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What Ruy Teixeira Gets Wrong

I’m supposed to like Ruy Teixeira’s warnings to the Democratic Party. He loudly and firmly claims in the WaPo [1] that the party is too far to the left of where it needs to be. So far, so good. The problem begins in where he puts his focus and what he ignores. The mistakes are such that the party would best avoid his advice.

Teixeira’s diagnosis of the Democrats’ problem has three major errors. They all come from the same underlying fault. Teixeira assumes that the only way for the Democrats to build a majority coalition is to win back working-class voters who have left the party. He says nothing about the voters who have come into the party over the last several years. This fixation on the voters leaving the Democratic Party, at the expense of the new arrivals and potentials, badly misses the current moment.

Teixeira’s first mistake is his assumption that the party’s current economic message needs no major change. That shouldn’t really surprise, given his focus on working-class voters, but it does disappoint. What Teixeira misses, Tim Miller of The Bulwark [2] describes.

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 [3]? 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.

They live in the suburban sprawl of major metropolitan areas, like my hometown of Denver. The congressional district that I grew up in, which forms a suburban horseshoe around the city, has gone from R +10 to D +18 [4] in just six years! In Atlanta, Red Dogs helped create a Democratic ring around the city, electing Lucy McBath to the House in 2018 and carrying Joe Biden to a surprise win in 2020.

These are not folks who fall for the ol’ big-government plan the Democrats have been selling for decades. They’re more likely to support freer trade and less likely to support tax increases. They’re as likely to be turned off by Trump’s trade wars as by his tweets.

They’re also far more likely to be worried about the rise of authoritarianism abroad, which leads us to Teixeira’s second error: his complete lack of discussion about foreign policy. That he could do this in the middle of an actual war in Ukraine is political malpractice. Moreover, it misses one of the biggest avenue for Democratic recovery on the immigration issue: the fact that so many refugees are escaping Communist regimes [5]. If Democrats have a “patriotism gap” as Teixeira claims, they only need point to the GOP selling itself out [6] to the Kremlin.

Teixeira’s final mistake comes with the inclusion of identity issues among the list of things that require “moderation.” This is a typical demand from rural voters who have little to no experience with anyone in the LGBTQ+ community. However, the suburban voters in the Red Dog faction are far more likely to know someone who’s LGBTQ+. They’re also more likely to know an African-American. Thus, what Teixeira calls “culturally freighted issues” are not nearly so abstract to these swing voters. Unfortunately, this clouds the actual problems Teixeira brings up – such as their terrible messaging on public safety.

In short, Teixeira – like most Democrats even now – is looking to rebuild the class-based coalition of the FDR era. Never mind that FDR has been dead for nearly four score. Never mind that within two years of his death, the coalition collapsed and lost control of Congress and wouldn’t win a popular vote majority for president for nearly two decades. Even in the 1940s, other issues intruded. They still do today, Teixeira’s refusal to discuss them notwithstanding.