The Democrats Will Win When They Are Ready to Be Boring

The last several years  months of election exegeses, explaining the Jump of Trump, have been funny because they mostly come in three flavors. The first, from Clinton loyalists, pointed the finger at everyone and everything except a crappy candidate and crappy campaign, mainly at Trump’s alleged ties to the Kremlin.  The second, from people who never much liked Clinton, explain that au contraire, it was the crappy candidate and crappy campaign. The last, from more sober-minded and above-the-fray Democrats, are along the lines of this Washington Post article, explaining the changes in the composition of the electorate that favored Trump and disfavored Clinton. Fewer blacks and more whites voted, compared to 2012, so Clinton lost.

The implication here might be that the Democrats Obama-era coalition is dependent on a black candidate to motivate black turnout- simply pandering endlessly to #BlackLivesMatter as Clinton did isn’t enough. Democratic consultants who take this stuff seriously are no doubt spending their frequent flier miles to cozy up to Cory Booker or Kamala Harris in hopes of their starting a run in another 23 months or so. This is certainly a more productive and (small-d) democratically-grounded use of Democratic time and energy than endlessly rehearsing how Yuriy Dolgorukiy got his long paws into John Podesta’s pizza receipts.  But I don’t think this is how Democrats are going to win again. Obama in 2008 was a really, really unusual combination- a black candidate who was nonthreatening to middle-of-the-road Iowa white voters, motivating and exciting to thousands of college-age volunteers and campaign workers, and genuinely inspiring to millions of black voters. Booker and Harris are both talented (if somewhat flavorless) politicians, but I’m not convinced they can pull off that act.

Nor do I think the Democrats need to go the way of Old White Men. Biden and Bernie are both too old, and those are the only two old white guys with national presence and popularity. Besides, Democrats have become too fond of the dialectic where their only choices are fire-breathing identity politics (or its simulation by Hillary’s Twitter account) and fire-breathing roll-out-the-guillotines economic Jacobinism. Focusing on old white guys (or Heaven forfend a young Zuckerbergian #disruptor) will push the Democrats to embrace more extreme and dumb economic ideas than are dreamt of in your free college’s philosophy seminar.

Democrats need Midwestern White Women. This is both true in electoral terms- they lost because too many white women in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania didn’t go their way, and because they lost white women by a fair margin nationwide- and in terms of candidates. They need to get a bunch of white women who are used to talking to soccer moms and getting them to volunteer for their campaign to go talk to soccer moms and get them to volunteer for their campaign. Here are the current female Democratic Senators:

  1. Diane Feinstein (California)
  2. Kamala Harris (California)
  3. Mazie Hirono (Hawaii)
  4. Tammy Duckworth (Illinois)
  5. Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts)
  6. Debbie Stabenow (Michigan)
  7. Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota)
  8. Claire McCaskill (Missouri)
  9. Catherine Masto (Nevada)
  10. Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire)
  11. Maggie Hassan (New Hampshire)
  12. Kirsten Gillibrand (New York)
  13. Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota)
  14. Patty Murray (Washington)
  15. Maria Cantwell (Washington)
  16. Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin)

Of those, I’d guess Gillibrand or Klobuchar would have the best combination of relative youth and slightly centrist positioning. But really, Democrats should restrain their impulse to clear the field for their favorite, and should get a bunch of them to throw in and then duke it out in debates before the primaries. The Democrats’ downfall both in and out of electoral politics in recent years has been in making too many topics off limits to debate and argument and contest. Democratic primary voters will be hungry for a winner by 2020, one assumes, and less eager to impose ideological purity tests than they were in 2016. Whether Trump will look as vulnerable and listless as he does now is anyone’s guess.

The biggest danger to this approach, as I see it, is not Democratic failure but success. If the Democrats retake the House or the Senate in 2018, there will be a lot of pressure on them from their constituents to begin nonstop investigations of Trump, looking for something to impeach him with. This will be very exciting for them, and will distract them from their true path back to power, which is in being maximally boring.

3 thoughts on “The Democrats Will Win When They Are Ready to Be Boring

  1. But the Democrats aren’t interested in having a fair primary where the cream rises to the top, and they haven’t since 1968. Wikileaks showed the DNC actively worked towards undermining Bernie Sanders. Only a black swan insurgency like Obama’s in 2008, fed by high level defections like Ted Kennedy, will keep their favorite candidate from getting the nomination. Ironically, I suspect that Obama’s ring will be the one to kiss, and he will make sure his candidate soaks up the big donations and gets the inside track. To be fair, the GOP isn’t much better, but they at least let the voters decide.


    1. My memory was that 88 and 92 were closer to recent Republican primaries– there may have been Party favorites, but it was pretty contentious and small-d democratic on the way there.


      1. Good point! I think things only get to be like 88 and 92 nobody on the Dem side has money riding on any one candidate because none of them held significant federal power before, and they all were going to play along with the politics as usual. The differences between them policy wise was marginal. Unlike Bernie, who was going to take on the big banks. Look what they did to Ron Paul too.

        The insiders wanted Hillary Clinton to win in 2008 and 2016 because they wanted to get their rent seeking pay-to-play money’s worth, not because they actually thought she was a good candidate. You don’t donate to the Clinton Foundation for the intrinsic good that they supposedly did. That whole scheme folded just recently as they had no access to political decision-making to offer. The big money banked on the her winning despite her have the charisma of a side of beef because it is tough for Republicans to win national elections because of the urban/rural divide. Some 100k or less votes for Trump in a few key states and Hillary would be in office now.

        The Invisible Primary idea, where the one with the most inside connections and who gets the most endorsements and most big money donations, ends up winning the primary, is still true enough (Jeb Bush aside).


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