Progressives aren’t in a position of strength

Jack Colwell

By Jack Colwell

Democratic progressives seem to think they are operating from a position of strength. They aren’t.

While Joe Biden got over 7 million more votes than Donald Trump, Democrats did poorly in congressional races, with 13 seats flipped from Democrats to Republicans, leaving Democrats with a weak and precarious control of Congress.

They likely will lose control of the House in 2022. They will for sure if they make the same mistake made by Trump, costing him re-election as president.

Trump concentrated on energizing his base, which he did successfully. But he rejected pleas of some of his own campaign advisers and Republican leaders to reach out beyond the base to moderates in the party and independents, particularly in crucial suburban areas. They wanted less strident rhetoric in tweets, rallies and coronavirus briefings.

Democratic progressives could make the same mistake, energizing their base with uncompromising demands for all they cherish, but failing to reach out beyond to moderates in both parties and independents. If Democrats — progressives and moderates — don’t get together to expand their appeal, they will suffer in the 2022 elections and unintentionally help Trump win the presidency again in 2024.

With control of the House hanging by a thread and Republicans holding the gerrymandering scissors, the only hope for Democrats for retaining control is winning in swing districts, ones without bright red or blue hues.

Progressive goals popular in California and New York aren’t always what attracts voters in the crucial middle ground in the Midwest and elsewhere. That’s why Democratic negotiations on $3.5 trillion in proposed social safety net changes include concerns of some Democratic moderates that voting for it could bring their defeat. If it did, chances of future Democratic legislative goals would be bleak.

Presumably, with so many ways to compromise — keeping key initiatives but curbing the cost, with some delays and less extensive implementation — the Biden administration can be saved from a debilitating failure. After all, the key is to get the initiatives in place for future expansion. Collapse of everything leaves nothing to expand.

The 2020 election was no mandate for Democrats. Representatives of the party of a newly elected president also face the traditional congressional losses of that party in the mid-term elections. Expectations for a new president are high, often unreasonably so, and failure to meet all those expectations is held against the president’s party.

In the Senate, Democrats have a little better chance to retain at least the 50-50 balance that enables Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties. But control is precarious. Even now, death of one of the older Democratic senators could enable Mitch McConnell to claim again the majority leader role.

Meanwhile, Trump looms large, gearing up to run again. If he does, he almost certainly will be the 2024 Republican nominee. What happens now will help to determine whether Democrats then will be operating from a position of strength or weakness.

Jack Colwell is a columnist for the South Bend Tribune. This article was