Political Animal


May 24, 2012 11:42 AM Imaginary Crisis

By Ed Kilgore

There is no meme more beloved among conservative gabbers (and many MSM folk) than “Disarray among Democrats.” It is one that has been deployed to suggest that Barack Obama (and before him, Bill Clinton) is presiding over an angrily divided party certain to approach Election Day deeply discourged, with moderates in particular likely to defect to the GOP at the earliest possible opportunity. We’re getting a heaping helping of this sort of talk at the moment, based on whatever shards of evidence its promoters can find, from Appalachian primary protest votes, to scattered complaints about Obama’s criticism of Mitt’s Romney’s Bain Capital “credentials” for fixing the economy, to this or that obscure argument over Democratic messaging and tactics. If you want to see a classic of the genre, check out Josh Kraushaar’s recent National Journal column claiming that such meagre indicators are actually the tip of an iceberg of unhappiness with Obama among Democratic “moderates.”

Now it is true that the Donkey Party is more of a coalition party than the ideologically rigid GOP, where “dissent” is generally a matter of arguing over who is more or less vicious towards the opposition or more or less committed to the total destruction of the New Deal and the Great Society. There are divisions among Democrats on both policy matters and political strategy. Nobody much tries to hide that, and yes, if Obama loses, we’ll witness a big, brawling intraparty debate over where to go next, that won’t be much like the Republican “debate” after 2008 about exactly how hard and fast the party had to move away from anything resembling the political center. Even if Obama wins, there will be a “succession struggle” that could get ugly.

But none of this means Democrats will stay home or defect this November, which is exactly what the concern trolls tut-tutting over Democratic divisions are trying to suggest. Want some evidence? Well, look at the trend lines for Gallup’s surveys of Obama’s job approval ratings by voter category. At present, 84% of Democrats give him a positive job approval rating, one point below Clinton’s standing among Democrats at this point in 1996. 88% of self-identified “liberal Democrats” approve his job performance, as do 80% of self-identified “moderate Democrats.” And contrary to the constant suggestion that Democratic moderates are discouraged by Obama’s recent “populist” messaging, his job approval rating in this category is notably higher than it was in the summer and autumn of 2011, when he was so frequently talking about the deficit-reduction measures that supposedly make moderates feel all tingly.

So next time you read someone trying to use dismay with Obama’s rhetoric among people who work on Wall Street to “prove” some incipient “moderate Democratic” rebellion against the president’s candidacy, ask for some data, not just random quotes, rumors and anecdotes strung together to contrive a Democratic “crisis.”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • SadOldVet on May 24, 2012 11:54 AM:

    ...contrary to the constant suggestion that Democratic progressives are encouraged by Obama’s recent “populist” messaging...

    We progressives understand that heart and soul Obama is not one of us. Maybe not as bought and sold DLC/DINO/Repuke-Lite as Billy Bob Clinton, but still from the center right and not even the center or center left!

    We progressives are also not complete idiots and understand that like, dislike, or dispise Obama we must work to get him reelected. The alternative makes us so much more f*cked.

    Q: Why should Americans always elect a democrat as president and never a republican?

    A: Because we know that we are totally f*cked with a republican president and that we can pretend to be surprised when American workers are f*cked by a democrat.

  • Ron Byers on May 24, 2012 11:55 AM:

    It is called whistling past the graveyard. The wingnuts are trying to keep up a brave front in the face of impending doom. Frankly, I find such writing by conservative pundits encouraging.

    Obama is in good shape. My concern is with the rest of the party. Are we doing enough to regain the house and hold on to the Senate? I think we need a lot of work to turn this election into a crushing defeat for the Republicans.

    By the way, I have been noticing signs that the economy is picking up steam. Among other things the Detroit auto manufacturers are having a hard time keeping up with demand and new housing starts have ticked up. Driving around my neighborhood I notice a lot of remodeling going on.

  • Peter C on May 24, 2012 12:05 PM:

    Yup, Kraushaar is a 'concern troll'. The idea that Booker is leading an anti-Obama revolt is laughable. Find the podcast to his interview on the Rachel Maddow show.

    The key thing with trolls is not to engage. It is OK to talk 'about' them (I like to call them pathetic and probably fictitious), but it is imperative not to talk 'to' them. Point out the idiocy of their arguments, by all means, and refute the garbage they spew, but don't acknowledge them or argue with them. One of their main objectives is to take a 'discussion' and make it an unpleasant shouting match. This is intended to make political discussion an unpleasant and dangerous undertaking, thereby chasing citizens from the public square and convincing them not to participate in our Democracy. When turnout is low, they win.

  • T2 on May 24, 2012 12:18 PM:

    yeah, sure...the Dems are in disarray.... Ask Lugar and Hatch how they feel about disarray. Never in my life have I seen a political party so internally conflicted and divided as today's Republican Party. What a bunch of jokers.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on May 24, 2012 12:23 PM:

    David Brooks tells me that both sides do it, therefore if the republicans are in some disarray, the dems must be in a lot of disarray.

  • Peter C on May 24, 2012 12:44 PM:

    @Ron Byers is absolutely correct; we can and must make this a wave election. We can’t win by hoping to survive. We have to stop trying to get to 51%; we’ve got to run in every race and try for a landslide. 51% merely gets us more years of perpetual filibuster.

    Even in red states, Republicans are powerful because they ‘seem’ powerful; they are dominant because they ‘seem’ dominant. We’ve accepted their frame that ‘money wins elections’. It doesn’t; votes win elections.
    Republicans are the 1% and the people they’ve duped. Without their patsies, they lose every time. They win by convincing people not to vote. Expensive political ads are really good at convincing people not to vote. Loud shouting matches are very effective at convincing people not to vote.

    We need to build networks of people and convince them to vote. When we do that, we win. We don’t need money; we need networks and candidates.

    Republicans are odious. They are petty and hateful and greedy. They are zealots and bullies. Mitt Romney is a horrible candidate – obviously in the 1% and distrusted by the Evangelicals. The Republicans tried for months and months to get someone (ANYONE) else and FAILED. All the other choices were too obviously unhinged. When the underlings (running for office) are odious, and the top of the ticket is flawed, and the base is tepid (and worried about cults), and the incumbents in Congress have record-low approval ratings, we’ve got MAJOR opportunities.

    God, I hope we take them.

  • berttheclock on May 24, 2012 12:52 PM:

    All well and good, but, how do you explain the President only receiving 58% of the vote in Kentucky in a closed primary?

  • tcinaz on May 24, 2012 12:54 PM:

    The Democratic party has a history of intraparty division. We must remember that it was this party, with some cooperation from Southern Democrats who are now the drivers of Republican orthodoxy, that elected JFK. This should suggest, based on fairly recent history, that such division is one of the party's strengths, not a weakness. That certainly plays out today relative to the current GOP. The extremists have driven conflicting voices into the GOP's hinterlands, deprived of voice and impact. Witness Olympia Snowe, Dick Lugar and Orrin Hatch as the most visible recent examples. It is the GOP that cannot withstand internal divisons. The Democratic party is stronger if anything for it's inclusion of varying voices

  • c u n d gulag on May 24, 2012 1:12 PM:

    As usual, R's are trying not only to divide and conquer the public, they're trying to do the same to the D's.

    Nice try - but NO CIGAR!

    I'm sure I won't have to tell them to try again, since I'm sure they will anyway.

  • boatboy_srq on May 24, 2012 1:18 PM:

    RPOV is right: this argument is an offshoot of BSDI logic. IF there were two rational, responsible parties in US politics, it might even have something remotely resembling merit. Thirty years ago, for example, the GOP was sufficiently rational that it might have been a possibility.

    The single remaining reason it remains a matter for discussion is that the GOP, whatever collective insanity lurks close enough to the surface to become visible with the least scratch, is still able to present some candidates who don't immediately scream "bat###t crazy" to the electorate. The latest 3 Rs - Romney, Rubio and Ryan - can at least appear sane when they appear in public for short intervals. So long as people like this remain part of the public face of the GOP, there will always be the assumption that Teh Crayzee behind them is the product of "a few bad apples" and can be dismissed. This is the difference: The Democrats comprise a collection of political perspectives, in which dialogue can be spirited but is at least (somewhat) intelligent; the GOP composition is fast becoming something part cult and part shared delusion (or do I repeat myself?), with enough socially functional mental patients to give the appearance of sanity to any observer on the outside.

  • boatboy_srq on May 24, 2012 1:27 PM:

    @berttheclock: If there's no real alternative candidate in the primary, then there's no meaningful opposition to the President, and the percentage is a signal. Were Kraushaar’s suggestions meriting the least consideration, we'd all have heard about an organized primary challenge months ago. In that case the entirety of the Dem primary process would have resembled the GOP circus we saw this year - and the news would have been "so-and-so won 40% of the Kentucky Dem Primary" instead of the other way around. Obama just isn't as popular in Kentucky as in other places, that's all, and Kentucky Democrats said so in the primary. Do you really expect that all of the other 42% are not going to vote for him (and against Romney) come November?

  • Kathryn on May 24, 2012 1:47 PM:

    Not that long ago, I saw a poll that showed Democrats more enthused than Republican voters. Less than two weeks ago, some Republican state convention choosing delegates for Tampa booed one of Romney's spawns off the stage. Ron Paul supporters are winning many of these delegates and not nicely, very aggressive. Personally, I think and hope there is a good chance for disarray at the Tampa convention and many of the state GOP parties are not functioning at high levels either.

  • Robert Waldmann on May 24, 2012 2:59 PM:

    You should know coming from the DLC-Progressive Policy Institute. The professional moderates, like the professional left have to stress intra-party division and make threats in the names of voters who don't knowwho they are. I would guess that most moderates and many sel described conservatives like egalitarian populism. There is a huge gap between public taxthe rich more opinion and elite opinipn.

    I particularly like the line about "supposed" to make moderates tingly. True of very serious inside the beltway elite professional moderates. All evidence suggests that, whatever they say when they hear the word deficit, most moderates in the general public oppose reforms which would reduce the deficit (except for higher taxes on rich people and, sadly, cutting the tiny foreign sid budget).

    You know all this, and I am glad to see you hitting your DLC former colleagues over the head with it.

  • veblen's dog on May 24, 2012 3:11 PM:

    Of course the Dems appear divided in the face of Republican "unity." As FDR noted, "there are many ways to go forward, but only one way to stand still."

    Be that as it may, staying home is not an option. As a disappointed lefty I am only putting one Obama sticker on my car, rather than two as I did in '08. My Ron Paul supporting neighbor will end up voting for Romney. Voting for the lesser of two evils is as American as obesity and vicarious living through televised sports.

  • RP on May 24, 2012 3:22 PM:

    What's amazing is that somehow moderate Dems are terribly unhappy with Obama because he's too far left, *and* far left Dems are terribly unhappy with Obama because he's not leftwing enough. So apparently no Dems support Obama. Or something.