The Joe Biden model is a winner for all Democrats
There are two schools of thought among liberals when it comes to conservative media narratives. The first is to ignore. Who cares what Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity are saying? We have our own channels of communication. The second is to pay close attention and recognize the widespread impact of right-wing media narratives.
As a liberal who works in conservative media, it’s no secret which theory I subscribe to. And after the 2020 election, when Democrats unnecessarily lost a number of down-ballot races, I question anyone who thinks Democrats can afford to keep subscribing to the “who cares” school of thought.
Don’t believe me? Take President-elect Biden’s word for it. In leaked audio from last week, Biden is heard telling civil rights leaders: “That’s how they beat the living hell out of us across the country, saying that we’re talking about defunding the police. We’re not. We’re talking about holding them accountable.” Along the same lines, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said, “These headlines can kill a political effort. … I really believe that’s what cost Joe Cunningham his seat.” Or listen to Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), who narrowly won reelection: “We lost races we shouldn’t have lost. ‘Defund the police’ almost cost me my race because of an attack ad. Don’t say socialism ever again,” she exclaimed in a call with Democratic leadership soon after the election.
Naturally, the progressive left pushed back, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) offering that Democrats lost because they “lack core competencies” that no amount of money is going to fix.
But even if that’s true, it does no Democratic candidate any favors to espouse the virtues of socialism or of defunding the police beyond a far-left primary. It only makes for terrible — and effective — attack ads that are used to paint the entire party as radical and out of step with Americans.
This was particularly evident in watching the Georgia Senate debate between Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, her Democratic challenger. Loeffler asked Warnock to explicitly renounce Marxism and socialism — and he did, though in a roundabout way. Warnock discussed his support for a free enterprise system, the opposite of socialism, but the ads already have been cut. In fact, I could feel them being cut as he was speaking.
There’s this pressure to accept things that have been mainstreamed in the Democratic Party by the progressive left. And they need not be. They actually shouldn’t be. They are bad for the business of winning elections and don’t reflect the majority of our representatives and our voters.
As a rule of thumb, if you’re the last Democrat standing in a race, you must run to the middle. Right-wing media are far too powerful for nuanced explanations of democratic socialism versus Venezuelan socialism or why “defund the police” doesn’t actually mean defunding police.
Progressive voters won’t abandon you because you said this isn’t a socialist nation or Marxism doesn’t have any place in America. Where are they going to go? They are certainly not going to do a complete 180 and vote for the candidate who doesn’t think Americans should have access to health care, believes climate change is a hoax, and doesn’t see systemic racism in everything from education to the criminal justice system.
Joe Biden’s successful candidacy makes this point. He repeatedly told reporters, “I beat the socialist” when asked his views on socialism or the supposed leftward lurch of the party. Why shouldn’t every candidate be doing that?
We are not a socialist nation. We are a compassionate nation. The two should not be confused, and it pains me to see candidates dance around slogans that are out of step with their own policy platforms for fear of progressive retribution.
If former Speaker Tip O’Neill were still with us, I genuinely wonder whether he’d still advocate for the “all politics is local” approach to elections. Surveying the past few cycles, my guess is that he would be much more in Clyburn’s camp.
The truth is that all politics is national at this point. There is no other explanation as to why Democrats were unable to win everything from statehouse races to Senate elections in which they were favored.
In a general election, no one will penalize you for being too moderate or conciliatory — it can only help to reach out to voters who might not normally support Democratic candidates. We are a different party than even just 12 years ago when Barack Obama won the White House for the first time. The coalition that propelled Biden’s win is ripe for the taking on a long-term basis because Republicans continue to show no backbone when it comes to Trumpism.
All Democratic candidates can’t be Joe Biden, but they certainly can talk like him in a general election.
Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.