Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Biden Coalition: Temporary Truce or Blueprint for Dominance?

This is my latest. It's now online and will be in the print edition of the Wall Street Journal on Saturday on the front page of the Review section. Some excerpts:

"Since the New Deal, Democrats have struggled to hold together the eclectic elements of their coalition. Under President Franklin Roosevelt, who forged the party as we know it, the bedrock of Democratic support was the white working class, the “solid South” and Black Americans. But that alliance proved unstable. It came apart in the 1960s as the party struggled to incorporate the voters and demands of a range of new social movements—on civil rights, Vietnam, women’s liberation and the environment. Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 gave Democrats hope that they were forming a new coalition, perhaps one even more durable than its New Deal predecessor. President Obama brought together the rising, 21st-century constituencies of nonwhite voters—Black, Hispanic, Asian—as well as younger voters, educated urban whites and even a solid portion of the white working class.

But it proved difficult to maintain the enthusiasm of Mr. Obama’s first, barrier-shattering election among the Democrats’ rising constituencies, and the white working class resumed its march toward the Republican Party, culminating in Donald Trump’s win in 2016. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by some three million people, but her coalition was a shadow of Mr. Obama’s: strong yet somewhat diminished support among nonwhite voters, the younger generation and educated white voters, alongside a catastrophic performance among the white working class and seniors.

The moral of the story is that a successful Democratic coalition cannot rely just on the votes of the party’s rising constituencies; it also needs serious backing from non-college-educated whites and other less supportive voter groups. The party seems to have absorbed that lesson. As things now stand, the Democratic Party led by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris seems likely to have a very good election. If that happens, the Biden coalition will present a new face of the Democratic Party, marching to take back the White House and perhaps the Senate with the backing of not just the usual demographic suspects but also relatively large numbers of moderate suburban whites, older voters and blue-collar white workers.... leaders [like Cori Bush and Jamal Bowman] join Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her congressional “Squad,” they are likely to pose a core question for their party: Can the broad Biden coalition stay together, or are the Democrats just renting some new voters—suburban moderates, seniors and working class whites—to get rid of President Trump? It isn’t hard to see the potential fault lines. Mr. Biden represents the sort of inclusive, big-tent Democratic Party that might accommodate more moderate voters by avoiding an agenda that is too aggressive or “woke” for their comfort....

If Democrats capture both the White House and the Senate, the activist left will claim a good deal of credit. That may embolden them to pressure Mr. Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Chuck Schumer and other Democratic leaders to move significantly to the left of the current Biden program, perhaps reviving the sort of ideas that Mr. Biden declined to endorse in the primaries. Mr. Biden may be hoping that his selection of Ms. Harris, a Black woman who was one of his primary rivals, as his running mate will insulate him from such left-wing pressure, but given Ms. Harris’s comparatively moderate profile, that seems doubtful. As president, he would either have to try to reshape the Democratic Party in ways that could unnerve the relatively centrist new voters who helped put him in office, or risk a bloody intraparty fight that might undermine his ability to pass urgently needed legislation....

Could a Biden administration avoid such a clash? Can Mr. Biden find a way to keep all the factions of his coalition reasonably united once Mr. Trump is out of the way?

Perhaps, but it won’t be easy. Mr. Biden will need to forge a grand bargain among his party’s wings—one that recognizes the need to keep most of Mr. Biden’s new voters on board while moving forward on a generally progressive program. For the Sanders/Warren/Squad faction, that will mean accepting that some signature issues like defunding the police are off the agenda. For the Biden wing, it will mean accepting somewhat bolder changes than they would otherwise be comfortable with and a continuing effort to remain attentive to the needs of the Democrats’ most loyal constituencies.....

A President Biden will almost certainly face a raging pandemic and a staggering economy. Mr. Trump’s inability to solve these problems is what forged the Biden coalition in the first place. Being an effective president and tackling these crises will be job one for Mr. Biden.

He knows this, which explains his ambitious “Build Back Better” plans. Mr. Biden thinks that large-scale, liberal, activist government will be the key to getting the country back on its feet. He will have to produce and produce fast. As Michael Tomasky, editor of the liberal journal Democracy, notes, the victorious Democrats’ biggest problem would probably be “letting themselves get stuck in gridlock and passing nothing of consequence, dispiriting their own voters."....

In this hour of crisis, the party should be able to unite around a grand bargain: leftist support for solving immediate problems, and liberal support for a long-term plan to advance other progressive priorities. Only shoring up the Biden coalition can produce inspiring governance that will improve—and save—Americans’ lives. Letting the coalition fall apart will probably lead to another surge of illiberal populism and more division and dysfunction, rather than the era of progressive political domination that Democrats now see as tantalizingly at hand."

Please read the whole thing of course. I think you'll find it worthwhile.

To tackle the country’s interwoven crises, he will need a grand bargain between his party’s left and center.

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