Since I don’t have it in me to discuss D.C.’s new COVID reporting system (spoiler: if you’re trying to avoid getting infected for any number of reasons, it’s largely useless), I decided to crush your spirits by talking about moderate Democrats. Paul Waldman makes a really good observation about one reason* why many moderate Democrats enter the defensive crouch (boldface mine):
Once again, Democrats are entering a defensive crouch: They’re being pummeled mercilessly, and they think that rather than hit back, the answer is to hold a 10-point plan over their heads.
Why would they think this? Let me suggest a few reasons.
If you’re a House member from a swing district, you inevitably spend a lot of campaign time explaining yourself to people who are never going to vote for you simply because there are a lot of them in your closely divided district.
Go down to the local diner or the senior center to shake hands, and you’re not just going to meet a bunch of grateful supporters. You’ll also get challenged by voters hoping for your defeat, who will pepper you with criticisms they heard from Sean and Tucker.
That means you will spend a great deal of campaigning time on the futile task of trying to win over these voters. Not as part of a strategic plan, but just because that’s how politicians act in the moment.
If some guy tells the congresswoman he doesn’t want his third-grader being forced to pledge allegiance to Ibram X. Kendi while renouncing her gender identity, which is what he thinks happens in the local elementary school every day, the sensible thing would be to say, “Buzz off with your ludicrous lies — I’m not going to waste a second of my time on you.”
But, of course, the congresswoman can’t do that. She has to politely listen to this lunatic, nodding along to show she appreciates his concerns. Then she’ll explain that critical race theory isn’t being taught to third-graders and no one’s trying to turn his kid trans and then segue to her thoughts about education, and before you know it, 15 minutes of her valuable time has gone by.
And, of course, she has won precisely zero votes. Now imagine she has to do that day after day, over and over, because her district is full of people like that.
She’ll wind up thinking that the only way for her to get reelected is to convince voters she doesn’t support mandated critical race theory indoctrination or forced gender reassignment. She’ll believe that the culture war is something she needs to defuse, not something she might be able to win.
Her entire approach will be based on conciliation and reassurance, because the Republicans in her district are so mad all the time. Even though she got elected in the first place because the Democratic and independent voters in her district were sufficiently mad at Republicans, she can’t bring herself to harness and wield anger in her own cause.
I realize the appeal of wanting to swing a voter, but the reality is that strategy, especially in wave elections, is more likely to alienate the voters you need to turn out at high frequencies. But professional Dems gonna professional Dem, so here we are.
*Many moderates also are undistinguished back benchers without a large mass of popular support, so they need campaign donations–which limits the policy and rhetorical space they can inhabit.