In 2018, the Democrats face a serious threat to their hopes of taking back the Senate: their own left wing. With President Donald Trump having only a 40 percent approval rating, 2018 should be the year that Democrats make gains in the Senate. Yet, far-left Democratic interest groups, ignoring the reality that certain parts of the country simply will not embrace a far-left agenda, seem intent on preventing a Democratic majority in Congress.
With the advent of a Trump presidency, Democrats on the Left have embraced their activist roots by protesting and showing up at town halls. This activism is good for the Democratic Party, and if Democrats can keep it up, they could get an extra boost in 2018. But what Democrats need to remember is that they cannot turn a state like West Virginia, which voted 68 percent for Trump, into a liberal haven where far-left candidates can win. Moderate Democrats can still win in West Virginia, though; just ask the state’s Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, who has a 57 percent approval rating, or its Democratic governor, Jim Justice, who outperformed Hillary Clinton by over twenty percentage points in the 2016 election.
West Virginia is not an anomaly—there are Democratic leaders in red states all over the country. Montana, Missouri, West Virginia, Indiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan all voted for Trump but are represented by Democratic senators. What do these ten senators have in common? They are all facing re-election in 2018 in states that went red in 2016. Thus, though Democrats have opportunities in 2018, they also face real dangers in securing those victories.
The composition of the 2018 map ensures that Democrats must be on the defensive. The only seat the Democrats have a reasonable chance to flip is in Nevada, a state that Clinton won in 2016. This means the Democrats could plausibly lose ten Senate seats and only gain one in 2018, giving Trump a sixty-one-seat majority. The Democratic Party will face this disastrous result unless it fully embraces its moderate members, who have the ability to appeal to voters in red states.
Instead of coalescing and supporting those Democrats who are skillful enough to make gains in red states, the party has succumbed to unnecessary divisions. Jon Ossoff, a Democrat in a historically red district in Georgia, has a solid chance of scoring a victory for the Democratic Party. Instead of throwing his unequivocal support behind Ossoff’s campaign, Bernie Sanders, darling of the party’s far left wing, claimed that he wasn’t sure if Ossoff was a progressive. Under intense pressure, Sanders later clarified that he hopes Ossoff wins, citing the “energy and grassroots activism in Jon’s campaign.” Such an endorsement, though, is a tainted one, and it goes to show how the far left is only holding back the Democrats from true success.
Then, just recently, new Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez announced that all Democratic candidates should be pro-choice. By that logic, it would seem that 30 percent of Democrats are not actually Democrats. This raises a major problem for Perez, and the DNC as a whole, as one cannot win elections by narrowing the party’s base through unnecessary litmus tests. This stance on abortion has likely caused unnecessary damage to a Democratic mayoral candidate in Omaha, Nebraska named Heath Mello, whose faith and personal views have shaped his pro-life stance. Perez originally seemed to understand how the Democrats could win with a flexible fifty-state strategy—but that was before pro-choice interest groups attacked the DNC for their support of Mello. Unfortunately, Perez buckled under the pressure of these interest groups and now, with his recent announcement, has alienated a substantial number of pro-life Democrats.
Like Ossoff and Mello, Joe Manchin has been the victim of attacks from the Democrats’ far-left wing. Manchin voted to confirm Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, leading some Democrats to the conclusion that he should be primaried. Manchin rightfully responded to such threats with a challenge to “find somebody else who can beat me and vote me out.” And, regardless of whether the Democrats want to admit it, Manchin is right. Manchin is a moderate, popular senator and also likely the only Democrat who can win a Senate race in West Virginia.
Arguments for primarying Manchin rest on the idea that moderate Democrats like Manchin do not vote according to the Democratic agenda. These assertions ignore that Manchin votes with Democrats approximately 75 percent of the time. Some Democrats may argue that it would be better to have a senator who votes with the Democrats 100 percent of the time than one who only votes with them 75 percent of the time. But a Democrat who votes for Democratic policies 100 percent of the time cannot win in a red state. Red states are red because Republicans outnumber Democrats in them. Why would Republicans, en masse, ever vote for a far-left Democrat? If they wanted to vote for far-left Democrats, they would not be registered as Republicans—they would be registered as Democrats. This is where moderate Democrats can come into play—if moderate candidates can convince voters that they work for local interests and not the national Democratic Party, then they can get Republicans on their side. For example, far-left activists and organization can wish for a far-left senator in Montana all they want. Ultimately, though, the choice is between moderate Democrat, Jon Tester, and a Republican. And the hard truth that far-left Democratic activists must comes to terms with is that Republicans will vote for Democratic policies a lot less often than moderate Democrats will.
Democrats are lucky to have senators in red states, even if they do not vote for left-wing policies 100 percent of the time. These moderate Democrats are the only way the Democratic Party can hope to stay competitive on a national level. These moderates are the way forward for the party and are the only way that the Democrats can regain congressional majorities. They will allow Democrats to regain voters they lost in 2016 and make inroads in other red states in the future. These Democrats, though, face tough re-elections ahead, and they will need all the help they can get from the party to fight Republican senators who are playing ball with a home-court advantage.
Luckily for these Democratic senators, a new rise in political participation among Democrats has resulted from the election of Trump. Unfortunately, this political participation, if hijacked by the party’s far left, could only make things worse for an already-defeated party.
While far-left progressivism may be popular in the liberal enclaves of Los Angeles and New York City, it is not popular in many of the rural, red states which make up the rest of the country. The sooner far-left activists realize this, the sooner Democrats can start winning again. If the Democrats primary a senator like Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota with someone on the far left, they will not take back the country from moderate Democrats; they will hand over the election on a silver platter to Republicans, who will devote themselves to preventing the implementation of any and all liberal principles.
If political activists really wanted to check Trump, they would rally around all Democrats, from the moderate Joe Donnelly in Indiana to the far-left Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Those who are upset with Donnelly for being pro-life should focus on the fact that Donnelly was also pro-Obamacare. Democrats should realize that the whole point of a political party is to bring different wings of an ideology together in order to form a winning coalition. With that in mind, they must realize that not every Democrat votes the same way—and that is not necessarily a bad thing. The truth of the matter is that there are ten Democratic senators who are facing tough re-election bids in 2018, and they need the support not only of Democratic activists across the country, but also of ordinary people within their own states, if they are going to win.
The Left is going to have to make an important decision soon. Is it dedicated to fighting Republicans, or is it dedicated to fighting itself?
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