May 2, 2021

Three Things Those Who Would Like to See Fewer Republicans in Office Should Be Doing

old windmill

To say that James Carville is not my favorite person would be an understatement. I find him obnoxious, and I have never had an easy time understanding his appeal. I realize that he helped Bill Clinton back in the day, but that was a long time ago. He hasn't seemed relevant for some time, and I'm skeptical that his work for Clinton's campaign translates into contemporary political insight. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by his recent interview with Vox. I didn't agree with some of what he said, and I was disappointed with the clickbait title (though that is what we've come to expect from Vox); however, he did raise an important issue that needs to be discussed more widely by those of us who would prefer not to see any more Republican politicians in power.

I agreed with some of his condemnation of "wokeness" but found it one of the less interesting aspects of the interview. I'll address it briefly because it fits into some of the parts I'd like to amplify, but it will not be my primary focus. From my perspective, the part of the interview we should be focusing on was Carville's broader thoughts on what our perpetually hapless Democrats need to do in order to improve their political outcomes.

I don't love everything about today's Democratic Party or any of the various factions that are part of it. And yet, I do consider it to be superior than the Republican Party in most respects. That means I'd like to see more Democrats and fewer Republicans in office. How do we make that happen? Using some of what Carville said as a starting point, I'd like to suggest a three-pronged approach.

  1. Consolidate and maintain likely Democratic voters as a voting bloc.
  2. Increase the intensity and efficacy of the attacks on Republican politicians and the Republican Party in a strategic way.
  3. Do a far better job of appealing to independent and Republican voters who find themselves less-than-satisfied with much of the Republican Party.

Consolidate and Maintain

Of the three prongs, this one ought to be the easiest because it has more to do with holding on to what we have and not losing additional ground. Unfortunately, there isn't anything easy about it. In fact, it reflects some of the longest-running difficulties within the Democratic Party around trying to hold together an increasingly diverse coalition of progressives and centrists. If the center of the party is perceived as insufficiently progressive, we lose progressives to more liberal parties; if the center is perceived as too liberal, we have centrists voting Republican.

This is one of the parts (with #3 being the other) where Carville's comments about "wokeness" fit. The increasingly bizarre woke language coming out of academic circles is alienating to many likely Democratic voters and appears to be one of the factors involved in Trump's election. We cannot afford to keep doing this because it results in us hemorrhaging voters.

Consider his points about "Latinx" and "people of color." He's right that most Americans, including most Democratic voters, don't talk like this. Not even the people these terms are supposed to refer to talk like this! Those of us who are academics come up with this stuff and are pressured to use it in our professional writing and speech. It doesn't reflect reality to most voters. I fear he's right that many find it alienating.

When I first moved to Mississippi, I regularly found myself teaching large college courses filled with Black students. Fresh from the indoctrination I had received during graduate school, I referred to "African Americans" until a few of my Black students pointed out that they were Black and not African. I suppose I could have remained at the front of the classroom, a White instructor, and continued to refer to them as I had been taught to do. But I think that would have been horribly insensitive. Instead, I chose to listen to them, have open conversations on the subject, and ultimately change my language. Those of us on the left need to be willing to do the same, even if it means dropping much of our woke language.

Ramp Up the Strategic Attacks

I'd like to see us take all that social media outrage and aim it at the correct targets. The correct targets are Republican politicians and the Republican Party. The correct targets are not likely independent or Republican voters. I know this is a difficult concept for some to grasp, but I think we all know what happens when we feel personally attacked. We become increasingly defensive and double-down on our positions. By repeatedly attacking the wrong targets, we are making it less likely that we will win over independent and Republican voters. Winning over more of these voters means more Democrats in office.

I realize that not everyone will buy this, so I'd like to suggest a different way of thinking about it. Let's imagine that we could suppress the Republican vote by 1%. That might not sound like much, but it would be meaningful in many close elections, especially if we could do it reliably. I'm not thinking of the sort of voter suppression tactics the Republican Party uses but suppression in these sense of decreasing the motivation of likely Republican voters to vote by making their own candidates and party less appealing to them. That is why we need to focus on reducing the appeal of their candidates and party without attacking them in the process If we can learn how to do this, we will win more elections.

I think we all know how hard it can be to drag ourselves to the polls when we feel demoralized and don't like any of our candidates. This is the state of affairs we need to bring about for likely Republican voters. We don't do it by attacking them; we do it by highlighting their candidates' flaws and some of the ridiculous things their part has been doing.

Attract More Voters

Consolidating Democratic voters and making voting Republican somewhat less appealing to independent and even Republican voters will help, but these approaches need to be accompanied by efforts to appeal to voters who have not been voting for Democratic candidates. That is, we need to win over some more independent and conflicted Republican voters. I'll not pretend that this is a simple task, but I will highlight one obvious place to start: we have to stop attacking and demonizing these voters. Nobody is going to support people perceived as regularly shitting on them. Nobody. Again, this is a matter of directing our outrage and the proper targets (i.e., Republican politicians and the Republican Party) instead of the voters we'd like to appeal to.

Repeatedly bashing those who have voted for Republican candidates in the past, who live in non-coastal states, who grew up in rural areas, or who did not attend college accomplishes little more than maintaining Republican political dominance. Every time we do these things, we lend credence to the garbage Fox News is spouting and make it far less likely that any of these people would ever consider voting for Democratic candidates. Instead, we need to consider how we can peel off more of these voters. I don't think we have to betray our values to do so, at least not unless treating people who do not agree with us 100% of the time poorly is one of our values.

Voter outreach efforts designed to appeal to people who did not vote Democratic in the previous election was helpful to President Joe Biden's campaign. There is a lesson here. Love him or hate him, Biden did a decent job talking to rural Americans in such a way that they didn't feel they were being disparaged or talked down to. This kind of thing matters, and we need to build on it.

Summary

None of this is easy, and none of it happens overnight. My goal here is to give us some things we can do in addition to complaining about the state of our politics. If we can slow the exodus of Democratic voters, focus our attacks strategically around the goal of making it less appealing to vote for Republican candidates, and improve our outreach to independent and Republican voters (or at least stop deliberately alienating them), I think we will be closer to getting what we want.