Democrats Wisely Stay the Course

Democrats are not losing their minds in the age of Donald Trump.

View of the United States Capitol in Washington DC, August 4, 2013
View of the United States Capitol in Washington DC, August 4, 2013 (Jeffrey Zeldman)

In primary elections on Tuesday, Democrats in the United States largely went with the more sensible candidates.

Coming on the heels of Ralph Northam’s victory in Virginia and Doug Jones’ in Alabama, it suggests the party is not losing its mind in the age of Donald Trump and wisely staying the course.

Or, as Jonathan Bernstein puts it:

We’re now six states in and if there’s any sign that Democrats are either plagued by a dysfunctional overreaction to Trump or are having real difficulties handling the surge in new candidates, I’m not really seeing it.

Unlike Republicans

That is not to say the Democratic Party isn’t becoming more left-wing.

But liberals didn’t try to defeat moderate Democrat Joe Manchin in West Virginia or any moderately liberal incumbents in Republican states, and the liberals they are nominating appear to be, for the most part, interested in governing responsibly. They’re not pledging to never compromise or to impeach every Republican in sight.

Unlike Republicans, whose incumbents keep losing and whose challengers are still running against Hillary Clinton.

No single message

This should bely the narrative that Democrats don’t have a “message” and that this will doom them in November.

First of all, we hear this in every election. Those who peddle it have yet to learn the lesson from Matt Grossmann’s and David A. Hopkins’ Asymmetric Politics (my review of their book here), that Democrats are a coalition of interest groups and Republicans an ideological party.

Asking the Democrats to come up with a unified program is treating them like Republicans. They’re not. Which is why, despite the last two or three decades of polarization, there is room in the Democratic Party for self-described socialists, like Bernie Sanders, as well as social conservatives, like Manchin.

Second, to the extent that the Democrats have one message it is governability. Republicans are tearing down institutions and norms. Democrats still believe that government can be a force for good.

Which is why they should be wary of mirroring Republican anger. Adopt the scorched-earth tactics of the right and Democrats lose what seems to me their main advantage: the perception that they can be trusted with power.