How Third Way Democrats Could Get Trump Re-elected

The New Democracy PAC and other centrist groups want you to learn all the wrong lessons from 2016.

Joel Bleifuss February 25, 2019

Don't trust centrists to defeat Trump. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In 1992, Bill Clin­ton was elect­ed pres­i­dent with the help of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Lead­er­ship Coun­cil (DLC), the pow­er­house of cen­trist Democ­rats of which he had been pres­i­dent. The DLC shut down in 2011, but this crea­ture of the Third Way did not slith­er into the sun­set. Rather, it shed its skin and emerged in 2017 as New Democ­ra­cy, a polit­i­cal action committee.

Third Way Democrats love the word "radical." The PPI brags that it deploys "its trademark philosophy of radical pragmatism."

New Democ­ra­cy is coiled to strike in 2020. Its advi­so­ry board includes declared pres­i­den­tial can­di­date John Delaney, a for­mer Mary­land con­gress­man and mil­lion­aire busi­ness­man, along with two oth­er pos­si­ble pres­i­den­tial con­tenders: For­mer Col­orado Gov. John Hick­en­loop­er, who said in Jan­u­ary that he is prob­a­bly” in the race, and for­mer New Orleans may­or, Mitch Lan­drieu, a self-pro­claimed rad­i­cal cen­trist.”

Third Way Democ­rats love the word rad­i­cal.” The Pro­gres­sive Pol­i­cy Insti­tute (PPI), the DLC-affil­i­at­ed think tank, brags that it deploys its trade­mark phi­los­o­phy of rad­i­cal prag­ma­tism” as part of the van­guard” work­ing to design a dis­tinct­ly Amer­i­can hybrid of pub­licpri­vate action” — in oth­er words, pri­va­ti­za­tion of gov­ern­ment services.

New Democ­ra­cy founder Will Mar­shall expands on this point in a recent arti­cle for The Dai­ly Beast, Hey, Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists: More Big Gov­ern­ment Won’t Fix What Ails Us.” He writes that, rather than emu­late Euro­pean-style sta­tism” as advo­cat­ed by Bernie Sanders and Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, the new social­ist idol,” pro­gres­sives should offer vot­ers an indige­nous and decen­tral­ized vision for effect­ing rad­i­cal change.”

Mar­shall is also a founder of both the late DLC and the PPI, which shares an office with New Democ­ra­cy. PPI fun­ders have includ­ed the weapons man­u­fac­tur­er Raytheon, Dow Chem­i­cal and Gen­er­al Elec­tric, along with the right-wing Bradley Foun­da­tion, which funds the Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Exchange Council.

Just as there is noth­ing pro­gres­sive” about PPI, there is noth­ing new” about the ideas advanced by New Democ­ra­cy. Like the Repub­li­can Par­ty, New Democ­ra­cy is death on sin­gle-pay­er health­care, which the group’s web­site explains would force work­ing Amer­i­cans to give up their doc­tors, and raise the threat of rationing care.” Back in 2010, PPI wonks ensured that the White House not push for a pub­lic option”—a gov­ern­ment-run non­prof­it insur­ance option — in Obamacare.

New Democracy’s stat­ed goal in 2020 is to expand the party’s appeal across Mid­dle Amer­i­ca and make Democ­rats com­pet­i­tive.” Prag­mat­ic rad­i­cals like Mar­shall advo­cate doing so not by tear[ing] up exist­ing trade agree­ments” but by build­ing a knowl­edge econ­o­my” that is shaped large­ly by Amer­i­can inge­nu­ity and tech­no­log­i­cal prowess” — a vision craft­ed for cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca under the guise of aid­ing down­ward­ly mobile white work­ing peo­ple who, accord­ing to the New Democ­ra­cy fairy tale, were aban­doned by Democ­rats in 2016. Not so. The aban­don­ment dates to the 1990s, when the DLC, PPI and Bill Clin­ton cham­pi­oned free trade poli­cies that destroyed the liveli­hoods of work­ing peo­ple of all races, includ­ing many of Hillary Clinton’s deplorables.”

Hillary’s speechi­fy­ing may have opened the purs­es of Gold­man Sachs bankers, but she failed to woo white non-col­lege-edu­cat­ed vot­ers who sup­port­ed Barack Oba­ma in 2012, and she lost the crit­i­cal states of Wis­con­sin, Michi­gan, Ohio and Penn­syl­va­nia. Accord­ing to the cal­cu­la­tions of Ruy Teix­eira at the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, Clin­ton would be pres­i­dent had she had won over just 25 per­cent of these for­mer Oba­ma voters.

Indeed, if Clin­ton had cam­paigned, as Bernie Sanders did, against trade agree­ments like NAF­TA that ben­e­fit the rich and the pow­er­ful, it is a good bet that Don­ald Trump would not be pres­i­dent. If New Democ­ra­cy steers Demo­c­ra­t­ic strat­e­gy in 2020, it is a good bet he will remain president.

Joel Blei­fuss, a for­mer direc­tor of the Peace Stud­ies Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri-Colum­bia, is the edi­tor & pub­lish­er of In These Times, where he has worked since Octo­ber 1986.

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