In 2024, Democrats need a ‘compromise agenda’
Of all the takeaways from the 2022 midterm elections, perhaps the most important is this: American voters are tired of the national issues agenda being driven by extremists in both parties, and want real solutions to the issues they care most about, including costs, crime and immigration.
For their part, Republicans must take their historically poor midterm performance as a sign that continued fealty to Donald Trump will irreparably damage their party’s brand. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other Republican leaders in the House now have a clear mandate to reject calls from MAGA members to impeach President Biden and pursue other wasteful investigations.
On the other side, Democrats must recognize that their historically strong showing in the midterms was not because the electorate enthusiastically embraced their agenda, rather, it was because voters rejected the Republican Party’s platform.
As we saw with the Senate elections in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, Democrats’ most notable wins were against extreme, Trump-backed candidates. Conversely, in races where more traditional Republicans were on the ballot, such as Georgia’s gubernatorial election, Americans strongly preferred Republicans.
Polling suggests that even Democratic voters themselves did not as much vote for their own party, but rather voted against the Republican Party.
Leading up to the 2018 midterms when Donald Trump was in the White House, the majority of Democratic voters (58 percent) still said they were voting for Democrats, as opposed to voting against Republicans. This year, the majority of Democrats (52 percent) said they were voting against Republicans, rather than for Democrats.
In this new, narrowly divided Congress, President Biden and Democratic leaders have an obligation — to the broader electorate, and to their own base — to develop an agenda that seeks cooperation with the slim Republican majority in the House to address the challenges facing the country: the looming recession, America’s energy security, the immigration crisis and high crime rates.
Without such an approach, gridlock will persist, and President Biden will not have any recent accomplishments to point to when he — or perhaps another Democrat if Biden steps aside — runs for reelection in 2024.
Further, with more rank-and-file Republicans looking to distance themselves from Donald Trump’s malign influence — notwithstanding Trump’s announcement that he intends to seek the presidency again — Democrats may no longer be able to use Trump as their boogieman, making this compromise agenda absolutely critical to their political viability.
While the media perpetuates the narrative that we are hopelessly divided between red versus blue, the reality is that Americans actually do broadly agree on the need for middle-of-the-road policies.
A large survey of 80,000 Americans revealed that there is a bipartisan consensus on 150 issues, including immigration reform, responsible fiscal policies and changes to the criminal justice system.
To that end, at least two-thirds of American voters say they would be more likely, rather than less likely, to vote for candidates who support increased funding and training for police officers (77 percent) and addressing inflation by cutting government spending (67 percent), per recent polling.
Thus, Democrats going forward should forgo the egregious tax and spend policies that characterized President Biden’s first term. This also includes an acknowledgment that, while green energy may be the future, the U.S. must focus on bolstering our energy independence right now.
Democratic leaders can propose policies that will reduce the cost of living by alleviating the ongoing health insurance crisis, whereby Americans are paying more for healthcare, but getting less. Over 100 million Americans have medical debt, and insurance companies should be held accountable.
On criminal justice, Democrats can pursue a grand bargain with Republicans that increases federal funding for local law enforcement while also making changes to a system that has historically mistreated Black Americans.
Reform in another key area — immigration — is also far past due. While there is not one side that is more blameworthy than the other for the multi-faceted immigration crisis we face, Democrats must accept that the advocacy of open border policies from the progressive wing is both practically unsound and politically toxic.
Democrats instead should advocate for a centrist approach to immigration that would secure the southern border physically and increase funding for immigration enforcement, while creating a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and some of the 11 million-plus undocumented immigrants living here who have positively contributed to society.
At a time when less than one-quarter (22 percent) of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, Democrats would benefit tremendously from promoting a “compromise agenda” of this kind.
By making an effort to work with the new Republican majority in the House, as we did when I worked for President Bill Clinton after the 1994 midterm election, Democrats can set themselves up for success in 2024 — regardless of whether or not Donald Trump is on the ballot.
Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an adviser to President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg. His new book is “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”