Way organization, have rejected the let’s-do-less mantra emphatically).

Actually, the House progressives with whom the centrists are battling fully plan to vote for the infrastructure bill, perhaps even without conditions. But the single quickest way to show Democrats can get something done is to unlock the logjam by reaching quick agreement on BBB and then immediately passing the infrastructure bill. That’s the opposite of “suggesting the speaker slow the agenda down.”

Beyond that, Democratic centrists need to get out of the habit of thinking that voters are watching their every move and will reward or punish them instantly for too much perceived liberalism. Even before the November 2 setbacks, the odds of Democrats holding on to their trifecta in 2022 were extremely low. On the two occasions since 1934 when the president’s party gained House seats in a midterm, the president in question (Bill Clinton in 1998 and George W. Bush in 2002) enjoyed approval ratings in the 60s. In this polarized moment of American political history, Joe Biden couldn’t match their numbers even if COVID-19 disappeared, the economy boomed, friendly unicorns romped across the landscape, and lollipops dropped from the sky. Instead of decimating their own agenda in an uninformed and likely vain effort to head off the inevitable, congressional Democrats should focus on what they can accomplish in this fleeting moment of power, which may not recur for years. Lowering their sights and abandoning legislative goals — goals whose achievement actually may, for all we know, make them more popular in 2022 — gives Republicans an anticipatory victory they have by no means earned.

Losing elections is painful, and as my colleague Eric Levitz points out, the 2021 defeats are particularly painful because Republicans have never paid the price for their obeisance to the outlaw president who may yet head up their next presidential ticket. There could be discrete lessons to be learned from what happened on November 2, including the inadequacy of a playbook that focused too much on COVID-19 mandate debates and the specter of Trump, who wasn’t on the ballot. And more generally, Democrats need to adjust to the fact that we are in a period of high voter engagement in which just inflaming your own base won’t be enough.

But there is no sensible interpretation of the 2021 defeats that suggests a muddled, cramped, confusing, diminished, or delayed legislative agenda will save Democrats in 2022 and beyond. They still have a good chance to hang on to the White House in 2024; after all, Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama won reelection after terrible midterm performances by their party. But more importantly, they need to remember the purpose of political power: to accomplish things they cannot get done in opposition or in periods of divided government. The future truly is right now.


October 29: Another Sign of Republican Extremism on Abortion From Missouri

Not too long after Todd Akin’s death, it’s clear the example he set for the disaster of abortion extremism hasn’t taught Missouri Republicans much, as I explained at New York:

With the U.S. Supreme Court quite possibly on the brink of abolishing federal reproductive rights and returning abortion policy to the states, it’s alarming to note that the anti-abortion movement is becoming even more radical about what it intends to do with that power if it gets it. Most notably, the once-standard exceptions for victims of rape and incest are disappearing from the state abortion bans that would leap to life if SCOTUS permits them to. Both the Texas and Mississippi laws before the Court this term have no rape or incest exceptions.

Supporters of these bans, particularly if they are candidates or elected officials, don’t usually like to talk about them; when they do, they certainly don’t like to talk about forcing a victim of rape or incest to carry a pregnancy to term. But in what is perhaps a sign of the times, Missouri Senate candidate Mark McCloskey — better known as the lawyer who pointed a rifle at Black Lives Matter demonstrators passing his mansion last summer — went out of his way to position himself as an abortion extremist by talking about banning abortion for a teenage victim of incestuous rape, as the Kansas City Star reports:

“He made the comments in response to an audience member’s question at a forum in Osage Beach. ‘There’s a lot of candidates that say they’re pro-life, but really they’re not completely pro-life,’ the woman in the audience said, according to a video of the event posted on Facebook. ‘There’s a lot of, ‘Well in this case, it would be allowed.’”

“McCloskey, a St. Louis personal-injury attorney, responded that he doesn’t ‘believe in any exceptions.’ ‘We were down in Poplar Bluff a couple of months ago, and somebody asked me that question, “So you would force a 13-year-old who’s raped by a family member to keep that baby?’” he said. “And I said, ‘Yes, and more than that, I’ve got that client.’ I’ve got a client who was raped by an uncle when she was 13 years old, had the child; she finished high school, finished college, and got a master’s degree.”

McCloskey seems to be very firm in his belief that teenagers should be forced to carry pregnancies to term in all cases, making this unusual analogy in the same appearance:

“He said it had bothered him ‘as long ago as when I was in grade school’ that some death-penalty opponents also support abortion rights. His comments received applause from the audience. ‘The justice of the Supreme Court in the most heinous crimes don’t have the right to decide who should live and die,’ he said. ‘But every 13-year-old girl on the street should be able to decide the fate of the life of their child?’”

Clearly, McCloskey thinks male Republican lawmakers should have that power. But he barely stands out among his rivals for the Republican Senate nomination. Disgraced former governor Eric Greitens calls himself “100 percent pro-life” and boasts that he forced the legislature into a special session on abortion. Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt has been defending his state’s own extreme abortion law (which also has no rape or incest exceptions) in court. Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler is a favorite of the hard-line anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, and Congressman Billy Long is another “100 percent pro-life” Republican who has specialized in fighting publicly funded abortions. Nary a “moderate” in the bunch.

It’s all a bit amazing since Missouri provided one of the most graphic illustrations of the political perils of anti-abortion extremism in 2012, when Senate candidate Todd Akin blew up his candidacy while defending his own position against rape exceptions for abortion bans. Akin famously tried to argue that any woman who had experienced “legitimate rape” wouldn’t get pregnant, implying those who did must somehow have asked to be raped. But even he didn’t blithely go for the crazy-train trifecta of commandeering the bodies of 13-year-olds raped by their own family members. But Mark McCloskey did.


Another Sign of Republican Extremism on Abortion from Missouri

Not too long after Todd Akin’s death, it’s clear the example he set for the disaster of abortion extremism hasn’t taught Missouri Republicans much, as I explained at New York:

With the U.S. Supreme Court quite possibly on the brink of abolishing federal reproductive rights and returning abortion policy to the states, it’s alarming to note that the anti-abortion movement is becoming even more radical about what it intends to do with that power if it gets it. Most notably, the once-standard exceptions for victims of rape and incest are disappearing from the state abortion bans that would leap to life if SCOTUS permits them to. Both the Texas and Mississippi laws before the Court this term have no rape or incest exceptions.

Supporters of these bans, particularly if they are candidates or elected officials, don’t usually like to talk about them; when they do, they certainly don’t like to talk about forcing a victim of rape or incest to carry a pregnancy to term. But in what is perhaps a sign of the times, Missouri Senate candidate Mark McCloskey — better known as the lawyer who pointed a rifle at Black Lives Matter demonstrators passing his mansion last summer — went out of his way to position himself as an abortion extremist by talking about banning abortion for a teenage victim of incestuous rape, as the Kansas City Star reports:

“He made the comments in response to an audience member’s question at a forum in Osage Beach. ‘There’s a lot of candidates that say they’re pro-life, but really they’re not completely pro-life,’ the woman in the audience said, according to a video of the event posted on Facebook. ‘There’s a lot of, ‘Well in this case, it would be allowed.’”

“McCloskey, a St. Louis personal-injury attorney, responded that he doesn’t ‘believe in any exceptions.’ ‘We were down in Poplar Bluff a couple of months ago, and somebody asked me that question, “So you would force a 13-year-old who’s raped by a family member to keep that baby?’” he said. “And I said, ‘Yes, and more than that, I’ve got that client.’ I’ve got a client who was raped by an uncle when she was 13 years old, had the child; she finished high school, finished college, and got a master’s degree.”

McCloskey seems to be very firm in his belief that teenagers should be forced to carry pregnancies to term in all cases, making this unusual analogy in the same appearance:

“He said it had bothered him ‘as long ago as when I was in grade school’ that some death-penalty opponents also support abortion rights. His comments received applause from the audience. ‘The justice of the Supreme Court in the most heinous crimes don’t have the right to decide who should live and die,’ he said. ‘But every 13-year-old girl on the street should be able to decide the fate of the life of their child?’”

Clearly, McCloskey thinks male Republican lawmakers should have that power. But he barely stands out among his rivals for the Republican Senate nomination. Disgraced former governor Eric Greitens calls himself “100 percent pro-life” and boasts that he forced the legislature into a special session on abortion. Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt has been defending his state’s own extreme abortion law (which also has no rape or incest exceptions) in court. Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler is a favorite of the hard-line anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, and Congressman Billy Long is another “100 percent pro-life” Republican who has specialized in fighting publicly funded abortions. Nary a “moderate” in the bunch.

It’s all a bit amazing since Missouri provided one of the most graphic illustrations of the political perils of anti-abortion extremism in 2012, when Senate candidate Todd Akin blew up his candidacy while defending his own position against rape exceptions for abortion bans. Akin famously tried to argue that any woman who had experienced “legitimate rape” wouldn’t get pregnant, implying those who did must somehow have asked to be raped. But even he didn’t blithely go for the crazy-train trifecta of commandeering the bodies of 13-year-olds raped by their own family members. But Mark McCloskey did.


October 28: The Right’s Embrace of Violent Revolution is Becoming Routine

After reading about another of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s outrages, I wrote about what it really meant at New York:

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene is occasionally useful for her habit of coming right out and saying things her extremist colleagues think and imply but don’t usually articulate. That happened this week during an interview MTG gave to a right-wing media outlet, as the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake reported:

“During an appearance on conservative outlet Real America’s Voice, Greene repeated a frequent GOP talking point that the real focus of congressional investigators should be violence at Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. But while doing so, she essentially suggested the Capitol riot comported with our Founding Fathers’ vision.

“The racial-justice protest violence ‘was an attack on innocent American people, whereas January 6th was just a riot at the Capitol,’ she said. ‘And if you think about what our Declaration of Independence says, it says to overthrow tyrants.'”

This is not a tossed-off comment or anything new for Greene, as the Post reported soon after the Capitol riot:

“References to the year 1776 and the American Revolution have grown substantially among the far right as Trump supporters and conspiracy theorists have hinted at the possibility of a revolution in the wake of Trump’s election loss, which they view, falsely, as illegitimate. Trump allies and surrogates, including first-term Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), referred to Jan. 6 as Republicans’ ‘1776 moment.'”

This is actually a sentiment that goes a bit deeper than its “my violence GOOOOD, your violence BAAAAAD” wrapping. In January and this week, MTG was almost certainly alluding to the time-honored right-wing extremist doctrine that whenever “patriots” decide the government is controlled by “tyrants,” they are entitled to pick up shooting irons and start trying to kill soldiers and cops and anyone else complicit in that tyranny. That is, after all, what the Founders did in 1776, right?

Indeed they did, but they did not purport to serve as leaders in the very government they were overthrowing and certainly didn’t intend to create some permanent right of violent revolution against the republic they created. To put it another way, you can choose to be a revolutionary or you can choose to be a member of Congress, but you can’t be both. Once you have deemed the government a tyranny (which MTG constantly does in conflating the “Democrat Party” with communism), you pretty much need to take to the hills and stop giving interviews in and around the U.S. Capitol. That’s particularly true when the “tyranny” in question is the result of a democratic election that every available nonpartisan institution has confirmed as fair.

The treatment of right-wing insurrectionism, actual or potential, as the work of patriots as blessed by the Founders is hardly original to Greene. It is intrinsic to the Second Amendment absolutism that is dangerously popular among conservatives these days. The doctrine holds that the ultimate purpose of the right to bear arms is to ensure a citizenry that is willing and able to “resist tyranny,” with the meaning of “tyranny,” of course, left up to those choosing violence to battle it. And it was also implicit in the tea-party-era movement known as “constitutional conservatism,” which argued that conservative policy prescriptions ranging from free-market capitalism to states’ rights to fetal personhood were eternally embedded in the Constitution in conjunction with the Declaration of Independence by the Founders, who themselves had divine sanction for their work. Thus any contrary policies imposed via democratic representative government were inherently illegitimate and warranted resistance. In unbalanced minds, that resistance would definitely justify terrorism.

The same anti-democratic creed is alive and well in MAGA circles, including the intellectuals of the Claremont Institute who serve as shock troops in the wider world, much as MTG does in Washington. “In March, one of Claremont’s senior fellows published an essay proclaiming the need for a counterrevolution against the American majority who didn’t vote for Trump,” Laura Field reports at The New Republic. “In late May, the think tank produced a podcast that gamed out how a future president might convert herself or himself into a new Caesar.”

Even absent any exotic constitutional theories, the idea that nothing must stand in the way of the correct people (i.e., Donald Trump) holding power is at the very heart of the Big Lie that inspired (and, some would say, incited) the Capitol riot. Unfortunately, MAGA folk seem determined to claim a permanent right to power, which in every important respect is a direct and permanent threat to democracy.


The Right’s Embrace of Violent Revolution Is Becoming Routine

After reading about another of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s outrages, I wrote about what it really meant at New York:

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene is occasionally useful for her habit of coming right out and saying things her extremist colleagues think and imply but don’t usually articulate. That happened this week during an interview MTG gave to a right-wing media outlet, as the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake reported:

“During an appearance on conservative outlet Real America’s Voice, Greene repeated a frequent GOP talking point that the real focus of congressional investigators should be violence at Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. But while doing so, she essentially suggested the Capitol riot comported with our Founding Fathers’ vision.

“The racial-justice protest violence ‘was an attack on innocent American people, whereas January 6th was just a riot at the Capitol,’ she said. ‘And if you think about what our Declaration of Independence says, it says to overthrow tyrants.'”

This is not a tossed-off comment or anything new for Greene, as the Post reported soon after the Capitol riot:

“References to the year 1776 and the American Revolution have grown substantially among the far right as Trump supporters and conspiracy theorists have hinted at the possibility of a revolution in the wake of Trump’s election loss, which they view, falsely, as illegitimate. Trump allies and surrogates, including first-term Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), referred to Jan. 6 as Republicans’ ‘1776 moment.'”

This is actually a sentiment that goes a bit deeper than its “my violence GOOOOD, your violence BAAAAAD” wrapping. In January and this week, MTG was almost certainly alluding to the time-honored right-wing extremist doctrine that whenever “patriots” decide the government is controlled by “tyrants,” they are entitled to pick up shooting irons and start trying to kill soldiers and cops and anyone else complicit in that tyranny. That is, after all, what the Founders did in 1776, right?

Indeed they did, but they did not purport to serve as leaders in the very government they were overthrowing and certainly didn’t intend to create some permanent right of violent revolution against the republic they created. To put it another way, you can choose to be a revolutionary or you can choose to be a member of Congress, but you can’t be both. Once you have deemed the government a tyranny (which MTG constantly does in conflating the “Democrat Party” with communism), you pretty much need to take to the hills and stop giving interviews in and around the U.S. Capitol. That’s particularly true when the “tyranny” in question is the result of a democratic election that every available nonpartisan institution has confirmed as fair.

The treatment of right-wing insurrectionism, actual or potential, as the work of patriots as blessed by the Founders is hardly original to Greene. It is intrinsic to the Second Amendment absolutism that is dangerously popular among conservatives these days. The doctrine holds that the ultimate purpose of the right to bear arms is to ensure a citizenry that is willing and able to “resist tyranny,” with the meaning of “tyranny,” of course, left up to those choosing violence to battle it. And it was also implicit in the tea-party-era movement known as “constitutional conservatism,” which argued that conservative policy prescriptions ranging from free-market capitalism to states’ rights to fetal personhood were eternally embedded in the Constitution in conjunction with the Declaration of Independence by the Founders, who themselves had divine sanction for their work. Thus any contrary policies imposed via democratic representative government were inherently illegitimate and warranted resistance. In unbalanced minds, that resistance would definitely justify terrorism.

The same anti-democratic creed is alive and well in MAGA circles, including the intellectuals of the Claremont Institute who serve as shock troops in the wider world, much as MTG does in Washington. “In March, one of Claremont’s senior fellows published an essay proclaiming the need for a counterrevolution against the American majority who didn’t vote for Trump,” Laura Field reports at The New Republic. “In late May, the think tank produced a podcast that gamed out how a future president might convert herself or himself into a new Caesar.”

Even absent any exotic constitutional theories, the idea that nothing must stand in the way of the correct people (i.e., Donald Trump) holding power is at the very heart of the Big Lie that inspired (and, some would say, incited) the Capitol riot. Unfortunately, MAGA folk seem determined to claim a permanent right to power, which in every important respect is a direct and permanent threat to democracy.


October 22: “Red Dog” Democrats Shouldn’t Expect Big Policy Concessions

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.

 


“Red Dog” Democrats Shouldn’t Expect Big Policy Concessions

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.