The Problem with the “Red Dog Democrat” Thing

A personally embarrassing story

The spending. The wokeness. The repeal of the Hyde Amendment. I could go on…

These are difficult times for folks on the center-right, who’ve tried to join Democrats in a loose alliance to protect the Republic from Trumpism.

In fact, this odd coupling has proven to be more than a little awkward at times. Some on the left are willing to embrace Never Trump conservatives as allies, until they realize that some of them are actually… conservative.

There is also a pretty consistent drumbeat insisting that we all actually become Democrats — or at least vote straight ticket. Litmus tests are applied: it’s not enough to be pro-democracy, NTers are also expected to embrace the elements of the progressive agenda — from free community college, to abortion, rent moratoriums, police funding, transgenderism, CRT, social spending, and the candidacy of Greta Thunberg for sainthood.

I think this is what my colleague Amanda had in mind when she tweeted:

In some corners of the punditocracy these transformations may occur, but they are unlikely to take place at scale among the slice of electorate that my colleague Tim Miller calls “Red Dog Democrats.”

Today, it’s the “Red Dogs” who are looking for a home in the Democratic party: college-educated, largely white suburbanites in major metropolitan areas who used to be Republicans or swing voters. (Remember the security moms? Most of them are Red Dogs now.)

These are people who voted for Mitt Romney and/or George W. Bush but who pulled the lever for Democratic House candidates during the 2018 mini-wave; voted for Joe Biden/Mike Bloomberg/Mayor Pete/Amy K, powering a massive suburban turnout surge in the 2020 Democratic primaries; and then pushed Biden over the top in the general election.

Being a Red Dog Democrat means both that you’re very alarmed about the current authoritarian threat, and that you probably have somewhat more centrist or conservative views than many Democrats. 

It really is a matter of what you think is the greatest challenge…

I agree with all of that.

But even as the GOP continues to lose its mind, there’s a problem with the whole “Red Dog” Democrat thing. There’s an urban myth popular among the MAGA and anti-anti-Trump crowds that Never Trumpers enjoy a mad social whirl of wokist cocktail parties, and revel in the strange new respect and embrace of our former political foes.

Eh, no.

Here’s my warning to the potential Red Dogs: they may not want you.

Here’s my personally embarrassing story that I offer as possible group therapy. In September 2020, I got an email from an old friend:

Charlie-

The Biden folks (specifically my good friend [redacted] ) are wondering if you would be interested in headlining a Repubs for Biden event here?

[redacted] is cc’d.

Thank you,

[Redacted]

What, I asked, might that entail? I got a response from [redacted], who was one of the Biden Wisconsin guys:

We are working on rolling out Republicans for Biden in Wisconsin and are wondering if you would be willing/available to do a press event late next week. 

This would likely be a virtual press conference type event launching GOP for Biden, but we are still ironing out the details. Obviously, if you are willing to do this, we would really appreciate it and can work around your schedule.  Please let me know if this is something you would be interested in.

After a good deal of dithering, since I’m an only child and don’t work or play well with others, and therefore don’t really like to join anything…. I said ok, because the prospect of a second Trump term was so horrific. I had already said I would vote for Biden, so, I thought, why not actually try to make a difference?

So, after agreeing, I got passed to some other guys. There were phone calls and emails. And we were set to go the next week. This is from 9:21 a.m., September 21.

Hi Charlie--thank you again for lending a hand at tomorrow's presser! We're really looking forward to it and think that it's going to be a great event.

Attaching a press advisory that we are hoping to get out early today. Please let me know if you have any edits.

I'll also circle around later today with messaging and logistics.

Best,

[Redacted]

It was all good. I made some minor revisions. The group included some names — including former elected officials — that would be instantly recognizable to voters in the pivotal WOW counties (Waukesha, Ozaukee, Washington.) I wanted to make it clear I wasn’t “leading” anything — merely “joining” a group of folks who were sticking their necks out and were about to be excommunicated from their world. So, the Biden folks prepared to send out the BIG ANNOUNCEMENT:

But… that never actually went out. Email at 9:23 that night:

Hi Charlie--my apologies for the late notice here but due to some moving pieces on the campaign side and shifting GOTV priorities, we are going to postpone tomorrow's kickoff press conference. 

Really appreciate you jumping in here to lend a hand--we'll be sure to reach out with any future asks. Appreciate your flexibility and understanding.

[Redacted]

It was, in its way a classic of the genre. The presser was not postponed. It never happened.

I have to confess, (a big) part of me was relieved.

Of course, there were no “future asks.” The “coalition of Republican voters from across the state,” was never unveiled, or ever contacted again, as far as I know.

Afterward, one of the discarded Republicans for Biden — a former GOP county chairman — wrote me:

“This is not how you build a coalition. You have people agree to step out of their comfort zone, and do something unnatural, and then right before the event, they shit-can it. Really unfortunate.”

I don’t know for sure, but I can guess who threw the fit that got the whole thing cancelled. Somebody who was not willing to let bygones go vetoed the idea — and, apparently, the whole Republicans for Biden thing.

They probably did not think they needed us, and they sure as hell didn’t want to consort with various right-wing assholes. They are the guys who regularly tweet “you built this,” and “no redemption,” etc. etc. Memories and grudges run deep here in the upper Midwest… especially here in Wisconsin, where things have become increasingly polarized.

And I get it. If had listened to me all those years, I’d probably also be permanently pissed. (And, yes, I have more than a few regrets and have offered more than few apologies. I wrote a whole book about it.)

Just yesterday, I got a non-fan letter from one of our progressive readers that captures the sentiment of quite a few folks on the no-redemption-for-you Left:

How very convenient for you that you find the Orange Menace to be beyond the pale.  How very inconvenient for you that we all see how UNREPENTANT you at the Bulwark are for the pathetic Republican politicians, think tankers, judicial appointees, pundits, faux-economists, etc. who have made our public life a hellscape with your sainted trickle-down economics, "tax cuts that pay for themselves", "family values", "common-sense conservatism" and "compassionate conservatism."

You and most of the others at Bulwark have made a career out of publicizing and popularizing the "conservative ideas" of your generation.  I've not seen or heard one bit of introspection from any of you about how and why you were blinded for YEARS to the spineless, power hungry, hypocritical characters of those who have spent the last five years pledging fealty to a shameless, autocratic menace. Your decades-long participation in political power wielded for the benefit of white conservatives has brought us to a place of staggering income disparity and real threat to the democratic principles we claim to hold dear….

Jeanean

I should add that this is a relatively mild version of what Red Dogs can expect on social media.

**

Of course, Biden went on to win Wisconsin, — and his margin may have come from that despised and neglected remnant of Never Trumpers in the suburbs. In the end, the Biden folks did need us… but maybe not that press conference.

I’m telling you this story as a cautionary tale: As Ian Bassin noted here, the only way to beat authoritarians is with a coalition of folks who may not always agree with one another on policy.

And here in Wisconsin, the reality is that even Republicans who broke with Trump have a past. Any ex-Republican here probably voted for Scott Walker (yes), Ron Johnson, (yep), and maybe even Ted Cruz in the 2016 GOP primary (even I hate myself for that.)

Here’s the thing, though: If you cancel moderates/conservatives for their past sins, you don’t have a coalition. And as Bassin (who is a progressive) warns: When anti-authoritarian coalitions splinter, the authoritarians take over.

To be clear here: I have no regrets. Trump is gone and it was worth it. And none of this will effect my vote in either 2022 or 2024, because I know that we still have a democracy to save.

Still, it is worth knowing that we may have to be temporary allies of sorts — but allies at a distance.

**

The good news is that Virginia seems a bit more tolerant of Red Dogs.

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A Third Way?

Via the Hill:

A group of anti-Trump Republicans on Thursday endorsed a slate of Democrats and centrist Republicans in the 2022 midterm elections to fight against former President Trump’s hold on the party.

The Renew America Movement (RAM) announced it is backing a slew of lawmakers running for reelection. The group was founded by a group of moderates within the GOP after the Jan. 6 insurrection, which was fueled by Trump’s lies about the election being stolen in November….

Among the endorsees are the handful of Republicans who have criticized Trump, including Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), who is the former president’s public enemy No. 1 over her repeated criticism of him over the insurrection, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), who may not have a seat to run for after redistricting in Illinois. 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who voted to convict Trump in his impeachment hearing earlier this year, is also being endorsed.

Also included in the list are 11 Democratic members of the House and Senate, most of whom are running in tight elections. Among them is Sen. Mark Kelly, who is running for a full term next year in a marquee Senate race in Arizona, as well as "front-line" House members such as Reps. Abigail Spanberger (Va.) and Jared Golden (Maine). 


Meanwhile:


ICYMI: This is how the NRCC is raising money. Pure cultic f**kery":

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Quick Hits

1. Southlake school leader tells teachers to balance Holocaust books with 'opposing' views

Via NBC News:

“Just try to remember the concepts of [House Bill] 3979,” Peddy said in the recording, referring to a new Texas law that requires teachers to present multiple perspectives when discussing “widely debated and currently controversial” issues. “And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust,” Peddy continued, “that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.”

“How do you oppose the Holocaust?” one teacher said in response. 

“Believe me,” Peddy said. “That’s come up.”


2. Is Central Europe’s Populist Wave Crashing?

Mitchell A. Orenstein writes in today’s Bulwark:

Has Central Europe’s populist wave crashed? Although populist politicians have been riding high in recent years, this week, two prominent populist prime ministers suddenly fell from power. The billionaire populist who revolutionized Czech politics, Andrej Babiš, lost his bid for reelection on October 8 and 9 after the Pandora Papers revealed that he used a series of secretive shell companies to buy luxury real estate in France. In neighboring Austria, the populist-leaning Sebastian Kurz abruptly announced that he was stepping down on October 9 after prosecutors raided his offices in a bribery probe. Suddenly, two key Central European populists were gone.

And just as suddenly, analysts began to question whether Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the self-styled guru of Europe’s national populist right and future CPAC host, might not survive a tough re-election battle in 2022 against a newly united opposition. Orbán joined Babiš on the campaign trail in the last days of September, touting their populist alliance, to no effect. Meanwhile, in Germany, the far right AfD party experienced disappointing results in September’s parliamentary elections, losing 11 of their 93 Bundestag seats.

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A million angels.