Is The Democratic Party Now A Safe House For GOP Defectors & A Reflection Of Their Policy Priorities
The failed DCCC strategy for 2020, included spending tens of millions of dollars trying to win wealthy conservative leaning suburban districts. Let's look at 2 of those districts where the DCCC ran Republican-lite candidates-- their specialty-- spent immense amounts of money and failed miserably. First NY-02, the South Shore of Long Island-- Nassau and Suffolk counties. Republican Peter King announced he was retiring and the Democrats ran a cliche-- a black military woman backed by the Blue Dogs. The DCCC and House Majority PAC spent $5.7 million on the race. The garden variety Republican beat her 177,379 (52.9%) to 154,246 (46.0%).
Straight across the country in the suburbs north of L.A., the Democrats ran a walking disaster candidate, Christy Smith, basically a Republican with a "D" next to her name. The DCCC and House Majority PAC spent $10 million in the district, a district where there are more registered Democrats than Republicans and where Biden kicked Trump's ass-- 54.0% to 43.9%. Smith may be the least inspirational candidate who ran all cycle-- and that is saying a whole lot. Republican Mike Garcia beat her by just slightly over 300 votes out of over 330,000 cast.
If Cheri Bustos-- the now-fired DCCC chair-- would have instructed her staff to find candidates least equipped to enthuse Democratic voters, they would all be riding high on performance bonuses now. The NRCC couldn't have hoped for a better operative at the helm of the DCCC-- except maybe Sean Patrick Maloney.
Yesterday, Jacobin published an essay by authors and academics Lily Geismer and Matthew Lassiter, who urged the Democratic Party establishment to drop its obsession with courting affluent suburbanites at the risk of continuing to imperil progressive policies while overlooking the changing composition of American suburbs. A progressive suburban strategy, they correctly assert, "must look to mobilize the increasingly diverse, increasingly working-class parts of American suburbia... Democrats cannot cater to white swing voters in affluent suburbs and also promote policies that fundamentally challenge income inequality, exclusionary zoning, housing segregation, school inequality, police brutality and mass incarceration."
The Democrats' suburban strategy centers around chasing affluent white-collar professionals, and simultaneously marginalizing its traditional working-class base. Like the DCCC, Biden's campaign "continued the decades-long centrist Democratic project of crafting electoral appeals and calibrating policy positions toward moderate, upper-income voters. The obsession with upper-income, white suburban professionals provides myopic understandings of the past and flawed lessons for the future. In 2010, the US Census revealed that, for the first time, a majority of African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos in America’s one hundred largest metropolitan regions resided in suburban areas and not in central cities. More than half of all poor people, and of first- and second-generation immigrants, in these major metropolitan regions also lived in the census-designated suburbs, where fewer than one-fourth of households conformed to the mythical suburban ideal of a married couple with children under the age of eighteen. Suburbs today are more working-class, and more diverse, than ever before. But it is not clear that the Democratic Party establishment, including the incoming Biden administration, is ready or willing to embrace the suburban electorate on its own terms."
The relentless pursuit of moderate white suburbanites is at once a symptom and cause of the Democratic Party’s unwillingness to fight for a working-class agenda that attacks economic inequality, systemic racism, and the global climate crisis by guaranteeing quality housing, health care, and employment; freedom from police brutality and the carceral system; and enacting a Green New Deal. This moment plainly calls for the Democratic Party to stop viewing economic redistribution and far-reaching criminal justice reform as political liabilities and instead to understand that tackling entrenched problems of economic and racial inequality offers an alternative way to mobilize the American electorate, including the diverse, working-class populations that live in suburbs and metropolitan regions.
...[T]here is ample evidence that the Democratic Party’s prioritization of affluent white suburbanites actively undercuts a progressive policy agenda. It is extremely optimistic to expect a meaningful number of affluent white suburbanites to accept such priorities even if more of them have been reading White Fragility and throwing out terms like “institutional racism.” Despite the conventional wisdom about hyper-partisan polarization, many affluent white suburbanites are still inclined to split their tickets and vote for Republicans in down-ballot elections. This is true even in very “blue” states such as Massachusetts, Maryland, and Vermont, where a significant subset of white college-educated voters who are reliably Democratic in presidential contests prefer moderate Republican governors that support fiscal conservatism and cultural tolerance.
It, therefore, should not be surprising that a sizable number of the moderate and generally Republican suburbanites who rejected the extremism and incompetence of Trumpism on the presidential ticket simultaneously voted for GOP candidates and divided government in congressional races and in contests at the state level. Even in California, where Trump received barely one-third of the vote, the majority of the statewide electorate, along with the majority in blue-trending suburban areas such as Orange County, handily rejected ballot initiatives aimed at increasing corporate taxes to fund social welfare programs, restoring affirmative action in higher education and public employment, and curtailing Uber’s and Lyft’s assault on workers’ rights.
In the aftermath of the November election, centrist Democrats loudly insisted that progressive activists had cost the party control of Congress and state legislatures by elevating demands for climate justice, economic redistribution, and radical policing reform. Yet these cries were self-interested at best and catastrophic at worst, representing a fundamental failure to imagine a different and better future.
The traditional strategy of chasing college-educated professionals, and thereby prioritizing their policy interests, risks hamstringing progressive social movements, misdirecting scarce resources, and thwarting the potential for bold policy reforms. Focusing on moderate, upper-income voters will squander the momentum of the mass protest movements demanding racial justice and systemic change and undercut attempts to draw in suburban-dwelling workers of all colors.
Unless the Democratic Party wants to become a safe house for Republican defectors and a reflection of their policy priorities, it is time to stop worrying about the nation’s most affluent suburbs-- and finally see the realities and potential of working-class suburbia in all of its hues.