David Palmeter posts a comment on a subject that has obsessed me for a long time, namely whether it is wiser for the Democratic Party to nominate progressive candidates in an attempt to increase turnout of their supporters or nominate centrist candidates in an attempt to woo soft Republicans, as it were. He notes that this cycle the primary voters are opting again and again for the progressives. Mr. Palmeter is appropriately agnostic about which is the better strategy for progressives, since what is at issue is a prediction of future voter behavior, not matters of principle or ideology. He and I and most of the readers of this blog prefer the progressives if we can elect them.
Thus far, voters seem to me to be behaving with extraordinarily refined judgment. When a seat is assured for the Democrats, they nominate an Alexandra Octavio-Cortez. When the race is an uphill battle for a deep red seat, they nominate a centrist Conor Lamb. And when a succession of elections has seen centrist Democrats go down to defeat again and again, they choose an Andrew Gillum or Stacey Abrams in what may just prove to be successful efforts to boost turnout enough to win against the odds. From a purely practical strategic perspective, it doesn’t get any shrewder than that.
David Palmeter observes that switching a voter from R to D is, arithmetically, twice as valuable as getting a lazy D to the polls, and he is of course right. But I am still of the opinion that boosting turnout is the more promising tactic. [I am here setting aside a different consideration, namely the value of building a progressive coalition long term.]
The central fact of American politics is that scores of millions of eligible voters don’t vote. In presidential elections, roughly 60% of eligible voters vote. In off year elections, roughly 40% vote. The country is awash in voters who, if they would only come out on election day, would vote Democratic [the same, of course, is true of those who would vote Republican, although Republicans are more likely than Democrats actually to vote.]
This is why talk of impeachment is probably counterproductive. Trumpists seem not terribly wedded to Republicans as a brand, as opposed to being loyal to Trump himself. What we want to do is excite the Democratic Party base while not agitating the Trumpists, who tend to be low probability voters as a general rule.
All of this is tediously and offensively mainstream, I know, but it is the reality we are living with. The hard, painful fact is that as we sit here worrying about just exactly how to be appropriately radical, the Republicans are filling the federal judiciary with hard right judges who will hand down disastrous rulings for the next thirty years. It may be that in years to come [probably after I am dead, as it happens], the only available strategy for radicals will be to try to take over state and local governments and fight in whichever regions of the country seem receptive to our ideas.
These are bad times.