Longtime political consultant Doug Schoen and his Democratic pollster business partner Carly Cooperman released new polling showing that “the electorate is increasingly pessimistic about the direction in which President Biden and Democrats are steering the country and feel that the party’s priorities do not align with their own.” You don’t say.
Their advice to Democrats: “In order to have a fighting chance in the midterms — as well as a shot at holding on to the presidency in 2024 — Democrats need to embark on a broader course correction back to the center.”
Unfortunately for Democrats, when it comes to a Clintonesque tack to the middle, they can’t, they won’t, and most importantly, it wouldn’t help much anyway.
Are Democrats going to abandon their base which is where all the energy and much of their money comes from? Sure, their base is far to the left of the country, even more than the GOP base is to the right of the country. But it’s called “the base” for a reason. Without it, your unstable party topples over. Abandoning the base is not a winning strategy even if the base is not very large.
Moving forward, if Democrats in Congress from time to time tactically abandon the furthest-left part of their base, will Republicans vote for whatever Democratic bill is up for a vote and give Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Biden a political win? Maybe regarding Ukraine but probably not for much else.
Many Democrats are also justifiably frightened of their own base, of the cancel-culture mentality which the relative moderates in the Democratic Party either cheered for or, at best, did not criticize as long as the radicals weren’t going after them. Politically, I would argue that the Democratic majority in Congress has a tiger by the tail when it comes to their radical base but that isn’t quite right; at this point, they don’t even have it by the tail. It’s just a question of when it will try to rip their heads off. Moving to the center on, for example, energy policy would bring just that reaction from AOC, Cori Bush, and the execrable Ilhan Omar.
Although it’s politically too late for many of them, Democrats should be, or should have been, reminded of Martin Niemoller’s famous statement that begins, “First they came for the socialists,” although, of course, first they came for the non-socialists this time. The concept still applies.
But the biggest problem for the Democrats as they hear the siren calls of moderation is that their current radical position (and public perception) is Scylla and moderation is Charybdis. Sure, the latter is a little less frightening but she’s still going to sink your ship.
While one may believe that the usual inability to move to the center is due to the fear (or reality) of voters being upset with apparent hypocrisy, that isn’t really the issue. After all, voters know that being upset with a politician for being hypocritical is like being upset with a puppy for peeing on a rug. They just don’t understand why you’re mad since it’s what they’ve always done.
No, the issue isn’t hypocrisy; it’s authenticity. The difference is subtle but the latter hinges on whether the public believes that a position you’re taking contradicts something that you’ve at least claimed to deeply believe and perhaps to understand well. Being inauthentic is an affront to your political raison d’être in a way that goes far beyond run-of-the-mill hypocrisy.
One of the most successful brands in history is Coca-Cola. And one of their most successful slogans ever, versions of which were used by the company for at least 60 years, is “It’s the Real Thing.” Fun fact: The tagline was so successful that it’s the origin of the world-famous song, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” The version by The New Seekers reached No. 1 on the U.K. charts and No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S.
Americans value authenticity, even in politicians.
Part of the reason is simple: If a politician is holding what is perceived as an inauthentic policy position, voters can (and should) assume that the politician won’t be as good at implementing that policy as someone who truly believes it would be.
So if a Republican raises taxes — perhaps based on a view that voters are in the mood to do so — the public will say “As long as we’re doing the whole tax-and-spend thing, let’s hire the experts” and vote for a Democrat to do what Democrats do. (Republicans didn’t do too badly in 1992 even as George H.W. “Read my lips, no new taxes” Bush become a one-term president because only 10 GOP House members voted for the tax hike. Bush was inauthentic; congressmen weren’t.)
Or, if a Democrat starts talking about fiscal responsibility (or the public at least believes fiscal responsibility is needed), the electorate will similarly vote for Republicans, being the party that usually claims (the Trump years notwithstanding) to care about deficits and debt.
Here is the quandary for Joe Biden and congressional Democrats: If sound energy, crime, and spending policies are what voters want at a time of massively rising gas prices, murder rates, and national debt, Democrats moving to the middle will only reinforce to voters what’s needed and, even if they don’t think Republicans will be utterly fabulous on those issues, the electorate will assume that at least the GOP will be an improvement over the status quo, no matter Democrats’ inauthentic pivoting.
If Democrats were to pursue, for example, loosening restrictions on new energy development and the completion of pipelines, not only will they lose their base but the vast middle of the country will realize the flagrant inauthenticity of those policy changes and therefore the impossibility of Democrats doing a good job implementing them.
When it comes to good energy policy, which is probably the top issue in America today, saner criminal justice positions, which are also near top-of-mind, especially in blue cities and states suffering through violence and an explosion of homelessness, and (again, despite President Donald Trump’s utter failure on this issue) putting a halt to inflation-causing massive government spending financed by new money from the Fed, for now at least, Republicans are the real thing. And as Coca-Cola has proven for decades, that’s pretty much the only thing that matters.