For those of us who don’t view the 2018 midterm elections as near no-lose for Republicans, the result of last night’s special election in Pennsylvania has to be somewhat concerning. The Democrat and the Republican split the vote evenly in a Republican district that Donald Trump carried by 20 points.
The Democrats’ strategy this year is straight from the 2006 playbook. In moderate and conservative jurisdictions, run candidates who pretend to deviate from left-liberal orthodoxy. Expect these candidates to follow left-liberal orthodoxy when they vote in Congress. Have that expectation fulfilled.
Sen. Jon Tester is the classic case. He poses as an independent-minded moderate who likes to reach across the aisle. He cites legislation he has co-sponsored with Republicans. The list features things like a bill to name a mountain peak for a conservationist who died of cancer; a bill to amend the U.S. Flag Code so governors can order the flag lowered to half-staff when a first responder dies in the line of duty; and a bill that establishes quality standards for intermediaries that transmit phone calls.
When it comes to Obamacare, Tester voted to enact it and, subsequently, not to repeal it. When it comes to the Trump tax cuts, Tester voted against them.
Looking at the big picture, the American Conservative Union’s rating system, based on key Senate votes, placed Tester in its “coalition of the radical left.” Tester earned that status by taking the liberal side in more than 90 percent of these votes.
Faking centrism can work. It has worked twice for Tester, albeit in good years for Democrats. If, as seems likely, 2018 is a good year for Dems, it might work for Tester again.
The problem with the fake moderation strategy is that over time the electorate as a whole catches on. It may not punish a particular Senator, but it punishes the party. The extent to which Democrats have been punished since 2008 is astonishing.
But what’s the alternative to doubling down on fake? The Democrats are committed to radically transforming America. They aren’t going to abandon that commitment, so central to the base, but neither can they own up to it. Any more punishment would leave Democrats completely sidelined.
Thus, faking it is the only way for Democrats to go. The hope, I think, is to buy time. Fake their way through a few cycles and then hope that (1) young Whites don’t change their voting patterns as they mature and (2) a massive influx of Hispanic voters transforms the electorate.
It’s not a crazy strategy. It just might work.