The national leadership of the Democratic party relentlessly pushes the candidacies of so-called ‘moderates’ in primary elections, people with Republican-lite views, even when the grass-roots favors more progressive candidates. The leadership and some political analysts argue that they do so for strategic reasons, not ideological ones, because they think this gives them a better chance of winning elections by attracting some people who would vote Republican. Progressives have argued that number of such voters who can be won over is small and will be offset by those voters who will not vote out of disgust at the lack of real choice they are confronted with. It would be far better to target the large number of people who have become disaffected with the Democrats precisely because they have not been vocal and aggressive about the issues that they care about.
David Dayen and Ryan Grim report on a study that finds that the contrary to the claims of the leadership, their decision is made on ideological, not strategic, grounds. They really want the quasi-Republicans to represent the party.
A paper in this month’s edition of the peer-reviewed Legislative Studies Quarterly analyzes a decade’s worth of federal elections, finding that party organizations boost moderate candidates across the board, whether the general election is expected to be competitive or a long shot. In other words, party support for moderates does not appear to be strategic, but sincere. “They’re not doing this to have a better shot at winning elections,” said the paper’s author Hans Hassell, assistant professor of politics at Cornell College in Iowa.
The evidence points more to the conclusion that party elites “have strong incentives to prefer loyalists who can be trusted to implement its preferred policies after the nomination,” Hassell writes.
The study not only breaks with other political science findings, but decades of rhetoric from party leaders. It’s obvious from the most casual survey of primary elections that parties support moderates, but the races that observers tend to watch closely are competitive contests in swing states, so it stands to reason that a moderate in such a district may indeed be the smarter strategic play. Indeed, in a series of high-profile battles with progressive activists, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has consistently positioned itself as being pragmatic, willing to bend on its progressive principles if doing so can lead to victory.
Hassell’s work expanded the field of vision, looking at races in which the Democratic nominee is likely to cruise to victory. The full scope of the research indicates that party leaders are actually committed to elevating candidates with a narrow range of beliefs.
A good example is the case of Dan Lipinski whom the party leadership favored in the primary in a solidly Democratic seat even though his views and voting record are awful and his primary opponent Marie Newman was a much better candidate.
What the two parties want is that voters only get to choose between two flavors of candidates, both of whom adhere to elite interests. That way the interests of the elites remain secure, irrespective of who gets elected or which party gets the majority. The top leadership of the Democratic party, people like Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (before she was ousted though she still has clout), and Chuck Schumer are all much more comfortable with quasi-Republicans than with progressives.