Saturday, May 18, 2024
 
 

How running on mainstream ideas won the day in the US midterm elections

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American voters defied historical norms last month when they rejected a crop of candidates whose extreme views were out of step with the US electorate and instead elevated mainstream leaders in the midterm elections.

Against a backdrop of global challenges from inflation and climate change, and domestic threats to individual liberties and democratic principles, the Republican playbook to paint their Democratic opponents as radicals failed. Instead, voters—particularly in states where long-held freedoms were most at risk—backed the Democrats. The Democratic Party succeeded in winning the mainstream by backing candidates from the center-left and running on an agenda that made progress one of the priorities of American voters.

Unlike the Republican Party, Democrats fended off challenges from the extremes to nominate moderates to the battleground races that make majorities. The centre-left New Dem Action Fund saw 77% of its endorsed candidates win in the primaries, nearly double the success rate of candidates backed by far-left groups. 

They presented a stark contrast to the election denying, extremist candidates backed by Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans. The significant gap in the quality of the candidates put forward was a key reason that Democrats retained control of the Senate after another win in the Georgia runoff — and shocked the pundits by coming within a few seats of winning the House majority.

Mainstream candidates were bolstered by a landmark legislative agenda that made progress after decades of obstruction on issues like infrastructure, gun safety, and climate that are supported by a majority of Americans.

President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act is a prime example of good policy making good politics. The most significant climate legislation passed in American history was accomplished by jettisoning a politically perilous approach to make fossil fuels expensive in favour of one that makes clean energy cheaper. It addresses inflation and kicks off an industrial strategy to revive the American manufacturing sector at a critical moment for global energy markets. 

These investments in US businesses and industries will deliver thousands of highly skilled jobs, increasing the domestic production of clean energy, and positioning America to help our allies retain their sovereignty and support their domestic energy infrastructure.

This mainstream, capitalist approach to solving climate change wasn’t just essential to its passage in Congress, but also to prevent the political backlash that followed previous attempts to legislate on climate and clean energy. Republican candidates lobbed their usual attacks, attempting to blame Democrats for roiling energy markets and high prices at the pump. But championing these popular investments in American communities and businesses that will generate good-paying jobs—coupled with a savvy strategy from the Biden Administration to coordinate the release of millions of barrels of oil alongside our allies to stabilize global markets—made it hard for charges of radicalism to stick.

The path forward on both the policy and the politics is to own the mainstream. Democrats have got the policy right – mobilizing US domestic resources to meet the immediate energy needs of families heading into the winter months, while investing in strategic clean energy innovations that will be in demand around the globe and provide protection from global energy shocks in the future.

To ensure that Democrats are in a position to hold the White House and win control of Congress in 2024, they will have to show voters that the party is laser focused on delivering pragmatic solutions to the needs of mainstream American families.

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Senior Vice President for the Climate and Energy Program at Third Way, a US, DC-based federal public policy think tank, and co-founder of Carbon Free Europe.

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