The big question right now is whether to call Hillary Clinton a progressive, or a “moderate.”
And then there’s the question of who is more electable in a general election: an unabashedly progressive democrat, like Bernie Sanders, or a “centrist” democrat, like Hillary Clinton.
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Jonathan Capehart weighed in on the matter on Thursday morning’s edition of MSNBC Live with the claim that it will be important for Democrats to move to the center to win the general election – and he added that it will be easier for Hillary Clinton to do that.
It may be conventional wisdom that a candidate has to swing to the center to win in a general election.
And that conventional wisdom has been central to the Democratic platform ever since Al From’s 1992 “bloodless coup” transformed the FDR/LBJ Democratic Party into the Clinton party of “centrist” corporatism.
But that conventional wisdom just doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny of history.
The truth is, Democrats win when voter turnout is high.
And voter turnout is high when voters have real progressive candidates to support.
Back in 2014, Democrats were devastated by the midterm election results – Republicans easily won control of the Senate and strengthened their majority in the House.
In Arkansas, Republican Tom Cotton beat Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor by seven points to win a House seat; in Kentucky, Allison Lundergan Grimes lost to Mitch McConnell by more than 15 points.
In West Virginia, Wall Street darling and state GOP legacy Shelley Moore-Capito won the Senate seat that Democrat Jay Rockefeller had held for 30 years.
Moore-Capito easily trounced West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who ran as a so-called “centrist” democrat and campaigned against many of Obama’s policies – just like Grimes had run away from Obama on guns.
Perhaps most shockingly to the Democratic establishment in 2014, three-term Louisiana Democratic senator and friend of the oil industry Mary Landrieu lost her bid for re-election by 11 points in a runoff election against Republican Bill Cassidy, because she campaigned as a “centrist” Democrat.
Beyond that, Democrats lost their majorities in state legislatures across nine states, AND they lost 24 of the 36 gubernatorial contests that year.
But while some so-called “centrist” Democratic politicians were losing big on being Republican-lite, the voters were going full-on progressive.
In 2014, for example, voters easily passed measures to increase the minimum wage – in four Republican-controlled states.
In state and local elections across the country, voters passed measures to guarantee paid sick leave, to protect access to abortions and to implement real criminal legal reforms.
2012 was similar: Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives, but Democratic voters in numerous states voted for solidly progressive policies like raising taxes, protecting unions and moving forward on marriage equality.
So why did voters reject the “centrist” Democratic candidates so thoroughly – but they embraced and passed progressive initiatives across the country?
The truth is, Republicans didn’t win majorities in 2012 and 2014 – Democrats lost them.
Why did they lose?
Because, when voters don’t turn out, Republicans win.
Republicans know that, and Heritage Foundation and Moral Majority co-founder Paul Weyrich spelled it out more than 35 years ago.
Democrats know it too, but it’s only progressive democrats, like Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken and, yes, Bernie Sanders who seem to understand what actually brings voters out to vote.
Like Harry Truman once said, “Given a choice between a Republican and a Democrat who acts like a Republican; the voters will pick the Republican every time!”
After the Democrats got “shellacked” in 2014, Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) cofounder Al From told the New York Times that Democrats were losing because “[The policies] we promote the most are ones that don’t speak to the middle class, like raising the minimum wage.”
Never mind the fact that voters passed measures to raise the minimum wage actually passed in four REPUBLICAN-controlled states in 2014.
That’s the conventional wisdom from the DLC Democrats, though: They cling to the fantasy that Democratic candidates are losing even as progressive policies are winning, and it’s because the candidates aren’t centrist enough.
But the reality is: Truly progressive ballot measures passed in 2012 and 2014.
And truly progressive democrats, like Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken and Bernie Sanders easily won their contests.
Because they ran as progressives with progressive stances on the issues that impact the United States’ disappearing middle class.
Like Barack Obama in 2008.
Jonathan Capehart can keep spouting the inside-the-beltway, DLC “conventional wisdom” about how Democrats will need to move to the center to win the general election.
But the truth is, Democrats win when voter turnout is high.
And voter turnout is high when voters have real progressive candidates and a truly progressive platform to support.