The Democratic Party Is Most Successful When It’s at Its Broadest Big Tent
The Democratic Party is most successful when it’s at its broadest, attracting everyone from far-left democratic socialists to center-left moderates. Most of the time, the metaphor we use is that of a “big tent.” But the Rev. Jesse Jackson put it much more eloquently in 1988, when he noted that the Party is like a bird, and “it takes two wings to fly.”
Now, a federal government trifecta – the White House, Senate, and House – is within striking distance for Democrats for the first time since the Obama wave of 2008. And that’s because the whole bird is looking strong. As the primaries closed in mid-September, both ideological wings of the party have something to be happy about.
Let’s start on the left. The Congressional Progressive Caucus is set to grow again. Several House candidates, like Marie Newman (IL), Teresa Leger Fernandez (NM), Jamaal Bowman (NY), and Mondaire Jones (NY) are running in safe Democratic districts and set to replace retiring Democrats who are more moderate than the incoming freshmen. In Newman and Bowman’s case, they defeated their predecessors in primaries.
And the Progressive Caucus could also contribute to expanding the Democratic majority. Seven of their endorsed candidates are running in races trying to flip a district from red-to-blue like Kara Eastman (NE) and Candace Valenzuela (TX).
All Democrats should celebrate new talent coming to Washington and any opportunity to expand the House conference. Still, if it’s vital for Democrats to recognize that if they win big in November, their wins largely will be courtesy of the Party’s other wing: the center-left.
In key Senate primaries, moderates like John Hickenlooper (CO), Sara Gideon (ME), and Theresa Greenfield (IA) defeated candidates who were just too far left to win in these swing states. Combined with other moderates including but not limited to Mark Kelly (AZ), Steve Bullock (MT), and Cal Cunningham (NC), the field of Democrats with a shot of flipping Senate seats is entirely center-left.
In their pursuit of an expanded House majority, the center-left New Democrat Coalition, which became the largest ideological group in the House Democratic Caucus for the first time after 2018, is set to expand again. They have 25 candidates in “red-to-blue” districts including some great candidates like Carolyn Bourdeaux (GA) and Gina Ortiz Jones (TX).
And of course, Joe Biden won the biggest prize of the 2020 primaries, and he is a card-carrying member of the Party’s center-left. His platform includes building on the ACA with a public option, investing in job creation especially in manufacturing and clean energy, and civil rights reforms to give everyone an equal opportunity to not only exist but thrive. But he has shunned some of the more unpopular positions that Trump and the GOP wishes they could pin on him; though, they try fruitlessly.
Still, Biden’s campaign has fully embraced Rev. Jackson’s message. Biden knows that unity – two wings flying together in harmony – is the way to beat Donald Trump.
That is why Bernie Sanders was given a primetime speaking slot at the DNC convention. His allies have gotten respect from the Biden team and the DNC, and his ideas helped form the unity messages and platform.
On the other side of the bird, the Democrats are reaching out to the new voters moving into the Party who feel abandoned by the GOP in the age of Trump. That brought the startling sight of former Ohio Governor John Kasich, long a rock-ribbed Republican stalwart and presidential candidate, speaking for Biden at the DNC.
Kasich’s message was intended to give voice to those disaffected Republicans and Independents. The Democratic primaries saw an explosion of turnout in the suburbs of places like Charleston, Dallas, and Detroit. Democrats must ensure that, while not losing any of the enthusiasm of their base, they do everything they can to welcome these new supporters and represent their views.
The tired old storyline in Democratic politics is that of “disarray.” Big coalitions can be messy, and Democrats are not really a bird with two equal wings, but a Party with a collection of strong-willed leaders, activists, and voters. As Tolstoy put it, “[they] were in complete and hopeless disagreement upon almost every subject, not because they belonged to opposite parties, but precisely because they were of the same party.”
Still, there is much more that unites than divides Democrats. They can go big and bold without going too extreme on responding to COVID-19, expanding health care, creating jobs, raising wages, and fighting climate change. And If the two wings respect and help one another for the next two months, Democrats can get lift off.
David de la Fuente is a senior political analyst at Third Way.
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