The Midterms Are Shaping Up to Be a Bloodbath. It’s Seattle’s Fault.

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In 2019 and 2020, Joe Biden ran a masterful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Unlike the other leading candidates, he understood where the true ideological (and cultural) center of gravity in the Democratic Party lies. 

From the outset, he and his advisers made a bold bet that the elite media were wrong. They rolled the dice that Left Twitter was not the authentic voice of the party’s base voters, that there was a Silent Majority in the party that wasn’t committed to the more radical and contested beliefs of intersectional identitarian anti-racism, that those voters’ attitudes about gender relations weren’t completely transformed by #metoo, who didn’t think that passing legislation to lock up criminals was proof that you’re a racist, who didn’t really give a shit about how Biden had handled the Anita Hill hearings 25 plus years in the past.

And you know what? Running as a center-left cultural traditionalist – “It’s good to be home. Scranton is where I learned, like you did, all my basic values” –  worked. He won the nomination, then the presidency. 

And then, frustratingly and maddeningly and inexplicably, Team Biden spent all of 2021 lashing themselves to the progressive left and its hunger for transformative, radical, cultural and economic changes. (Many D.C. insiders blame the Biden whisperer, Ron Klain, Biden’s politically tone deaf, Beltway insider, Twitter-humping Chief of Staff for this shift left.) Biden adopted the “go big” policy line of Bernie Sanders as his Chief of Staff put the Progressive Caucus chair, Seattle Rep. Pramila Jayapal, on speed dial.

Upon taking office, Biden and his team picked a side in the party’s deep divide, rather than trying to find a balance between its feuding wings. When progressives in Congress spent the last year crowing that Biden’s agenda was their agenda, they were right.

And that has become a slow-motion political disaster in the making.

Make no mistake, the individual social and economic policy elements of the progressive agenda are (mostly) popular. But in a time of spiking inflation, the enormity of the ask in Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill has made, for less ideological swing voters, the Dems increasingly appear to be the tax-and-spend party responsible for inflation. And as inflation continues to surge, it has become the number one issue these days, front and center on voters’ minds. This is even more true of the independent-minded swing voters who decide the outcome of many congressional elections.

Then layer on top of that the politically toxic cultural nexus and association that Biden has created for himself. The party’s educated, urban progressive wing is deeply associated with — and indeed very much embraces – a set of alienating, cosmopolitan cultural commitments that are a red flag to cultural traditionalists. Not keeping those progressives at arm’s length through all of 2021 was a gross strategic miscalculation by Biden. It gave credence among key swing demographic groups – suburban voters, working class Latinos – to the right’s relentless contention that there’s no daylight between Uncle Joe and the movement left. 

The other massive branding problem has been that educated blue cities like Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco are widely viewed – not entirely wrongly – as the purest distillation of cutting-edge progressive governance. They are one-party, prog-left city states. To the extent that these cities have become the epicenter of massively unpopular cosmo ideas like “defund” and “abolition” and highly ideological views on race relations (and just as crime, violence and disorder are spiking in these cities), it’s a disaster for the Democratic Party, which is very much associated with these places. 

Again, while that association is exaggerated and weaponized by Republicans, it’s not wrong. A friend just sent me an editorial cartoon that ran in the Las Vegas newspaper, where the joke is that the streets of Seattle are a war zone like Ukraine because of our “soft on crime” policies. It turns out what happens in Seattle – like the city’s Democratic legislative districts and party leadership enthusiastically supporting radical abolitionist candidates who express “rabid hatred for the police” – doesn’t stay in Seattle. 

The upshot of all this is that I am increasingly dreading the upcoming November elections. If you think the Trump Republican Party has lost its collective mind, you should be alarmed too. If the election were held today, the results would be a bloodbath for congressional Dems (and the outlook isn’t great for this fall’s legislative races in Washington State either). The Democratic Party’s cultural cosmopolitanism branding problem, its party of educated upscale elites problem, its embrace of radical activists problem, is very, very real, and it is getting worse. 

In January, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee conducted polling in the 60 most competitive congressional districts. The results were straight-up ugly.

In the swing districts they polled, 64 percent agreed that “Democrats in Congress support defunding the police and taking more cops off of the street.” Sixty-two percent of these voters agreed that, “Democrats in Congress have created a border crisis that allows illegal immigrants to enter the country without repercussions and grants them tax-payer funded benefits once here.” Sixty-one percent agreed that, “Democrats in Congress are spending money out of control,” and, “Democrats are teaching kids as young as five Critical Race Theory, which teaches that America is a racist country and that white people are racist.” And 59 percent agreed, “Democrats are too focused on pursuing an agenda that divides us and judging those who don’t see things their way.”

It’s true that the Left has a coherent narrative explaining Biden’s falling approval numbers (his approval has slumped into the high 30s or low 40s in recent polls, about where Trump was at this time in his presidency). They argue the Democratic Party’s looming electoral woes are due to Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema tanking Biden’s (and the progressives’) Build Back Better agenda. Biden had promised voters transformational change on the campaign trail, they say, and his failure to deliver has dented his image of competence and left many voters disaffected. 

The problem with this explanation is that it doesn’t conform to the research data, as the polling numbers just cited make clear. Passing Build Back Better may have helped Biden marginally, but it wouldn’t have changed the growing perception that he has allied himself too closely to culture war progressives, or embraced free-spending policies that are fueling inflation, or is refusing to consider policy changes like increasing energy production (which voters overwhelmingly support) because he’s a captive of his base.

To put it bluntly, Joe Manchin is not the problem, Seattle. You are. 

Now, I know that Biden isn’t a card-carrying member of the Seattle left activist class. I know he doesn’t actually support defunding the cops, nor is he down with abolishing the prosecution of most crimes. But the trouble is, that lower-information, less-ideological voters don’t know that, and he’s not doing nearly enough to make that clear to them. Even worse, all this comes at a time when much of the party’s polarized congressional representation and even more of its Twitter bubble rank-and-file are seen by the moderate middle as culture warrior zealots who are even more off-putting than the hyperpolarized zealots on the right. 

Remember, the culturally traditional center-left, and the mom-apple-pie-and-Chevrolet moderate independent middle, are the voters that elected Joe Biden over Trump in places like Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona. In a closely divided country, they turned to him as they were increasingly repulsed by the narcissistic, mendacious, moral bankruptcy of Trump. If Biden doesn’t start to get them back, the midterms are going to be a wipeout (and the prospect of a Biden-Trump rematch in 2024 takes on a terrifying prospect). 

The good news is that there may still be time to change course, and there are signs that it is finally dawning on Team Biden that sucking up to the congressional and Twitter Left is not a recipe for political success. The big takeaway line from Biden’s State of the Union speech – “We should all agree: The answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police. Fund them. Fund them. Fund them with resources and training!” – was helpful. (If he’s pissing off Teen Vogue, you know he’s doing something right politically.) The new Biden budget proposal, framed as a pivot to the center – it increases military spending by 10 percent, pumps federal law enforcement spending by 11 percent, and proposes allocating $100 million to fighting violent crime – is also encouraging. 

But it’s going to take a lot more of this sort of differentiation from Biden to make a real shift from the current self-immolation wipeout course the Democratic Party is currently on. The Republican response to Biden’s budget captured here is telling: “Republicans indicated they were not about to shift their lines of attack. ‘Don’t let Biden’s budget fool you — Biden does not support the police,’ said a statement the Republican National Committee issued on Monday. ‘If he did, he would call on Democrat-run cities to stop undermining law enforcement.’”

This is the essence of the Democratic Party’s political problem in 2022. The cultural associations created by allying oneself with the educated, polarized, urban blue left — Sanders, Jayapal, and the hectoring, self-congratulatory cultural toxicity of big blue cities’ political culture — is politically kryptonite with the voters that decide elections, and Republicans know it.

Biden has dug himself a deep political hole. At least he’s stopped digging it deeper, but now he needs to climb out of it. The clock is ticking. 

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Sandeep Kaushik is a political and public affairs consultant in Seattle. In a previous life, he was a staff writer and political columnist at the Stranger, and did a stint as a Washington State correspondent for Time Magazine and for the Boston Globe, back in the olden days when such positions still existed.

36 COMMENTS

  1. You totally nailed it! We are moderate Democrats who are politically active. I began in the 1960’s doorbelling for President Kennedy.
    We supported Joe from the “get go”- but drive a Toyota, not a Chevy!
    Why Joe?
    First, “competency” and someone who could manage our government, unlike Trump.
    Second, a moderate.
    Finally, no more Trump.
    So disappointing.
    We’re still with Joe but the Democratic Party we know “Left us.”

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have been hectoring my family and friends with this message for the last year. Some are starting to take notice and believe me; others are hopelessly myopic and still defending Jayapal and the Seattle City Government. A lot of work needs to be done to counter the negative image of Democrats and, unfortunately, we are terrible at messaging and too damn independent to ever have a cohesive message.

    I am not hopeful.

  3. And Biden doubled-down big time yesterday on “gender identity”.
    I like Biden a great deal but he’s got some serious blindspots.
    Troubling that he let himself get into secondary issues where he could have punted.

  4. Biden won because he was the “Other”. He later believed he was ordained to be the new LBJ. If you remember the campaign, he never left his basement mostly because exposure would have shown his real self. 2022 midterms are lost. The only way this can be saved is for Biden to assume TOTAL control – replace his advisers, speak for himself, and have the opportunity to name Kamala to the Supreme Court.

    • ?

      The guy can’t string a coherent sentence together and you expect him to do these things. He’s a vessel being used by the left to drive this nonsense.

  5. It will be encouraging if much of the rest of the country, where there is still some connection to reality, throws out the Dems.

    Sadly, there is little or no prospect of much change here on the left coast. LA, SF and Portland are spiraling down ever faster. Seattle continues to smugly believe that no amount of prog insanity can turn such a beautiful place into a hellhole. But they are wrong.

    As the vast parasitic bureaucracy grows and grows, and the tax base flees, the day is not far off when Seattle will be Detroit with a Mt Rainier view. It can happen here. It is happening here, and started a long time ago.

  6. Democratic strategist Jessica Tarlov is out with a similar post in The Hill yesterday, citing a whole lot of worrisome polling for Dems; she urges her party to tack to the center: https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/600432-democrats-need-to-get-out-of-their-own-way/

    This really shouldn’t surprise. Despite progressives’ wishes, Biden had no popular mandate for progressive policies in his election. He was the “Not Trump” candidate. This was not an instance of the public proactively choosing an FDR to fundamentally reshape the social contract. Biden’s victory was razor thin; a surprise double-victory in Georgia’s runoff elections handed him the Senate. But only if Joe Manchin went along. In our attention economy, voters tend to associate each party with their more extreme members.

    Tarlov cites a few stats in her piece that fully bolster what you write above, Sandeep. Despite what we may read on Very Online Seattle Twitter, most Americans aren’t really hankering for a hard-left, let’s-abolish-the-police, let’s-decriminalize prosecution agenda. Most voters want moderation, and a tack toward the center.

    Biden seems to realize it now, with a few verbal nods in the State of the Union, and an ostensibly more moderate budget (though he still buried the essence of his Build Back Better mega-spending agenda in an asterisk.) But that ship has probably sailed from a branding standpoint: most voters’ minds were made up in the tumultuous 2020 and 2021 years who stood where. The bed has been made.

    Polls cited in Tarlov’s piece:

    1. A recent NBC News poll found that voters care more about traditional economic issues than progressives’ priorities: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/21554083-nbc-news-march-poll, with 71% of Americans saying we are headed in wrong direction.

    2. A Schoen Cooperman Research (SCR) survey found that 54 percent of voters say they want Biden and the Democratic Party to shift to the center and embrace more moderate policies. Only 18 percent think they should shift more to the left, and 13 percent are happy with where the party is currently: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yTbbk7etuyPVr7Id_QlKPKl_BbUGC6MN/edit

    Voters have a lot to chew on: inflation, school closures, the rise in violent crime, prolonged and ineffectual COVID mitigations, broken public schooling, our sloppy exit from Afghanistan, the war in Ukraine, and more. When asked to rank their top priorities, combating global climate change, gender and identity issues, and student debt forgiveness don’t appear often in the top 10.

  7. What a heaping pile of garbage this article is. It’s insulting to informed intelligent people. If I wanted to read CNN-type centrist idiotic talking points, I’d go to CNN. Sandeep’s hot-take is so warped, it’s hard to know where to even begin.

    Yes, the Dems are going to get slaughtered. For the same reasons they always lose. It has nothing to do with policy. It has to do with most of the country being assholes and low-information citizens. Republicans make a shit-show out everything, Dems are elected to clean it up, which they do, or try to do despite Republicans being obstructionists, and then when things start to turn around, voters vote the Republicans right back into office – repeat ad nausea over decades.

    This idea that the left-wing progressive Dems are running the show is beyond ridiculous. Seattle, SF, etc. are outliers. Seattle is doing a horrible job, and SCC, et al, take a heaping pile of the blame, but voters put them there. And most of Seattle’s problems are just due to being a very large diverse city that’s growing too fast, in a state with extremely regressive tax code. As has been pointed out many times, you can talk about how bad “defund the police” is as a slogan, but the Seattle police dept has not been defunded. How many police departments across the nation have actually been defunded?

    What centrist commentators like Sandeep like to do is conflate twitter-left with actual Dem political power, which does not reflect twitter-left. Twitter-left has some cultural power, but the Dem party can’t control what some idiots on twitter tweet.

    So, what is proposed here? Tell black people to go screw themselves because they’re sick and tired of being beaten to death by police and white nationalists? Tell woman to go screw themselves because they want autonomy over their own bodies? Tell trans people to go screw themselves because they want to be able to live their lives without harassment and discrimination?

    Dems do themselves no favors, but not for the myopic reasons offered by Sandeep and MSM. Dems are beyond atrocious at messaging and framing the narrative. They are only comfortable playing from a disadvantage. Dems think policy matters. It doesn’t. Republicans have literally no policies to offer other than hurting people and making people’s lives miserable. And even when Dems get policy wins, they ignore them or run away from them. They’re always afraid to take credit and gloat and attack the other side. Republicans bash Dems every chance they get, without fail. Dems talk about Republicans being their friends, and never fail to include themselves when talking about how government is letting people down. Dems are travesty as a political party. But we’re stuck with a two-party system in this country, and that will be end of us. The assholes will win. No thanks to people like Sandeep.

    • If you honestly believe “most of the country being assholes and low-information citizens” I’d suggest taking a long hard look in the mirror. If you’ve been brainwashed into thinking somehow a particular group of people are somehow smarter and nicer then their own countrymen, congratulations, and welcome to Germany circa 1938. The human mind is easily manipulated, anytime you think half or more of the people you share a country with are “others” you’re the one being manipulated.

      • Fact is one-half of the population is below average IQ. That half is being manipulated by FOX News, Donald Trump, and Tucker Carlson.

          • Of course that’s who ‘Guest’ means.

            S/he and Emma are caricatures of the leftist echo chamber. I’m not sure how they think that insulting half the country, rather than reaching out to them, helps their cause (obvs it doesn’t), but here we are.

    • Amen. Spot on with your point that “It has to do with most of the country being assholes and low-information citizens.”

    • gosh, sorry you had to hear an alternative point of view, than your own. It hurts to step out of the liberal echo chamber.

  8. Ah, yes. The party in power always loses ground in the ensuing midterms. The specific reason this happens is *17 PARAGRAPHS LISTING VAGUE WAYS THE CURRENT PRESIDENT STRAYS FROM MY OPINION ON MY PERSONAL PET ISSUES*. Fantastic stuff.

  9. You don’t have to reach the lofty heights of Build Back Better to see the problem articulated here. As a Portlander, I have watched with dismay as progressive politicians at both the local and state level have mismanaged our way to a city and state that simply don’t work. Reasonable people want their public officials to address crime and homelessness in a way that reduces both; they want an education system designed to teach, not preach. A singular focus on race tends to obscure the unspoken victimizer that threatens us all: poverty. Oregon has a maverick candidate for governor who has identified the public discontent. If she can break through the Democrat/Republican divide (big if), can she then turn things around?

  10. Perception is everything, the general perception of Mr. Biden and the people around him is that they are not only ideologically rigid but corrupt, incompetent, and dishonest as well. The line no longer divides along left-right worldviews but more like up versus down. The Democrats have been trending downward. If truth-beauty-goodness matter, the Democrat-Left is 0 for 3. No sane person would vote for Democrats or their policies in the current political/economic climate. Democrats must be able to bend . . . or they will break!

    • You know I am here to entertain you, Ivan! And I admit, you entertain me as well. Is it wrong that I’m still chucking over you telling me I was clueless and insane for saying that if the left picked Lorena Gonzalez as their standard bearer in the mayoral race she’d lose to Bruce by 10 points?

      Let’s revisit this one in November, too.

      • Progress isn’t always linear, Sandeep. Sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back, and other times it’s one step forward and two steps back. In other words, as some anonymous Trumpie was heard to say, in a rare burst of honesty: “Sometimes you own the libs, and sometimes the libs own you.”

        History, in the long run, does not reward the stodgy bourgeois centrism you represent.

        • Wow! What history books are you reading? Stodgy bourgeois centrism is pretty much of the story of the United States. True progressivism is letting more and more of the “great unwashed” enjoy the fruits of this “stodgy bourgeois centrism”. Joe Biden is a huge supporter of education, home ownership and the institution of marriage. Joe won many elections being an old fashioned sort of guy– if he gets away from that, he’ll lose.

          The prices of gas, a college education and a house with a white picket fence are currently out of control. History says the Democrats get tossed out of power as a result. It’s not rocket science…. the more Liberals talk about Black Lives Matter, Social Housing or Defunding the Police, the worse the beating is going to be, because most of America doesn’t really care about those issues. Not with gas at $5 a gallon.

          • You bet, bub. They said the same things about the minimum wage, female suffrage, desegregation, the end of poll taxes, and marriage equality. I found those in real life, and also in the history books.

  11. There are millions of parents still reeling from the gross mishandling of school closures, particularly in blue states, that will continue to drift to the right over failure to do the basic jobs of government. Show me you can do that well and I might be up for expanding the portfolio of services provided.

  12. Its funny whenever Democrat policies fail (which they seem to always do), those who pretend to be “moderate” like Sandeep, always blame the radical wing of their party. Yet, as we have seen in the WA legislature, the moderates always support the pro-criminal, pro-bigger government, anti-taxpayer, anti-employer, anti-neighborhood, anti-police, anti-farming, etc… policies of their far left. The GOP gave the moderate Dems several opportunities to to join them, and they chose to side with the radical members. Thus, this is why so-called “moderate” Democrat legislators in swing suburban districts are in real trouble in November. They will all lose their seats while the radical members from Seattle will keep theirs.

    • Are there actually any moderate Democrats left? If so, they’ve been basically silent in the face of the radical left (Sandeep seems to be an exception in this instance, and Maher and Greenwald are generally exceptions t), so it’s hard to tell.

  13. Let me cite anew the commenting policy at Post Alley: You need to add something new, and no personal attacks. A mere cheer and a boo don’t add much.

  14. If Biden does follow the needed course correction you propose, will the “Twitter left” revolt? And will that matter? Also can’t help but look back three decades to how “it’s the economy, stupid” helped work some needed magic for the Democrats.

    • What would their revolt look like? I’m afraid it doesn’t matter, because in revolt the difference wouldn’t be perceptible, through the alternate universe veil that the Republicans have so successfully deployed. Is there for example any reasonable Mexico border strategy that would convince Americans that the administration is looking out for our interests, and we don’t really have any more open border than we ever did – no matter what the Republicans have been telling them?

      So Biden has to succeed with his universe, the other being unavailable to him until Americans wake up to what this is costing them.

    • The Democrats need to fight a two front war…. one against the Right and one against the Left. Many Americans understand both extremes are batshit crazy. The Democrats need to bet the voice of moderation and reason. Heck, Joe should just hold a presser and tell America he’s the voice and moderation and reason and put all the “defund the police” and “legalize pot” craziness to bed at once.

  15. A friend of mine, a conservative friend, told me that what he’d love to see is the moderate center from each party (and he believes they exist and so do I) should join together as a third party and play spoiler. He thinks it would right this ship and leave the extremists on either side to flail away.

    It’s a thought a lot of Americans might get behind. (And yes, I know that there are issues where even moderates on both sides will not find common ground. But to gain power? It might be worth it.)

    • The “moderate” Dems were given multiple opportunities to join moderate Republicans in Olympia during the 2021 & 2022 legislative session. Each and every time they chose to stay with the extreme positions of the radicals who are funded by greedy state employee unions or by wealthy environmentalists. Now, as Sandeep’s article proves, the “moderate” Dems are trying to distance themselves from the radicals in their party before the elections as they see their poll numbers tanking. Voters are not stupid. They know the time for the moderates to distance themselves was during the session – not after. They will pay for that mistake in November.

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