Democrats' combative approach to politics is doing more harm than good

Democrats' combative approach to politics is doing more harm than good
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The U.S. has staved off a financial catastrophe — for now.

Financial markets rebounded last week following the advancement of a bipartisan agreement in the Senate on a short-term debt ceiling hike, in which 11 G.O.P. Senators joined with all 50 Democrats to end debate over the measure.

That said, raising the debt ceiling should be a bipartisan matter, not a political football. Republicans’ refusal to do so last week was wrong, just as it was wrong when then-Senator Joe Biden voted “no” on raising the limit in 2006 under President Bush. Both parties accrue debt, and both should be responsible for upholding the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.


However, Sen. Majority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerSenate to vote next week on Freedom to Vote Act To Win 2022: Go big on reconciliation and invest in Latinx voters McConnell-aligned group targeting Kelly, Cortez Masto and Hassan with M ad campaign MORE’s (D-N.Y.) comments following the vote, in which he blasted Republicans, were also not constructive and inflammatory. Schumer accused Republicans of playing a “dangerous and risky partisan game,” also saying Democrats were able to “pull our country back from the cliff’s edge that Republicans tried to push us over.”

Republicans were angered by the comments, as was moderate Democratic Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOn The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan Schumer, McConnell headed for another collision over voting rights Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Climate divides conservative Democrats in reconciliation push MORE (D-W.Va.), who criticized the speech later on, saying that senators need to “de-weaponize” and stop “playing politics” on “both sides.”

Ultimately, Manchin’s response represents an explicit example of the broader approach Democrats need to take — conciliation rather than confrontation — given President BidenJoe BidenMcAuliffe holds slim lead over Youngkin in Fox News poll Biden signs bill to raise debt ceiling On The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan MORE’s poor polling position, as well as the party’s scant majorities in the House and Senate.

Indeed, the president’s approval rating reached a new low last week, sinking to just 40 percent approve, and 53 percent disapprove, according to a Quinnipiac poll

Of course, the president’s approval rating is often viewed as a bellwether for the party’s performance in midterm election years. In midterms since 1946, presidents with an approval below 50 percent see their party lose an average of 37 House seats, according to a 2018 Gallup analysis.

That said, 2022 isn’t the only election that Democrats need to worry about, nor should the party just be concerned about losing the U.S. House. 

David Shor’s election model — which the New York Times simulated in Ezra Klein’s latest analysis — shows that, even if Democrats perform well in both 2022 and 2024 — which seems unlikely, given current trends — the party will still lose seats. 

Shor’s model shows that, in 2022, if Democrats win 51 percent of the total Senate vote — a decidedly good year for the party in power — they will still lose one seat, and with it, control of the Senate. But it gets even worse in 2024 — if Democrats win 51 percent of the Senate vote again, Shor predicts that Democrats will lose seven seats. 

As Klein notes in his analysis, this is due largely to educational polarization among Americans, which has made the Senate inherently more biased against Democrats, as well as a decline in split-ticket voting, making it difficult for individual Democrats to fare better than their party.

Further, an analysis by my firm, Schoen-Cooperman Research, of swing voters from our latest poll further highlights and underscores the challenges Democrats face going forward. Swing voters currently prefer Republicans over Democrats in the generic 2022 congressional vote, 45 percent to 39 percent, according to our findings.

This all begs the question: where do Democrats go from here?

Clearly, Democrats need to improve their positions in swing- and Republican-leaning states. To do so, the party needs to curb the influence of Democrats who practice class-based politics, advocate redistribution of wealth, and favor economic disruption for disruption’s sake.

Instead, the party needs to move toward an approach and policies that center on unity, fiscal responsibility, and growing the economy for all. 

In other words, the party needs to demonstrate how they are creating a better and more prosperous future for America — rather than just focusing on negativity and partisanship. That said, embracing massive tax and spend initiatives without a clear vision for how these policies will actually benefit Americans is counterproductive.

To put this approach into practice in the short-term, Democrats need to act urgently to ensure the passage of Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, first and foremost. The bill remains at a standstill in Congress — along with Democrats’ multi-trillion dollar so-called “family infrastructure” proposal — as the intra-party fight over spending continues.

Once the bipartisan bill’s passage is secured, Democrats can then move on to negotiating down the size of the Build Back Better plan to address their priorities in a more methodical, targeted, and less reactionary way — rather than rushing to pass one of the largest government expenditures in history without fully understanding its impact.

To that end, Manchin has said that he favored a social spending bill that would cost no more than $1.5 trillion — still a massive expenditure, though far less egregious and inflationary than the $3.5 trillion progressives have demanded. 

Simply put, President Biden’s poor job ratings and Shor’s model paint a bleak picture for Democrats in the next two elections.


To counter these trends, the party needs to curb the influence of members whose approach to governance is centered on class-based political warfare and excessive taxation and spending without regard for whether the end justifies the means. Further, Democrats need to find a way to come together on a number of other pressing issues, namely, developing a long-term plan to extend the debt ceiling to maintain financial stability and security.

If they do not, Democrats will end up cementing their place as the minority party in Congress for years to come.

Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an adviser to President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael BloombergMichael BloombergDemocrats' combative approach to politics is doing more harm than good Battling over Biden's agenda: A tale of two Democratic parties Budget impasses mark a critical turning point in Biden's presidency MORE. He is the author of, “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat."