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If Democrats Pursue Suburban Voters Too Strenuously They Risk Alienating Their Own Base

"Elephant In The Room" by Nancy Ohanian

In his NY Times piece yesterday, The Big Question of the 2022 Midterms: How Will the Suburbs Swing?, Trip Gabriel made a common error: "More than any other group, those independent-minded voters put Biden in the White House. Whether they remain in the Democratic coalition is the most urgent question facing the party as it tries to keep its razor-thin advantage in the House and the Senate next year." Like so many political writers, he ignores how crucial the actual Democratic Party base is, and whose importance is actually better described as "more than any other group." And the horrifying inability of the Democrats to move on almost anything important to the base may well make the party's pursuit of suburban independents and swing voters moot. Without the base, therein't much of anything.

Gabriel went all the way to Papillion, a Sarpy County suburb of Omaha to write that "Pursuing a bipartisan infrastructure deal and trumpeting a revived economy and progress against the pandemic, President Biden is trying to persuade the nation that Democrats are the party that gets things done. His message is aimed at holding on to a set of voters in next year’s midterms who could determine the fate of his agenda: suburbanites who abandoned former President Donald Trump in droves." Never mind that the Democrats are a party that does not get things done. Their promised ring empty across the board and they seem weak and ineffectual.

The executive order protecting consumers from anti-competitive practices by Big Business is nice-- and will be even nicer-- if drug prices actually drop this year, but it's not going to be enough to lure disenchanted Democrats to the polls, not if Biden allows Manchin and Sinema to scuttle all the promises he made on the campaign trail.

Besides, wrote Gabriel, "Republicans are also going to war for suburban votes. The party is painting the six-month-old Biden administration as a failure, one that has lost control of the Southwestern border, is presiding over soaring crime rates and rising prices and is on the wrong side of a culture clash over how schools teach the history of racism in America. Whoever wins this messaging battle will have the power to determine the outcome of the rest of Mr. Biden’s term, setting the stage for either two more years of Democrats driving their policies forward or a new period of gridlock in a divided Washington." Huh? Democrats driving? "New" period of gridlock. Has Gabriel been asleep for the last 3-4 months?

Biden won 54 percent of voters from the country’s suburbs last year, a significant improvement over Hillary Clinton in 2016, and enough to overcome Trump’s expansion of his own margins in rural and urban areas, according to new data from the Pew Research Center. Suburbanites made up 55 percent of the Biden coalition, compared with 48 percent of Clinton voters.
The authoritative Pew study, which echoed other recent surveys, also showed that Biden failed to increase his share of the Democratic base from 2016, including among young people and voters of color. It found, however, that his support surged among independents, veterans and married men...
[I]n 2022, Democrats will need to count on more than the revolt of suburbia against Trump’s norm-smashing presidency to motivate their voters.
The limits of the anti-Trump vote were already glimpsed last year, when half of the 14 House seats that Democrats lost, to their shock, were in suburban or exurban districts. The party also failed to defeat vulnerable Republicans in districts Biden won, such as Nebraska’s Second.
For 2022, Democrats’ congressional finance committee has identified 24 “frontline” incumbents in swing districts, some two-thirds of them in suburban areas.
Representative Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, the chair of the Democrats’ election arm, aims to fuse Republican candidates with Mr. Trump’s divisiveness and with the party’s obstruction of gun restrictions, expanding health care access and fighting climate change.
“The post-Trump Republican brand is bad politics in the suburbs,” he said in an interview. “They have embraced dangerous conspiracy theories, flat-out white supremacists and a level of harshness and ugliness that is not appealing to suburban voters.”
Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota, who leads the G.O.P. campaign arm, said Republicans would attack Democrats over a set of “incredibly toxic” issues for the suburbs. He listed them as crime, tax increases, border security and the latest flash point of the culture wars, critical race theory-- the idea that racism is woven into American institutions, which Republicans have seized on in suburban school districts.
“It’s going to be a big issue in 2022,” Emmer said.
He added that while Democrats “seem to be focused on a personality in the past”-- Trump-- “we’re focused on issues.”

Trump, of course, is dominating the Republican Party, keeping GOP support for domestic terrorists in the headlines, helping extremists in primary battles against relatively mainstream primary candidates and backing an unpopular policy agenda that the GOP is forced to embrace. And then there are Republican Party spokespersons-- more Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, Lauren Boebert, Gym Jordan and Mad Cawthorn than Tom Emmer, who no one outside his own district and the Beltway bubble has ever heard of.

Gabriel finished his post by interviewing three politically ignorant voters. 2020 ticket splitters without an 3-digit IQ between them. "All three," wrote Gabriel, "had voted for Biden, but none supported the drive by many congressional Democrats to blow up the filibuster to pass Biden’s most ambitious agenda items. These voters preferred a scaled-back infrastructure package that, even if it left major spending on education and climate on the table, could pass with bipartisan support and represent a show of unity. 'It’s one of those things that kind of builds relationships to get things going,' said Michael Stark, 30, an independent [and the stupidest of the 3 stooges Gabriel dug up]. The filibuster is 'there for a purpose and I am terrified of what would happen if it went away,' said Corbin Delgado, 26, a Democrat who works for a nonprofit group and is the secretary of his party’s state Latinx Caucus. He said his top issue was immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented. He voted for [Republican Don] Bacon last year, he said, because the Republican had modified his opposition to some immigration changes after meeting with activists. 'I’m a big believer that when a politician actually listens and changes, that should be rewarded,' he said."

I asked Alan Grayson to read Gabriel's article as well, a way to check my own instincts. "That NY Times article," he told me, "is fact-free anecdotalism. It’s based on very questionable assumption that people are open to be persuaded by 'messaging' like that. In contrast, just look at what the GOP has been doing: manufacturing one ugly lie after another to Turn Out the Base, and then pushing those ugly lies as far as they can whenever and wherever they taste power. I hope to love to see the day when Democrats deliver on better-paying jobs and healthcare and increasing Social Security and Medicare and taxing people no more than corporations, and free higher education, the way that the GOP delivers on racism and conspiracy theories and homophobia and virus facilitation and gun nuttery and voter suppression. Then we wouldn’t have to think so hard about true to lure demented Trump voters away from the flock."

Washington state House candidate, Jason Call, also read Times piece and was moved to write that "For decades we’ve been told that the American Public, by and large, all want the same thing. That-- as Bill Clinton said, “what unites us is greater than that which divides us.” For all intents and purposes, he was correct. We all want affordable healthcare, affordable education and opportunity for our kids, a clean environment, to have meaningful work and contribute to the greater good, and a general state of peace and harmony. Unfortunately, in living memory, we have not had these things other than by piecemeal and in limited supply, inequitably distributed. They have been easy to come by for the wealthy, easier to come by for men than women, easier to come by for whites than nonwhites, easier to come by for straight than gay. The strife that permeates all that might potentially be good for all arises out of this inequity. If I didn’t believe that the majority of people wanted to resolve our inequities, I wouldn’t have spent the last 30 years as an issues activist." He continued:

The Democratic Party could bury the Republican Party forever if it simply stepped up and resolved even half of the issues on the table competently, thoroughly. Healthcare through a single payer system, eliminating parasitic profit and saving untold billions through preventive care rather than responsive care. Canceling the crippling burden of student debt that now stands at $1.7 trillion (even as the higher education system becomes increasingly more unaffordable) and ensuring tuition free college and trade school for all qualified students, as an investment in the future. Transforming our energy systems away from fossil fuels immediately, and with a federal jobs guarantee and just transitions, building the green energy systems that will meaningfully combat disastrous climate change. I could go on.
The Democratic Party is not stepping up to the challenges of the day for a good reason. When it comes down to brass tacks, they do not represent the people. In a surface, performative way, sure-- they mouth the words. It’s true, of course, that the Republicans target the reptilian brain, the fight or flight, the us vs them. I think Republican voters want the good things, I just don’t think they want them for all people. In my mind, that’s where the difference in the voting base lies-- do you want good things just for you and yours, or do you want them for all people? So Democratic voters, ostensibly wanting good things for all people, have to do some real soul searching about their party. Why-- with a Democratic Congress and White House-- must we continue to compromise with the minority Republicans? It can’t be as simple as ‘Mitch McConnell is a merciless obstructionist’ (although of course, he is).
In a local party meeting today, we passed a resolution to urge our WA Senators Murray and Cantwell to support abolishing the filibuster. There was one person who objected (of a few dozen people in the room, progressives and moderates alike), and his objection was “what happens when the Republicans are in the majority, and we can’t stop them from doing everything horrible?” For sure, that’s a cogent point. To which my response is, “why aren’t the Democratic majority doing everything they can to ensure-- through GOOD PUBLIC POLICY-- that the Republican Party are (as I said above) forever buried?”
Well? Why aren’t they?
The answer is obvious. They are controlled by the same interests that control the Republicans. They flush the campaign coffers full of election cash, and they are well served for doing so. We are mired in a corrupted system that seeks above all to remain corrupted, and the parties and their party politicians are unwilling to reject it because within the party a lot of people make a lot of money. (This is where I separate the Democratic Party as an institution from Democratic Party voters). Politics itself is a business. How is it that we can spend billions on a presidential election, and still not end up with a system that serves the general public?
So I call on the Democratic Majority. Pass legislation that will benefit everyone equitably. If we can cut child poverty in half (as is being touted), we can eliminate it entirely. If we can expand the ACA coverage, then we can pass Medicare For All. If we can agree it’s terrible that your zip code and your income are the major factors in whether you get a good education and clean drinking water, then we can immediately resolve those problems knowing that we are making long term investments in the future of not just our country, but the human race. The argument about where the money will come from is disingenuous and deceptive; it comes from an ownership class that is unwilling to share power and profit. Industry profits are not guaranteed in the Constitution. A Congress that is mandated to provide for the general welfare is.
Do these things, honestly and with integrity, and watch the Republican Party become a thing of history.

UPDATE From Bryan Osorio

Bryan is running for Congress in a blue Central Valley district occupied by Republican David Valadao. The DCCC thinks the way to win in districts like this is to run conservative, Republican-lite Democrats. That obviously doesn't work-- but the DCCC has never learned a lesson that goes beyond their know-it-all ideology. Bryan sent me this early this morning:

In a D+5 district like CA-21 where voter turnout is consistently low, it will be imperative for a congressional candidate to mobilize the district for the 2022 midterm election. While the Democratic Party will work to retain its slim majority in Congress, CA-21 offers an opportunity to flip a seat back to blue. Democrats must not only retain control of the House but they must grew their nine-seat majority.

To do so, the Democratic Party needs candidates who are in tune with their districts to know what change is needed and how it looks like. Democratic voters want to vote for who has the political courage to make actual change for their families. They don’t want to continue voting for candidates prioritizing special interests. Democrats in CA-21 and congressional districts across the country want fighters who will prioritize the working class and marginalized groups. And it will be especially important in 2022 as we work towards recovering from the pandemic.

Living through a pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing issues like wealth inequality, limited access to quality healthcare, and polluted neighborhoods. These issues have become more salient for Democrats, so what are candidates and leadership going to do about it?
They need to advocate for transformational policies like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal and canceling all student debt. This is how we engage and mobilize disillusioned and on-the-fence voters. Speaking to the issues which matter to them. Making healthcare and education affordable while creating new jobs in the renewable energy sector and cleaning the environment.
Communities know when they're being invested in or not, so Democratic leadership simply cannot risk running candidates with records of choosing corporations and profits over people’s healthcare, environment, and education.
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