Speaking of “Electability”

Paul Waldman wrote yesterday,

… it doesn’t matter which of the Democratic candidates for president now looks as though they might be able to appeal to Republicans, because none of them will. It won’t matter who they are or where they come from or what kind of talent they have. Once they’re run through the conservative media wringer, everyone on the right will despise them.

Which suggests that Democrats should do something radical and pick the candidate they like the best, not the candidate they think other people will like. Most Democrats like Ocasio-Cortez, so they shouldn’t be worried if Republicans hate her. Likewise, they shouldn’t freak out when Fox News and the rest of the conservative media start going to town on their nominee and whatever negligible approval that person has among Republicans disappears. It’s inevitable.

This is something I’ve written about before; see Ground Rules for Politics Nerds.  See also Matt Taibbi.

The role of “electability” has always been to convince voters to pick someone other than the candidate they prefer. The idea is to tell audiences which candidate has the broad appeal to win.

The metric pundits usually employ is, “Which Democrat could most easily pass for a Republican?” and vice-versa.

“Electability” tends to come up most in election seasons when the incumbent president is violently unpopular with minority-party voters. This is why people should be cautious now. With Democratic voters so anguished by Trump’s presidency they’ll pick anyone they think is the best bet to win, be on the lookout for experts pretending to know the unknowable — how the broad mean of voters will behave nearly two years from now.

Picking who we want, rather than who we think mythical “centrists” will vote for, is important for two reasons. One, as we should have learned in 2016, a lot of people are likely to sit out an election if the Dem candidate, or either candidate, isn’t somebody they feel good about voting for. Just a D after the name isn’t enough.

In the endless social media discussions of which candidate is “electable,” I keep saying that the one with the broadest and deepest genuine support among liberal/progressive voters can beat Trump, because the base will turn out for such a candidate. However, we don’t know who that person is yet. It will be several months before we do know. Don’t listen to anyone who says otherwise.

By genuine support I mean the person who actually embodies and expresses our hopes, ideals, and policy preferences. Not-genuine support is voting in the primary for the candidate the teevee ads keep saying can beat Trump, whether you like that candidate or not. I’m convinced Hillary Clinton won a lot of primaries with that argument.

The other reason to vote for the person we most want to be president is that winning the next election isn’t enough. The Democrats need to sustain power and build on it. As Martin Longman wrote awhile back, “Democrats have a pattern of losing their majorities at the first opportunity after they gain them. This happened in the 1994 midterms and again in the 2010 midterms.” I would add that every time Republicans take back a portion of government from Democrats they are even more crazy right-wing than they were before.

Even assuming the “safe” pragmatic incrementalist blah blah blah Democrat takes back the White House in 2020, and even if we take over both houses of Congress, if the Dems fritter away the next two years with small-bore incrementalist policies that mean little to most people, you can pretty much count on another midterm shellacking. And then we’ll be back to nowhere.

Going back to Paul Waldman’s column, it hardly matters what Democrats propose or what they do; the right-wing media will blast them for it. The next Democratic presidential nominee will be soundly denounced by the right-wing media infrastructure. She or he will be called radical, socialist (all of them; not just Bernie Sanders), America-hating, military-hating, God-hating, and crazy. Any policies she or he runs on will be socialist, job-killing, budget-busting (like they care), too expensive, ruinous, and will amount to giving undeserving people something they didn’t earn. It hardly matters how centrist or conciliatory the nominee might be, or whether, like Obamacare, the hated policy is one that originated on the Right and is based on conservative principles. The Right will pour fire and hate speech upon it, and Fox News regular viewers will be certain that if this terrible thing comes to pass, America is done.

So, no more defensive nominees. Vote for the nominee you want to be president.

10 thoughts on “Speaking of “Electability”

  1. I have said for ages that not only do we not need phony centrists, who have cost us elections for decades even if they won the White House, but we also need someone who has consistency of policy stances, the backbone to push back against the inevitable criticisms you so rightly point out, and the ability to speak truth to hostile audiences and stick to it at every point in the campaign.  

    Bernie did well with enough voters who eventually went with trump because he fit that criteria.  Not saying we need Bernie but we need candidates capable of channeling AOC's aggressive truth telling and willingness to stand up to bullies.

    Democrats for too long have folded like wet cardboard at the slightest conservative or media criticism.  I  had a personal experience with that having had to deal with a very hostile, very conservative audience during school board meetings.  But when I stayed consistent with my  positions, was proven right over time, and fought for what was right not just what might benefit my town I was amazed at the response.  The best line was from someone who came up to me after a meeting and thanked me by saying "I still don't like you or what you stand for but I really respect your standing up for what is right".  That kind of respect from voters (I wasn't an elected official just an involved citizen but the lesson holds) will create success down the line, especially in close elections when "their" candidate is a disaster.

    Plus, Democrats have to be willing to fight and lose without apologies and keep fighting in places they've avoided.  Americans love a fighter when they lose with class and style and are likely to look favorably on someone like that in the future.

    I remember what Bush W voters said in 2000, "I don't always agree with him but I know where he stands".  They didn't feel that way about Gore (or Kerry either) and it cost them both.

  2. Many progressive agree that there was much in the New Deal which Jesus would like.  And conservative evangelicals make up a sizeable block of consistent voters.  My preferred candidate would challenge them directly on New Testament grounds – force them to publicly defend their mammon positions which conflict with Jesus teachings.  Plutocratic brainwash might overcome that anyways, but it'd hasten the change we're seeing in religious and non-religious millenials. 

  3. The Holy Grail of DNC centrism is winning republican votes.  There is no higher achievement. 

    In 2016, Clinton unabashedly courted republican voters, and left large portions of her own base unmotivated to the extent they needed to be for her to win.  Under some nonsensical calculation its always worth depressing the base in order to achieve republican support they should know by now they'll never get.  But somehow, a dry as dust candidate — the duller the better — who can figure out how to disrespect the "far left" (read: the democratic party base) to show the centrists (read: republicans) they are "serious" while equivocally supporting small bore policies designed to tinker around the edges to leave the problematic status quo in place remains in their minds the path to victory.  Do they really want to win or are they more content with maintaining relationships with the donors who will feather their nests as long as they don't go crazy and actually support what a majority of voters want?

    2016 was a hard lesson, and yet here we are again with Harris, Klobuchar, Gillibrand, Biden, Beto*, Booker, just to name a few, centrists all, seeking to replicate the "path to victory" dems followed in 2016.  And never too far away is the Mother Theresa of Centrism, Hillary Clinton, smiling down on them all.

    You would think that if something hadn't worked in the past, repeatedly, reasonable people would see its time to change.  Given how voters responded in 2016 and 2018, we have evidence that voters will provide popular support for a democratic candidate running to the left.

    *Beto is a centrist, as was Obama, but like Obama he has the charisma to overcome the losing centrist appeal and rally voters.  But like Obama, lose them once in office when he "pivots" to centrism.

  4. Because I know the bible to some degree, I often throw the words of Jesus at conservatives when I’m arguing at them (Matthew 25 is a favorite – “for I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…”). Some of them will try to shutdown the argument with the accusation that Democrats are baby-killers. I’m hearing a lot of that kind of demonization of the left lately (along with: we want open borders etc etc). Even Trump has used it. I don’t know how to counter that in a succinct fashion, nor do I suspect it would matter anyway to the person hurling this accusation.

    The point is, conservatives have plenty of ammunition to hurl against progressives who invoke Jesus or the New Testament, but I agree that this is the perfect place to start with these people. The battle with conservatives must be fought on the spiritual level, it’s just that our rhetoric must be up to the task.

  5. Corporations are not people. Money is not speech. Profit as the highest value is inhuman. We should care about the least among us. The love of money is evil. Hate, fear & greed are not xtian values.

  6. I was all-in for Obama the day he declared in early 2007. A few weeks later, at the Eastern NC meeting of the Democratic Party in Fayetteville, I gave a short speech supporting him as our candidate. The looks I got! That black guy with decidedly un-Heartland ‘Murkin name? Almost everyone there was for Hillary, the rest mostly for Edwards.

    Here in early 2019?
    I don’t love anyone yet.
    I don’t hate anyone yet.
    I like everyone so far.
    I’m waiting to see how they adapt in the early debates and primary contests, and how their positions evolve. *

    But in the end, a lot of our American presidential elections don’t revolve around substantive issues and solutions, but instead, around charisma and personality – so I’ll be paying careful attention to the latter two, too.
    Beto seems to have the the latter two down pat. But what solutions will he offer?
    Is he the most charismatic? I don’t know. Harris and Booker have a lot too!
    So, I’ll just sit back, watch, and keep my fingers crossed.

    * I do have two darkhorses, though, whom I like:
    Julian Castro and Pete Buttigieg (Mayor Pete, from now on from me! He’d be better off if his name was Beetlejuice – just don’t say his name quickly three times in a row, or all tRUMP may break loose!!!). If you watch him being interviewed, that guy has a policy solution for EVERY thing he’s asked!

  7. A timely post and well-said. I like Bernie and Liz Warren but I'm not bashing any candidates. Biden – and I wish someone would dig up current numbers – retired from the Senate less than a milionare (by net worth). That means he didn't ever leverage his Senate seniority for monitary gain. A lot of his policy positions are too centrist, an older whiter Obama, but he's not a crook. He's way down on my list of candidates, which shows what a fine group we have. Statistically, I think Biden would not appeal to younger voters and there would not be much crossover to Biden from Trump (old, white, male) voters. Gender isn't a qualifyer or disqualifyer, but we have several women who could handle the job. Age isn't a factor because we're going against the oldest candidate ever to run if Trump isn't impeached.

    OT – If the Mueller Report does not nail Trump for anything more than finance violations related to sex scandals, the border scandal of children being separated and kept in cages is (IMO) the most damaging scandal. It's the one that might persuade conservative voters to stay home in Nov 2019. 

  8. csm on March 17, 2019 at 11:38 am said:
    The Holy Grail of DNC centrism is winning republican votes. There is no higher achievement.

    I agree with everything in your post except this. The higher achievement, the highest priority, which supersedes even winning as a goal, is to prevent a liberal from winning. That’s why they supported so many Blue Dogs, who somehow manage to surprise Nancy Pelosi when they do not vote in favor of key Democratic positions.

  9. I can't imagine Trump winning a second term. If that ever came to be the state of moral decay that has engulfed our nation should be a bigger concern to us than who was fielded against him The bible says that God says if we as a nation turn from our wickedness he will heal our land. I don't think that scripture refers to healing in an ecological sense. To elect any one of the Democrat candidates would be a positive sign that we have turned from our wickedness, and would instantaneously prove to be that healing that God had promised.

    Trump is a big bag of shit, and I'm praying he gets cast into the outer darkness..

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