Meddling In Republican Primaries?

As Matt discussed below, a new group, They Work for Us, has entered the political scene. Progressives have needed an organization like They Work for Us for a long time. With an alliance including labor, the netroots, and lawyers, it is, in short, a progressive--and hopefully superior--version of the Club for Growth that will focus on accountability via primaries. While incumbent Democrats who are out of step with their district will be the early targets--Al Wynn, Ellen Tauscher and Henry Cuellar have all been named--the organization offers progressives some perhaps more intriguing possibilities down the road. This includes playing a role in open primaries in blue districts, and even playing a role in a small number of Republican primaries that feature wingnut incumbents.

Now, I know what you are thinking. First, considering the near total dominance of the radical conservative wing of the Republican Party, it is even possible for a "moderate" Republican to defeat a conservative Republican incumbent in a primary anymore? I grant, at least at first, in most states it may very well be impossible. Hewll, Chafee barely beat Laffey in Rhode Island this year. However, in a handful of states, flexible election laws present openings that might offer moderate Republicans an important early foothold that would allow them to expand to other currently less favorable areas of the country. Specifically, if a state has both open primaries and election day voter registration, it might just be doable for a Republican moderate to defeat an incumbent Republican wingnut by using a broad alliance of moderate Republicans, independents, and even some Democrats. The five states that meet these criteria are Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. While this presents us with a limited target area, at the very least Bill Sali (ID-02) and Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05), pop up as extreme wingnuts who might be vulnerable to this strategy.

Second, you may ask, why would we even want moderate Republicans to win in these districts? That is a more difficult question to answer. A strategy such as this might violate a basic principle of the fifty-state strategy: Democrats can compete everywhere. Also, the presence of hard-core extremist might actually improve Democratic chances to win in the district. Further, why would we spend any money to help any kind of Republican, especially when we are outgunned in total resources? Good points, all.

However, one of the greatest advantages Republicans have recently held in elections has been very public, internal Democratic division. Over the past twenty years, the DLC-nexus has played a key role in making the rest of the Democratic Party look out of touch with "mainstream" America by repeatedly triangulating against the party's left wing and adopting Republican language and narratives. By the same token, a revitalized Republican moderate movement, aided by strong primary challenges against wingnuts in a couple of carefully selected districts, could help fuel the growing Republican division we have witnessed over the past few months. Eventually, this could create the same sort of problems for the Republican Party that the DLC-nexus has created for the Democratic Party. For once, Republicans would be the divided ones. Conservatism would be on the bad end of Daou's triangle, instead of progressivism. Over time, Republicans would appear to be the party obsessed with electability instead of principles, a problem that has long haunted, and continues to haunt, Democrats. Further, there is precedent for this sort of action. The Club for Growth entered Democratic primaries in 2006, when it supported Henry Ceullar over Ciro Rodriguez in the TX-28 primary last past March. We also repeatedly saw Republicans and other conservative interests give massive support to both Joe Lieberman and Al Wynn in their primary struggles. And that was just in 2006. Since conservatives have been willing to dump tens of millions into supporting conservative Democrats such as these who aid national, anti-Democratic and anti-progressive narratives, they clearly, they feel like it is a worthwhile investment. Progressives might be able to score a similar return on an even smaller investment in a shorter period of time.

It is an intriguing possibility, one that I think They Work For Us should consider, and probably will consider, as they expand. While I am not entirely sold on it, progressive meddling in Republican primaries could be quite beneficial. A strategy such as this would also beg, if not straight up answer, the question as to whether or not we are an ideologically focused movement. While that is an idea I have resisted in the past, as Democrats continue to make gains nationwide, it might be an important shift for us to take in the future. If we end up with something like 56 Senators, 245 Representatives and a Democratic President after the 2008 elections, but we still aren't seeing a progressive agenda passed into law, then it may very well be time to drop our current partisan tactics in favor of something more ideologically focused.

Tags: Ideology, Primary Elections, Republicans (all tags)



chris, or jerome or matt

should diary about the newsday release..

I thought conventional wisdom was not going so quickly negative on each other.

sorry but I find the campaign negativity this quick surprising.

by TarHeel 2007-01-22 09:43AM | 0 recs
Re: chris, or jerome or matt
Remarkable how often people who try and hold Democrats such as Joe Lieberman accountable are the ones going negative, rather than Democrats like Joe Lieberman who actually trash progressives and the party every chance they get.
by Chris Bowers 2007-01-22 09:46AM | 0 recs
Re: chris, or jerome or matt
Oh, and not to mention that my post is about targeting Republicans in primaries anyway, not Democrats.
by Chris Bowers 2007-01-22 09:48AM | 0 recs
Re: Meddling In Republican Primaries?

If we end up with something like 56 Senators, 245 Representatives and a Democratic President after the 2008 elections, but we still aren't seeing a progressive agenda passed into law, then it may very well be time to drop our current partisan tactics in favor of something more ideologically focused.

I don't see why we can't do both of these.  It's not like meddling in a Republican primary prevents a Democrat from running in the district.  

Look at CA-11 and McNerney.

by Matt Stoller 2007-01-22 09:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Meddling In Republican Primaries?

Yes, and arguably, the Republican Primary challenge, even if he got only 36% or something of the vote, weakened him significantly for the general election. And, if anything, it caused Pombo to spend money.

Imagine doing this strategy against people like Tom Feeney of Florida, who represents a 55% Bush district, but votes lockstep with the Republicans. A moderate Republican primary challenger, even if he wouldn't win, would pave the way for a Democratic upset on election day.

by KainIIIC 2007-01-22 01:00PM | 0 recs
Re: Meddling In Republican Primaries?

I guess you are saying that in CA-11, former Congressman Pete McCloskey challenged Pombo from the left in the Republican primary, then lent his name to McNerney in the general. I'm sure this helped Jerry. The circumstances were pretty unusual. McCloskey is very much an outlier, not a sort of Republican we are going to see often. He also knew how to be a candidate, so was able to do this somewhat competently with no ramp up.

by janinsanfran 2007-01-22 01:18PM | 0 recs
Re: Meddling In Republican Primaries?

If you want to see tangible changes, I've become convinced after thinking about shifts abroad that you must change the narrative of both the GOP and Democrats. By changing the narrative of both further left, you change the discussion completely. By focusing on one, it always plays into the Democrats are this, the GOP are that routine. Look at England, the conservatives there seem less conservative compared to the conservatives here. The same with Europe and other countries- why is this the case? I can't say 100 percent, but part of it seems that the whole language of politics is more left leaning than here. If we change what people think of as right to close to the center than we can do more about what is considered left. I hope this makes some sense- its just been going around in my head for a while when someone else posted something similar. And Tarheel- I think you miss the point entirely- to me we must change narrative or even conservative to moderate Democrats will always face an unhill battle because the well is so tainted to the right that when we drink we don't even notice it.

by bruh21 2007-01-22 10:04AM | 0 recs
I agree with you on meddling

I actually was talking about this news release  (not this post) .php?id=25070

and HIllary's campaign going negative on Obama mostly and Edwards a little.

  I thought conventional wisdom was hillary wouldn't go negative on Obama this quickly...

by TarHeel 2007-01-22 10:08AM | 0 recs
Re: I agree with you on meddling

he's the biggest threat to the space she's covering- the safe candidate

by bruh21 2007-01-22 10:33AM | 0 recs
What Makes Other Countries Different

Is that they have a history of true left parties in parliament. The USA doesn't--and we're virtually alone in this respect. The Democrats are a moderate party, with a left wing, not a left wing party.  And the cumulative influence of this dynamic over two hundred years is that our politics is significantly to the right of other coutries.

With the Dixiecrats finally gone for good, the Democrats finally have the opportunity to become a true party of the left over time, which would have the result you seek, over time.

But, of course, first we would have to defeat the Clintons and Obamas who want to move us even further to the right, in order to merge with the Borg in cosmic bliss.

by Paul Rosenberg 2007-01-22 10:33AM | 0 recs
Re: What Makes Other Countries Different

Nothing you said changes my point. Basically, I think you got to start somewhere. I don't want a far left but I do want a strong left. I think there is somethng wrong with people who aren't voting in their economic interest, not just because of social conservativism, but because they buy into the far right wing frame enough to be confused about what to do. I have talked to people who idenitify the problem, for example health care, can identify that govt needs to do something, but are far more afraid of government bureacracy than they are of the bureacracy of corporate american which drives up healthcare cost in the first place. As I told one friend- whats difference between  not having healthcare because the government isn't as efficient as you want, but fair about it, versus not having it because you are being priced out of the market? she readily admitted the former is preferable to the later, but still could not bring herself to accept that even an imperfect govt solution with fairness is better than a private sector one which is solely concerned with profit. My point is that there needs to be along term years and decades effort to change this mentality so that people can start over time to understand the good and bad of private sector, and the good and bad of public sector and do real weighing rather than respond in reflexive fear about how the government is so much worse.

by bruh21 2007-01-22 11:00AM | 0 recs
What Do You Mean, "Far Left"?

The arch-conservative Otto von Bismark, instituted universal health care in Germany in 1883. He did it to undercut the Social Democratic Party. You could call the SDP "far left" if you want to. But they made a compelling case--so compelling that Bismarck had to steal their most salient appeal in order to keep conservatives on top.

And what would be "far left" today? Saving the planet from global warming? Well, I've got news.  It's only in the US (and our friends like Saudi Arabia) that saving the planet from global warming is considered distinctively "left."  Yes, the left was more willing to do more earlier on, simply because the left is lest wedded to the status quo. (Conservatives resist change, remember?)  But it became a consensus position years ago in other countries.

The problem we face in this country is quite simple, and it's just what I said: there is no left party, there's only a party of the right and a party of the center.  It won't help us more than a smidgen to have a party of the not-quite-so-far-right and a party of the center.  It will help a great deal to have a party of the left, regardless of whatever the GOP does--particularly if it loses consistently, as it did pretty much from 1932 until the white South bolted from the Dems.

by Paul Rosenberg 2007-01-22 11:31AM | 0 recs
Re: What Do You Mean, "Far Left"?

I am only referencing communism in my formulation, not socialist leaning democrats who aren't hard core socialists. I mean by far left a very specific thing- not what the right here considers far left.

by bruh21 2007-01-22 12:02PM | 0 recs
If You Mean 'Communism' You Should Say 'Communism'

Though why you'd bring it up at all is quite beyond me.  I don't recall ever seeing anyone advocating Communism in all the time I've been around MyDD.

by Paul Rosenberg 2007-01-23 08:04AM | 0 recs
Re: What Do You Mean, "Far Left"?

I think a very strong left leaning party is fine- but there is a difference between being strongly left leaning- versus centrist versus far left which is doctrinaire like the right. we still want innovation of ideas, and to the extent that new ideas aren't entertain the degree to which both poles are problemati. but you shouldn't think that I mean it as say even a conservative democrat means it. to be effective we must havea  strong left and moderate right- at least in my formulation of what would work best.

by bruh21 2007-01-22 12:05PM | 0 recs
Centrists Are More Doctrinaire Than Leftists

At least in America over the last generation or two.

The DLC's typical hysterical attack mode is merely the most visible manifestation of this that is frequently commented on here at MyDD.

But centrists playing liberals on TV are similarly doctrinaire in keeping anything one millimeter to their left off the table at all times, except, of course, to sneer at, as proof that they, too, belong at the cool kidz table.

by Paul Rosenberg 2007-01-23 08:10AM | 0 recs
Very interesting.

   I am not sure if we want to waste money meddling in Republican primaries.  But if we were to, I would make this campaign regionally focused: The South.  Since we're least competitive in the conservative, rural south we should try and manipulate the Republican primaries there.  We should only meddle in the most super-Republican of districts, such as Lamborn's in Colorado.  Maybe the only way to get a powerful voice in the conservative districts is to support moderate Republicans.  Still, I'm not sure it's worth it.  It's hard to tell who will really be a moderate.

by cilerder86 2007-01-22 10:11AM | 0 recs
Which districts has Club for Growth played in?

A Hispanic district (Cuellar), a black district (Wynn), and CT-Sen (Lieberman).  Three districts that the Republican didn't have a chance in hell of ever winning.

That's one small argument for playing only in GOP primaries in very Republican districts.  In a vaguely competitive district -- even NV-02, say -- you want the most radical GOP candidate, so as to make the Dem look good and alienate the middle.  Only when the district is absolutely unwinnable -- which, by the way, the CO-05 evidently is -- do you want to play in GOP primaries.  

I'm not convinced that we can't win the ID-01, in which case having Bill Sali win the primary is a great thing.  It's not like a mainstream Republican in that district would be very moderate anyway.  But in CO-05, which may be one of the only districts in the country we cannot ever win, playing in the primary is the next best thing.

Incidentally, I think it's because of racial politics that the GOP has more opportunity to play in our primaries than we do in theirs.  Black and Hispanic districts are utterly closed to GOP victories, and yet are open to corporate money meddling.  White districts are just not closed to Democratic victories the way minority districts are closed to the GOP.  Rick Boucher, Gene Taylor, Chet Edwards, Jim Matheson, Jim Cooper, Heath Schuler all are arguments that Democrats can play and win even in white, conservative districts, generally by running hard on kitchen table issues.  We shouldn't give up on actually winning in these places.  Because of the Southern Strategy, the GOP has had to formally give up on 60 or so districts, and console itself with electing people like Cuellar and Wynn in the primaries.  We don't have a comparable situation on our side, and so maybe there's less reason to copy them.  With the exception of maybe 10 districts in places like Orange County and Colorado Springs, we shouldn't give up on electing Democrats.

by texas dem 2007-01-22 01:52PM | 0 recs
Re: Meddling In Republican Primaries?

This suggested meddling would be getting greedy--expending resources far beyond the point of diminishing returns.  Movement development is a bottomless money pit, I don't support the idea of opening a third one for us to try and fill at the expense of our highly successful efforts with the Party and our moderately successful efforts with progressivism, especially since what can be achieved is so slight.  I would like to have eyes on that front, of course, but we should remember that internal Democratic divisions were such a boon for the Republicans because they were virtually free.

by Endymion 2007-01-22 10:25AM | 0 recs
Re: Meddling In Republican Primaries?

what proof  do you have of what you just wrote?

by bruh21 2007-01-22 10:33AM | 0 recs

This doesn't sound very sound to me. Things could change in a couple of years, but right now drawing sharp distinctions is the best thing we could possibly do.

Beyond the obvious need to draw such distinctions, and obvious advantage given how badly the GOP has screwed up, there's not much more that needs to be said right now, IMHO.

But, for those who think otherwise, there's this: I don't think that any such moderate GOP group would function anything remotely like the DLC, nor would it get friendly press if it did.  This might change if the GOP were to get seriously crushed in 2008, and the Democrats were to enact a seriously progressive agenda as a result.  Putting ourselves back in a massively dominant governing position (without reliance on all those Dixiecrat committee chairs we used to have) would certainly alter the equation overall.

But even in such a situation, would the meddling strategy really make any sense?  (Why not just govern and run with successful message, and let the GOP worry about itself?) We'll have to wait and see. While I'm deeply skeptical, I'm even more skeptical about the ability to crystal ball that far ahead about what are, at bottom, tactical political matters.

We should be first and foremost concerned with our philosophy and strategy, connecting the two, and implementing tactics that flow from that connection.  Anything outside that--such as getting cute like this--is just a distraction from Job One, so far as I'm concerned.

by Paul Rosenberg 2007-01-22 10:25AM | 0 recs

Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. While this presents us with a limited target area, at the very least Bill Sali (ID-02) and Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05), pop up as extreme wingnuts who might be vulnerable to this strategy.

Also Michelle Bachmann (MN-06), though perhaps her seat is winnable outright if there is a different Democratic candidate.

by niq 2007-01-22 10:33AM | 0 recs
Meddling In Republican Primaries...

...sounds like a bad idea.

We have our hands full with Democratic primaries.

Ned Lamont barely won the Democratic primary and lost the general.

by EricJaffa 2007-01-22 11:29AM | 0 recs
Second-Level Gamesmanship

It may be worth it not only to enter such primaries to vote, but to stoke the fire by loudly proclaiming support as progressives for the moderate, angering wingers and cutting off the moderates' money due to "taint," wounding them as paper-thin and politically compromised.  Then whipsawing them in the general election by voting en masse for the Dem, obviously.

There may be a more refined, better laid-out way of doing this type of second-level gamesmanship.

Frankly, I have often wondered why each party has not worked hard to establish a fifth column of 10-50Kin the other, voting for strange, fringe candidates, backing lunatics, etc.  If I were registered Republican, I would have no shame in voting for the worst asinine winger extremist as a way of increasing their agita and frustration.

by Bruce Godfrey 2007-01-22 12:23PM | 0 recs
Re: Meddling In Republican Primaries?

I would just point out that the McCloskey wing of the Republican Party has about as many die-hard hangers on as the George Wallace wing of the Democratic Party does, i.e. I could probably count them on 1 hand.

If They Work For Us wants to support primary challenges by the occasional McCloskey who runs, more power to them...but most of what we will see as "moderate" Republicans won't be McCloskeys, they will be more along the lines of Chris Shays or, ugh, John McCain.  If the primary race is between a suckup in the "center" and a religious right nut, should we take a side or just declare a pox on both their houses?  

Indeed, I can think of a number of cases where the best Republicans (best in the sense of being willing to take a stand for civil liberties, for fair trade instead of free trade, or against the Iraq War) aren't those in the center but the various libertarian and populist currents on the far right.  Ron Paul, Paul Craig Roberts, Lou Dobbs, Pat Buchanan, Jeff Flake, and Bob Barr come to mind.  The reason I bring this up is I have read (but haven't confirmed) that Sali, R of Idaho is against the Patriot Act.  If this is true, I'd rather have him in that seat than some "centrist" if those were the only two choices, and I'd rather not see They Work For Us supporting a centrist primary challenge against him.

On the other hand there are also plenty of really bad wingnuts on the far right too.  The difference I think is the libertarian and populist right (who will break from the Bush dogma on foreign policy, trade, civil liberties, and possibly energy independence), versus the neoconservative, big business, foreign policy hawk, and religious right (who are nothing but toe-the-line Bushbot automatons).  So yes, support primary challenges against the latter.  Seek tactical allies among the former.  Seek to flip all of those seats to D.

by Old Yeller 2007-01-22 02:31PM | 0 recs
Re: Meddling In Republican Primaries?

Someone among the moderators feel free to fix my McCain link above, which somehow got messed up in the posting...

by Old Yeller 2007-01-22 02:50PM | 0 recs
flawed premise

Chris, I have the utmost respect for your opinions, but...

I think you are missing a critical factor here. This strategy works for Republicans because they are generally to the right of their constituents and the country as a whole. This is due to the fact that they primarily represent the interests of the hyper-wealthy. The natural constituency of Democrats is the poor and middle class - that is basically almost all of the country. Your suggested strategy works for Republicans because it pulls Democrats away from their strength and blurs the line on the issue where Democrats are clearly on the side of the general public. How does your strategy similarly pull Republicans away from any positions that have majority support? I don't see how it does at all. If Dems can handle simply being consistent in representing the economic interests of workers, Republicans will have to move toward the center to maintain viablity. Repubs need to use such tactics to blur the differences. Dems do not and should not. It would be a less than optimally productive use of resources.

The strategy in question, when used by Repubs, hurts Dems by pulling them from the center. The same strategy used by Dems helps Republicans by pulling them closer to the center. Let's just pull them to the center by repeatedly kicking their ass.

by miasmo 2007-01-23 01:11AM | 0 recs

Iowa has a de facto open primary; you can change party at the polls.  A primary would be the only way to knock off Steve King...

by jdeeth 2007-01-23 02:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Iowa

Also, King represents a hard core Republican district (IA-05) that cannot be won by any Democrat.

by corncam 2007-01-23 05:57AM | 0 recs
Re: Meddling In Republican Primaries?
I just looked at the map for Wis 5 the district represented by
Sennsenbrenner. I grew up in Wauwatosa in the part  that is in his district and my wife grew up in West Bend which is in his district and we have relatives that still live in his district. A lot of the white flight from Milwaukee relocated to his district. He represents the views of his constituents.
by JSN 2007-01-23 07:23AM | 0 recs
Re: Meddling In Republican Primaries?

I think this is a good idea. Yeah, it is likely only going to be worthwhile in a limited number of instances. But if certain districts are unwinnable for Dems (for example, if we couldn't block Bill Sali of all people in that district in 2006 ...), it makes perfect sense to me to still try to get the best ideological results possible, but playing in the GOP primaries.

And of course there are already Republicans we could work with to achieve this (like the PEARL group in Oregon - though I don't have applying this in Oregon in mind).

by ScottC 2007-01-23 11:13AM | 0 recs


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