Two weeks ago, I provided a short-term prognosis for the Democratic Party. Assisted by the helpful Washington Times story, “Far Left Rejects Fears They Are Denting Democrats’ Midterm Hopes,” it seems clear the party’s various ideological factions in the short run have “little choice but to keep their progressive agenda, change their messaging, and hope to cut their losses.” I also noted how “the long-run is where things get really dicey for Democrats. . . .”
The battle over the Democratic Party’s policy agenda has already commenced, though it is necessarily muted to avoid further damage to the party’s dwindling electoral chances. This struggle is summed up neatly by the Washington Times in two quotes.
The first comes from Lis Smith, a political strategist and self-described “normie” Democrat:
If you are spending your time during a global pandemic renaming schools instead of opening them, please find another party. It’s imperative for normie Dems to separate themselves from these toxic positions. They don’t work anywhere but on Twitter.
From the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, however, comes a distinctly different opinion courtesy of U.S. Representative Cori Bush (D-Mo.), a member of “the squad”:
In case you hadn’t caught on by now, every time there’s a media push blaming progressives, there’s something conservative Democrats are trying to cover up. This time it’s that they sent 4 million kids into poverty because they killed the Child Tax Credit. Don’t get distracted . . . I don’t know who needs to hear this, but Democrats trying to out-Republican Republicans is not a winning strategy.
After nearly four decades, Democrats find themselves back where they were when center-leftists birthed the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) to rebut the party’s image as being too liberal in the wake of the Reagan political realignment. With an assist from President George H. W. Bush’s tax increase, it attained its stated goal by being instrumental in the election of then-Arkansas Governor William Jefferson Clinton as its party’s nominee and, ultimately, president. Yet by 2016 the DLC was a spent force, its demise symbolically and substantively sealed by the progressive Senator Barack Obama’s primary defeat of establishment Democrat and former First Lady Hillary Clinton.
Today, the question for “normie” Democrats is two-fold: What is a “normie” Democrat, anyway? And is a new version of the DLC possible?
By all accounts, most Democrats after the Obama years would generally agree with the party’s progressive positions on the economy, environment, immigration, abortion, foreign policy, and many cultural issues. Thus, the question is inaccurately framed as “what constitutes normie Democrats?” Normie Democrats are now progressive, even if they wouldn’t necessarily describe themselves that way.
Properly framed then, the question is really what constitutes a “normie” progressive?
The short-hand way of looking at it is this: under President Bill Clinton, the Democrats were a center-left party; after President Barack Obama, the Democrats are a left-center party. It is an important distinction. Recent history shows that when properly masked, the country will vote for a left-center Democrat. It will almost assuredly not elect a leftist Democrat, for there is simply no way to paper over such radicalism. This is why the Democratic establishment went to such lengths to stop Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) from becoming the party’s presidential nominee . . . twice.
Already the battle lines are defined, as typified by the two Democrats quoted above. The “normie” is a political strategist who makes a living as a member of the Democratic establishment. The “true progressive” is a duly elected Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from a midwestern state. Both need their party to prosper. And both vehemently disagree about how to make that happen. While they may be able to put their differences aside for the immediate electoral good of the party, even then there are consequences that will compel a reckoning eventually between the competing factions.
For example, even though the Democratic establishment was twice able to put off a Sanders nomination, it has proven wholly incapable of preventing his socialist ideology from dominating the party’s agenda. Needing the enthusiasm of his youthful supporters to carry the doddering normie Democrat Joe Biden over the electoral finish line against the hated Trump, the establishment accepted an offer it couldn’t refuse. Now, as a matter of survival, it is seeking a way to renege.
Ironically, though, the success of the normies’ cynicism has sealed their fate. In the 1980s, the Democrats were reeling from two Reagan landslides and a subsequent political realignment. Today, the Democrats are trying to jettison their far-left political liabilities—the democratic socialists, Sanders supporters, the squad, and so forth—at a time the party has yet to reach rock bottom.
Even if the Democrats are wiped out in the midterms, a sizable and vocal faction will argue the party lost because it wasn’t far-left enough. The people making the case will cite the Biden Administration and the Democratic congressional majority’s failure to enact vast swaths of the progressive agenda. They will make this case in the certainty that their party will hold the White House for at least another two years. For normie Democrats to make their case, it will take a rousing defeat in 2022 (and likely 2024) before they even have hope to return the party’s policies back to the center-left.
Further fueling this Democratic civil war, (while the White House must necessarily aver otherwise) Biden presumably will not seek a second term. Thus, the current low-intensity, protracted internecine struggle will escalate after mid-November and crescendo in 2024. The Democratic establishment’s normies will be compelled to seize the opportunity in the primaries not merely to nominate their preferred candidates—especially a presidential nominee—but also seek to impose its preferred platform. Succinctly, normie establishment Democrats will try to define what is an acceptable progressive and decide what is a politically acceptable progressive platform.
Likely, they will fail. As seen with the earlier need for Sanders supporters’ enthusiasm, the party’s thin bench for national candidates will require a similar injection of energy. The only place to find it will be on the extreme left—especially if the Republican nominee is not Donald Trump, who motivates both parties to vote.
The end result, likely brokered by the Obama faction, will be a nominee palatable to the “normie” establishment covertly running on an agenda palatable to the party’s far left, though likely not as cognitively challenged as the current occupant of the Oval Office. It will not be nearly enough to erase from voters’ minds the failures of the Biden Administration.
In the aftermath, which will be something like the struggle between the larger Mensheviks and the tinier Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution, the most radical progressive elements will retain and expand their control of the Democratic Party; and, these radical progressives’ extremism will further drive and solidify the movement of large segments of their party’s voting base—such as blue-collar workers, Hispanics, and African Americans—into the Republican voting column.
To put it simply: doing more of what isn’t working will not work. But you’ll never convince the progressive extremists of that, for they base their illusory moral superiority upon their insane and injurious political agenda. Thankfully, disabusing progressive extremists of their delusions is not our task. That’s a job for normie Democrats.
Good luck to them.