If a Blue Wave Materializes, Be Prepared For a Big Tent Democratic Party

Most analysis of the movement that has the potential to create a blue wave in November focuses and the women and people of color who are fueling it. That means that if Democrats score big wins in the midterms, the party will be more diverse along gender and racial lines. But that isn’t the only kind of diversity that will become evident.

It is worth noting that the three most celebrated elections in 2017 and 2018 involved white male Democrats: Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, Alabama Senator Doug Jones, and Pennsylvania Congressman Conor Lamb. The diversity candidates like these will bring to the Democratic Party is mostly on the issues.

For example Northam, the most classically liberal of the three, ran on the promise to expand Medicaid under Obamacare while specifically rejecting support for Medicare for All.  Doug Jones recently earned the ire of Sen. Elizabeth Warren with his support of the Senate banking bill that rolled back regulations on community banks and credit unions, writing about the importance of bipartisanship in Congress.

The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act is a blueprint for how Senators can work in a bipartisan manner to achieve results…

As a voice for Alabama in the Senate, I will continue to reach out to my colleagues to find common ground and do the job that Alabamians elected me to do.

It is true that Conor Lamb ran on strong support for Medicare and Social Security as well as labor unions. But he also talked a lot about the need for bipartisanship. In terms of issues, he embraced fracking and rejected a federal $15 minimum wage.

It is important to note that Jones and Lamb won in extremely red states/districts, while Northam’s victory was in a state that is swinging blue. It is therefore understandable that their views on issues will differ from those who run in solidly blue areas of the country.

Byron Hurlbut recently wrote about how Democrats might actually be able to win in the South, which has been solidly red for about 30 years. He notes first of all that Tom Perez, the DNC chair, is doing what is necessary to revive the 50 state strategy by investing in local Democratic parties everywhere. Here is what he says about policy:

Democrats can rely on the electoral free market, or the principle that constituents will elect good candidates that represent their values and policy ideas. To better encompass the values of their constituents, the Democratic party should shift to a ‘big tent’ ideology, welcoming in classic liberals, blue dogs, and whatever new coalitions or caucuses arise…

Democrats can run on a number of platforms, ranging from moderate to liberal, but Komar [Northam’s campaign manager] made one point abundantly clear: “credibility of a message is almost as important as the message itself.”

Hurlbut ends by saying that this can be difficult for Democrats. Students of recent history already know that. Following the 2008 election, when all the votes were counted, the party had a significant majority in the House and, for a few months, a 60-vote majority in the Senate. As a result of the diversity among those elected, there were those who sided with Republicans on limiting reproductive choice in Obamacare as well as those who refused to support the legislation if it contained a public option. Those were just a couple of the battles that ensued as a diverse Democratic Party negotiated within its own ranks.

If a blue wave does indeed materialize this November, it will bring even more diversity on policy to the party. As we’ve seen, in 2016 the Democrats put together the most liberal platform in the party’s history. That signals that the progressive wing of the party is alive and well. Meanwhile, if these recent elections provide a template for how Democrats can win in traditionally red parts of the country, it is a given that, just like in 2008, a lot of moderates will win. Holding that big tent together will be what it takes to maintain a blue wave beyond the Trump presidency.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.