Democrats, making a difference is better than making a point

Democrats demanding an ideological litmus test for candidates and cheering for brutal primaries are Republicans’ best friends. Ideological purity is subjective and one’s believing that he or she is a “better” Democrat is hypocritical in a party that prides itself on inclusion. History has proven when the Democratic Party turns off moderates it moves into the minority.

There are many single-issue Democrats, from climate change to pro-choice to commonsense gun safety laws. No one issue prevails and no one is less a Democrat for having a different primary concern. Only by creating a place in the tent for moderates can Democrats retain power in the House and/or gain it in the Senate.  

{mosads}One only need count the size of the Blue Dog Coalition to determine if Democrats hold a majority of the House. The Blue Dog caucus was created in 1995 as a group of moderate Democrats who work to keep the far left and far right from falling off a cliff.

The caucus has many professed fathers, but former Louisiana Reps. Billy Tauzin and Jimmy Hayes clearly named it; South Louisiana artist George Rodrigue, famous for his paintings of blue dogs, was their friend. Ironically, both Tauzin and Hayes felt so ostracized by the far left they eventually switched parties.  

In the wipeout of 2010, Blue Dog numbers in the House were reduced from 54 members to 26, and in the following election to 14. That historic loss of House seats overall reflected incredibly inept leadership at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and a reaction from the far right to America’s first nonwhite president. The current DCCC leadership is taking a wise and courageous stand to help ensure that history does not repeat itself.

The DCCC is right to discourage experienced, successful consultants from weakening an incumbent in a primary. Spending campaign dollars that should be used to take on anyone supporting Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for speaker in the next Congress is a much wiser move strategically. The party’s promise to “blackball” a firm working for a challenger is more to make a point than to settle scores, since it’s unlikely an established firm with a successful history would take a flyer on a challenger who likely has little idea what he or she is doing, and even more likely is underfunded.  

In a representative democracy, we expect our leaders to reflect the views of constituents.  Primaries have consequences. I proudly worked for former U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who was pounded by the institutional left for working with Walmart, despite its base being in her state and its employment of tens of thousands of her constituents. The left found a chameleon candidate in a former Arkansas lieutenant governor and a perennial potential candidate to oppose Lincoln in a primary, and spent more than $10 million against a pro-choice senator who solidly supported Harry Reid as majority leader.

Lincoln won the primary but was broke and weakened heading into the general election and Rep. John Boozman was elevated to the Senate. Boozman is the fifth most conservative member of the Senate. These are the kind of mindless moves that hamstring the Democratic Party’s ability to gain or retain power. Lincoln had been a member of the Blue Dogs in the House, and worked with anyone who made sense.  

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) is a prime example that mirroring the views of constituents allows Democrats to hold onto a conservative district. Peterson represents a district that voted for Trump by a 62 to 31 margin. If he is challenged in a primary, he may or may not win the nomination — but what is certain is that Democrats would then lose the seat and Peterson’s vote for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to keep her leadership post in 20 months. A member of the Blue Dogs since the group’s inception, Peterson votes opposite from DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) almost a quarter of the time, but she understands the importance of his voice in the party.   

The good news is, following the recent midterm elections, the Blue Dog caucus grew from 18 members to 26. All incumbents were re-elected and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) was elected to the Senate. The coalition has added seven members who defeated Republican incumbents in the 2018 election in districts that went to President Trump in 2016.  

Only in continuing to expand the tent, by protecting and supporting Democrats of all ideologies, can we ensure a Democratic majority so we can protect the forgotten, the discriminated against, the bullied and all who simply sometimes need a hand.  

To my fellow liberals I say, we can make a point or make a difference. That is not a popular sentiment for many, but those who judge must know that selfish self-righteousness takes a back seat to ensuring that Nancy Pelosi remains speaker and our values prevail, even if not in the purest form.

Dane Strother, a partner in Strother Nuckels Strategies, is a veteran Democratic strategist and communications consultant.

Tags Blue Dog Coalition Cheri Bustos Collin Peterson Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Democratic Party Donald Trump Factions in the Democratic Party Harry Reid John Boozman Kevin McCarthy Nancy Pelosi

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