AGAINST THE GRAIN

Democrats Pay a Price for Being Green

If the party was serious about winning back the Rust Belt, it would strike a smarter balance between the environment and the economy.

AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Josh Kraushaar
Add to Briefcase
Josh Kraushaar
Dec. 6, 2016, 8 p.m.

In the aftermath of the presidential election, Democrats have been blaming their defeat on everything but the obvious. The Clinton campaign has dismissed suggestions of a voter mandate, pointing to its popular vote victory and narrow margins of defeat in three Midwestern states. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi blamed lackluster communication for the party’s dismal showings in recent elections. Democratic National Committee members from the Midwest blamed their problems on an organizational deficit, according to my National Journal colleague Karyn Bruggeman, even though Clinton’s ground game was considered her campaign’s biggest strength in the run-up to the election.

But the most glaring problem for the Democratic Party is an unwillingness to even entertain the possibility that its policy agenda had anything to do with its stunning defeat. Even Republicans, thanks to their national committee’s “autopsy report” in the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s loss, concluded that the party had to take a more moderate stance on immigration to win future elections. Democrats have done no similar soul-searching.

Let me offer a piece of unsolicited advice, one that Democratic strategists have discussed privately but are reticent to promote publicly for fear of alienating green activists. Taking a more moderate stand on energy policy—whether it’s supporting the Keystone XL pipeline, championing the fracking boom that’s transforming regional economies, or simply sounding a more skeptical note on the Obama administration’s litany of environmental regulations—would do wonders for the Democratic Party’s ability to compete for the working-class voters who have drifted away from the party.

If the GOP gains in the Midwest were an anomaly, perhaps Democrats could afford to cater to their environmental base. But this wasn’t the first time that Democrats lost significant ground in the region. In 2010, they lost a whopping 63 seats in the House in part because of failed cap-and-trade legislation; over one-third of the seats they lost were in the Midwest. Republicans amped up their attacks on Obama’s environmental policies during the 2014 midterms—airing more than 26,000 spots citing the Environmental Protection Agency—and swept nearly every competitive Senate race on their way to the majority.

Take the Keystone XL pipeline as a stand-in for voter sentiment on the balance between protecting the environment and producing jobs. A March 2014 Pew Research Center poll, conducted during the Keystone debate, found that a 49 percent plurality of Democrats supported building the pipeline—even though the president and top party leaders opposed it. Among working-class Democrats (those who made less than $50,000 a year), support for the Keystone project outdistanced opposition by a whopping 22 points (54 to 32). When your party’s own voters are at odds with its elite, it’s a recipe for disaster. Donald Trump’s Midwestern sweep was the culmination of these long-standing trends.

The party’s exposure is even greater in 2018. There are seven Democratic senators up for reelection in the Rust Belt, with an eighth (Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota) representing an energy-rich Plains state. Trump carried seven of the eight states, and came within one point of winning deep-blue Minnesota. If Democrats continue to raise holy hell on climate change but sound uninterested in promoting energy jobs, Trump will have a ready-made issue to exploit over the next two years.

“Hillary Clinton lost Pennsylvania not because she didn’t hit her margins in the suburban [Philadelphia] collar counties,” said a senior Democratic operative. “She lost because of a surge in white votes for Trump in the western part of the state. A lot of that is because of the so-called war on coal that has animated that part of the country since 2010.”

To that end, it was ironic to see a few former White House officials and some Hollywood celebrities urging the party to engage in this month’s Louisiana Senate runoff—in a last-ditch attempt to hold down the Republican majority in the upper chamber. They lack the self-awareness to recognize that the Obama administration’s environmental policies make it all but impossible to compete in the energy-rich Southern state anymore. Former Sen. Mary Landrieu, who won three terms in red-state Louisiana, spent her final months in office furiously lobbying colleagues to support the Keystone pipeline. Her efforts failed, and she lost in a landslide. And this year’s Democratic nominee (Foster Campbell) is losing by 20 points in the upcoming runoff to his GOP opponent (John Kennedy), despite receiving considerable financial assistance from liberal activists.

Politically speaking, the Democratic divide between environmental activists and voters concerned about the economic impact of regulations is akin to the divide between the GOP’s immigration hard-liners and party leaders. On immigration, Republicans faced the uncomfortable reality that their voting base was at odds with the party leadership. Democrats have the same problem, except their leaders are the ones most resistant to any changes.

What We're Following See More »
32 COUNTS
Mueller Hits Manafort, Gates with New Charges
14 hours ago
THE LATEST

Robert Mueller announced new charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort advisor Rick Gates. "The new indictment contains 32 counts, including tax charges." The pair had been indicted on 12 charges in October. Since then, Gates's attorneys have asked to be excused from the case.

Source:
SECOND TIME FBI FAILED TO ACT
FBI Failed To Act On Parkland Shooter Tip
21 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The FBI has reported that it failed to respond to a warning from "a person close to" Nikolas Cruz, the teen accused of killing 17 people at Parkland High School on Thursday. "It was the second time the FBI apparently failed to follow up on Cruz." On the first occasion, it failed to properly investigate Cruz after it was reported to them that he left the following comment on a Youtube video: "Im going to be a school shooter."

Source:
FBI MISSED TIP ON PARKLAND SHOOTER
Florida Governor Calls on FBI Director to Resign
21 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Florida Governor Rick Scott called on FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign following revelations that the FBI had failed to adequately investigate multiple warnings about Parkland High School gunman Nikolas Cruz. “The FBI’s failure to take action against this killer is unacceptable,'" said Scott. '...We constantly promote ‘see something, say something,’ and a courageous person did just that to the FBI. And the FBI failed to act.'" According to an FBI statement, the FBI failed to inform local offices of information regarding "Cruz's desire to kill people, erratic behavior, disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting."

Source:
ONLY 2% OPPOSE
Quinnipiac Poll Shows 97% Support for Expanded Background Checks
21 hours ago
THE LATEST
SURVIVORS OF PARKLAND GRILL SENATOR
Rubio Talks Gun Control At CNN Town Hall
21 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Following the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, Senator Rubio (R-FL) was grilled by survivors of the shooting and parents of victims at a CNN town hall Thursday night. The senator was booed loudly by the audience when he refused to endorse an assault weapons ban, including by one parent who called his response to the mass shooting "pathetically weak." Rubio said he was open to reconsidering the capacity of gun magazines, supports raising the age at which people can buy rifles, and that he disagreed with Trump's proposal to arm teachers.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login