Do progressives prefer Trump to compromise?
Heading into the 2022 mid-term elections, the Democrats’ best asset is Trump. Despised by the Democratic base, Trump is only focused on himself and has little to no interest in helping Republican candidates. Using Trump to drive Democratic turnout is just about the only hope Democrats have to prevent a mid-term rout.
Enter the progressives.
Faced with the prospect of at least a Republican House of Representatives in 2023 and not enough votes even now for their agenda, one would think they would take what they can get and at least advance some of their policies. Instead, they are threatening to blow up President Biden’s legislative agenda and the painstakingly won trillion-dollar infrastructure compromise.
Already Biden’s numbers are reeling from the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle — but that is recoverable. The public thinks getting out was the right decision and does not put foreign policy high on their list of concerns. As long as the withdrawal is not connected with terrorism against American targets or on American soil, Biden should survive.
But domestic priorities are another matter. An inability of the Biden administration to deliver on domestic policy could prove fatal. Yet, progressive Democrats remain oblivious.
As president, Biden will get blamed for whatever goes wrong, and Democrats’ crowing about having untrammeled power (they don’t) doesn’t help matters. According to Morning Consult’s national tracking poll, more voters would blame Democrats for a government shutdown (33 percent) than Republicans (16 percent) — that includes a majority of Republicans (54 percent) and a plurality of independents (27 percent) and even 18 percent of Democrats.
A literal reading of the polling suggests passing the progressive wish list should be easy. Support for raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations is strong, with majorities of Democrats and independents supporting tax hikes (with the interesting exception of the capital gains tax). Large majorities support the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending proposals. According to Gallup, for example, 81 percent support more money for seniors and the disabled and 63 percent support free education at public universities.
One would think that these polling numbers would result in easy passage. Yet, Republicans are united in opposition — even centrists like Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and moderate Democrats are balking. The answer is that it’s easy to say “yes” to free stuff and having someone else pay for it when a pollster calls or e-mails you. But it’s an entirely different situation when it comes to voting. Pollsters have failed to probe how the public would respond to GOP attack points, simply asking about the Biden plan as if there will be no opposition. And there is evidence that the public has concerns about the implications of spending $3.5 trillion on a big leftist agenda.
Morning Consult has a plurality of respondents thinking the expense is too much (38 percent) with even Democrats who think the cost is too high (15 percent) outpolling those who think not enough is being spent (13 percent). Voters are also concerned about inflation, with YouGov reporting more voters concerned about inflation (29 percent) than unemployment (18 percent) — and 43 percent equally concerned about both. Republicans and independents are 20-points more concerned about inflation than jobs.
An uncertain public mood is not the only headwind. The air has gone out of Biden’s approval rating, falling into negative territory with most polls and a deficit of at least 10-points with Gallup and Rassmussen. The seemingly good news of Kamala Harris’ approval improvement is tempered by the fact that her rise has coincided with her disappearance from most news coverage.
But the real issue progressives need to face is that they simply don’t have the political support they think they do.
Once you step away from the loud liberal tweeters, the Democratic Party — and the electorate in general — does not support the progressive agenda.
In both the Senate and the House, centrist Democrats hold the swing votes for passage of any Democratic initiative. In the House, 12 Democratic members represent districts determined by the Cook Political Report to lean Republican. Progressives could not even win the Ohio special election primary in a very Democratic and urban district. The least accommodating senators, Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), represent states that are not exactly liberal bastions. Until Sinema won in 2018, Arizona had not voted for a Democratic senator since 1988, and Biden may have won the state in 2020, but by a sliver.
The demands that Manchin swallow the progressive agenda are even more absurd. Not only did West Virginia go for Trump with the second largest percentage, but Manchin barely won re-election in 2018. Importantly, Manchin soundly defeated his progressive foe in the Democratic primary by more than two-to-one. The bottom line is that Manchin is far more representative of the attitudes of West Virginia voters (and West Virginia Democrats) than Queens, N.Y., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her “squad.”
Beyond the current makeup of Congress, it is clear that, when voters actually vote, they do not endorse the expansive progressive liberal agenda — even Democratic voters. In the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, the progressive left had their best test of their real appeal within their own party — and their favorite, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), flopped.
Sanders only won five primaries and mustered a majority only in his home state of Vermont, failing to top 40 percent, except for Alaska. Even his performance in activist-heavy caucuses was abysmal, tying former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg in Iowa and only achieving 40 percent in Nevada.
Even within their own Democratic Party, the aggressive progressives are a decided minority.
The 2020 election was an even more stark warning. Biden barely beat an incumbent president who had negative approval ratings throughout his presidency, suppressed his own vote, fumbled the coronavirus response and was heavily outspent. In addition, Biden had the worst coattails of any incoming president since 1960. Republicans gained 14 seats in the House and only lost one Senate seat (the two Georgia seats went to a run-off). In spite of having to defend 23 seats, the GOP only lost two in states carried by Biden and came within a whisker of flipping Michigan.
For progressives, the political portents are very bad indeed. Pushing Biden and the centrists over a cliff is more likely than not to usher in Republican majorities in both houses of Congress and set the stage for a Trump comeback.
Keith Naughton, Ph.D., is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.