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The Problem With The Dems' Lesser Evil Strategy Is That Some Voters View The Republican As Less Evil

Establishment Democrats have so little faith in what the party is supposed to stand for that they count on a lesser of two evils approach to elections. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t— especially when the Democrats’ candidate can be painted as the greater evil. Let me ask you again to look at two Central Valley congressional districts— both quite blue, both with Republican congressmen. Biden beat Trump in CA-13 by better than 10 points— 54.3% to 43.4%. The PVI is D+4 and the partisan lean is D+7. Republican John Duarte beat a corrupt corporate Democratic state legislator, conservative Adam Gray 67,060 (50.21%) to 66,496 (49.79%) in one of the lowest turn-out races in the country. The Democratic establishment has encouraged Gray to run again next year, hoping that Duarte’s term in Congress has made him less palatable to voters.

CA-22 had a disastrously similar situation. Biden won the district by an even wider margin— 55.3% to 43.3%. The PVI (D+5) and partisan lean (D+10) are even more favorable— significantly more favorable— to a Democratic candidate. But the candidate— again a corrupt corporate Democratic state legislator— this time conservative Rudy Salas, flopped in an even lower turn-out election— 52,994 (51.5%) to 49,862 (48.5%). Yep, did even worse than his Sacramento colleague Gray… and both were heavily funded by the DCCC and House Majority PAC. Gray’s campaign was bolstered with $6,628,853 and Salas’ campaign got an indefensible $10,098,851. Two shitty candidates in nice blue districts— with plenty of money— were judged to be the greater evils. So the DCCC wants to run them both again.

Yesterday’s Weekly Lever included a piece by David Sirota, Dems’ Old Formula Is A Big 2024 Risk that discusses the same problem on a presidential lever and warns about the grievous error the Biden team is embarking on. “The Democratic Party’s political class,” he wrote, “has developed a rote formula over the last decade: ignore rather than channel discontent among the party’s rank-and-file voters, prevent competitive primaries where those voters can act on their dissatisfaction, and then hope to eke out general election victories on a wave of voter disgust with the Republican Party’s freakshow nominees. This isn’t just a fleeting tactic. This is now The Formula Of Democratic Politics™, one with mixed results.

[In 2020] The Formula seemed to work— Democrats united to quash the primary against the quasi-incumbent Joe Biden, and Trump’s horrific first term allowed Biden to eke out a win with a flaccid campaign based on a meaningless platitude about “the soul of America.”
Now Democrats seem intent on using The Formula again— only this time, it’s even more risky because this is not a race against a sitting Republican president. In 2024, Biden is the incumbent playing defense, and data suggest that there’s not much enthusiasm for his reelection campaign, even among his own party.
A stat from the Washington Post illustrates this larger problem: “Biden has less support for renomination among Democrats than Trump, Obama, and Clinton had from their parties,” the newspaper reports, noting that surveys show just 38 percent of Democrats want Biden to be the party’s nominee in 2024. CNN’s polling shows that right now, just one third of Americans believe Biden deserves to be reelected— lower than where Trump was at around this stage of his first term.
If there was a healthy democratic culture among the Democratic Party’s political class, the response to the prospect of depressed voter enthusiasm might be a serious primary challenge. There might be a traditional top-tier candidate— maybe a senator, a governor, or even a member of the House— who is both ambitious enough to run for president and worried enough about a Biden failure in a general election against Trump.
Such a primary would serve the additional benefit of testing Biden’s own reelection viability, and making sure he can handle the rigors of a campaign before he’s already the nominee.
But that hasn’t happened. The response has been The Formula.
First, Biden and Democratic leaders have rejected the FDR strategy of winning elections by making a show of delivering for the working class. They have instead made a show of putting their boots in the eye of dissatisfied voters as a way to brandish their “centrist” (read: corporate) credentials.
After a very good American Rescue Plan momentarily helped millions of people and boosted Biden’s standing among voters, Democrats cut off pandemic aid, jacked up taxes on the working class, stomped out a rail strike, expanded fossil fuel drilling amid the climate emergency, demagogued the crime issue, and reappointed Trump’s worker-crushing Federal Reserve chair— all while abandoning the minimum wage and health care promises they made in 2020. And then they spiked the football by bailing out Silicon Valley Bank tech moguls while the government moved to force up to 15 million people off Medicaid.
With voters now understandably ticked off, here comes The Formula’s primary-crushing phase.
There was the decision to move the first Democratic presidential primary to South Carolina— a state widely seen as a place where the party machine has the best chance to control the outcome against insurgent candidates.
More recently, there’s the effort to shut down the discourse: Though a Fox News survey shows 28 percent of Democrats already saying they will vote against Biden in a primary contest, the Washington Post reports: “The national Democratic Party has said it will support Biden’s reelection, and it has no plans to sponsor primary debates.”
Assuming Biden is the nominee, The Formula’s final phase will likely be anchored in Schumer’s 2016 assumption. Democrats will presume that come general election time, disgust with the Republican nominee will cure all the discontent, demoralization, and disillusionment sown by a feeble left-punching incumbent and by the party’s heavy-handed primary suppression tactics.
Maybe that’s what ends up happening. Maybe voters will see the Republican nominee as so flagrantly grotesque that Biden will get four more years. But there’s mounting evidence that the opposite could happen, and that 2024 could be more like 2016 than 2020.
That’s hardly surprising. As freakish as Republican politicians are, Democrats’ formula may not be sustainable over the long haul. There may be only so long that a party can ignore and suppress mass discontent and then just hope the other party’s extremism generates revulsion.
As FDR once warned: “The millions who are in want will not stand by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach.”

And, by the way, a poll released yesterday by ABC News and the Washington Post showed that most people disapprove of the way Biden is handling his job (56% to 36%) and-- surprise, surprise-- Trump's support (44%) would be bigger than Biden's support (38%) if the election were held today. Not just that, asked who did a better job as president, Trump-- who a majority (56%) think should face criminal charges for his role in the attempted coup-- has a higher score (54%) than Biden (36%).

This morning, Roll Call listed it’s pick of the 10 most vulnerable House incumbents, starting with the most obvious, George Santos, or whatever his name is, and including 6 more Republicans (all but one freshmen) and 3 Democratic freshmen, noting though, that North Carolina in rushing through an unconstitutional gerrymander to defeat as many as 3 more incumbent Democrats. Roll Call doesn't seem to be taking into account 2024 opponents, making some of the incumbents more likely to be able to hold on, like John Duarte, who will face a corrupt conservative, John Gray, again and Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez, who is likely to face crackpot fascist Joe Kent again. In order of vulnerability (along with the district’s partisan lean) Roll Call's 10 most vulnerable incumbents:

  • George Santos (R-NY)- D+4

  • Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY)- D+10

  • John Duarte (R-CA)- D+7

  • Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez (D-WA)- R+11

  • Mike Lawler (R-NY)- D+7

  • Brandon Williams (R-NY)- D+2

  • Yadira Caraveo (D-CO)- R+3

  • Gabe Vasquez (D-NM)- D+4

  • Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-OR)- D+3

  • Mike Garcia (R-CA)- D+8

I very strongly doubt that Santos will be the Republican nominee in NY-03 since state Senator Jack Martins could easily beat him in a Republican primary and it looks like he's going to run. I would guess that Mike Lawler will lose to Mondaire Jones and that Brandon Williams will lose to Sarah Klee Hood. My guess is that CA-27 Dems will run George Whitesides this time and that he will have a reasonable shot to beat Mike Garcia. I don't see former Congresswoman Yvette Herrell being able to defeat Gabe Vasquez. I expect the OR-05 Democratic primary to be contentious so it's hard to say what will happen in this blue district. I suspect that party will try to nominate a self-funding GOP-lite conservative, which won't fly.

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