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Joe Manchin and the liberal brand

This post by Jonathan Chait is, somewhat inadvertently, an interesting commentary on the upsides and downsides of maintaining a strong party brand. Chait is looking at the West Virginia Senate race, where the Democratic nominee is Joe Manchin, the popular governor whose campaign ads currently feature him shooting a gun at a copy of the cap-and-trade bill. His ads, in other words, are about what a hard time he'll give the party. But those ads are, in part, why he'll likely win. And then he'll get to the Senate, vote for Harry Reid as Senate majority leader, and vote for most, but not all, Democratic initiatives. The Republican candidate in the race, by contrast, makes no similar concessions to West Virginia's populist political culture.

It's hard to have a concrete brand when a guy like Manchin is part of your party. It'd be a bit like if Coca-Cola sold not just Cokes, but a brand that spent its advertising budget convincing people that Coke was gross, and hired guys to yell at people who ordered Cokes in stores.

But though Manchin makes thematic coherence difficult, he makes it easier to have a congressional majority. The party discipline that the Republican brand requires makes it difficult to tailor candidates to individual races. So you'll see campaigns like Delaware and West Virginia, where Democrats are likely to win seats a different kind of Republican could've captured, and major policy achievements like health-care reform that only happened because Democrats decided against kicking Joe Lieberman out of the party, and senators like Arlen Specter and Jim Jeffords, who simply switched sides to get away from the GOP's party discipline.

The flip side of this, of course, is that Republicans are better at getting all of their members to vote the same way, and better at getting their candidates to move to the far right. But aside from tax cuts, I'm not really sure what that's gotten them. George W. Bush expanded the federal role in education, Medicare and campaign finance, not to mention starting both the bank and auto bailouts. Civil rights, feminism and sexual equality have all made enormous strides. Barack Obama passed a massive stimulus plan followed by a near-universal health-care bill. Conservatives might have the stronger brand, but liberals, in recent years, have had the more successful one.

By Ezra Klein  | October 13, 2010; 1:15 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Midterms, Democrats  
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Comments

I'm a life-long Democrat and union member. We should not be the party of gun control and, frankly, while I'm no climate change doubter, I'll admit that the climate bill is far down my list of priorities. Manchin will be a far more reliable vote on the economic issues that matter to me than some from the party who may be more "liberal" on guns and coal. Whatever. Frankly, I think we could use a few more Joe Manchins and Bob Caseys.

Posted by: mim1 | October 13, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Part of the problem is assuming that being a member of a party means voting with the party.
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I don't care how Manchin votes on anything other than procedural votes. If you want party support/money/backing, then you vote with the Party on procedures, and your conscience on the *actual* bill votes. That much 'discipline' is needed in order to govern successfully. And the Dems haven't had it or even tried to enforce it.
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The most important vote I don't see talked about is the first vote of the next Senate; whether or not to continue using the, massively broken, Senate Rules we currently use. They aren't working and need to be changed.
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But will anyone actually stand up for this? I'm not betting on it.

Posted by: rpixley220 | October 13, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

mim1, we need more Democrats, full stop. Ezra's point about Manchin voting with the Dems most of the time is a point that needs to be emphasized all the time. As frustrating as it is having guys like Ben Nelson or Leiberman hold key pieces of legislation up for their petty interests (and they are petty), the bottom line is that none of the accomplishments of the last two years would have happened if we were down two Dems, and the most conservative Dem still has a more liberal voting record than the most liberal Republican. Having majorities, and especially large majorities, means you're going to have more diverse views within the caucus, but you're still going to have more people that will vote the party line most of the time.

The problem is that Senate rules have made it such that Republicans don't *need* a lot of legislators to obstruct even large majorities, so they can stop the majority's agenda while maintaining the party unity that they can manage with a smaller number of people. And when they take the majority back in the Senate they can go forward being as crazy as they like to score political points because they know that the Dems will be able to stop them anyway, so why bother moderating their positions?

Posted by: MosBen | October 13, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

MosBen, you apparently miss the point that to get more Dems we need more Joe Manchins and Bob Caseys -- candidates who can connect with working class voters.

Posted by: mim1 | October 13, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

No, I didn't miss that point, and I'm pretty sure we agree. My point is that as frustrating as the Ben Nelsons of the party are when there's an important vote that they're holding up, it's better to have him, or Manchin, or any other more conservative Dem that might be a problem on some specific issue, rather than whatever Republican would otherwise be in that seat. We need more Manchins, but I think it's more because any Dem is a net positive in my book. We need Dems to win, and if winning in West Virginia means we get Manchin, then that's fine.

Posted by: MosBen | October 13, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

MosBen,

you're absolutely right in your thinking. That's why I expect to vote for Jon Runyan in November. Its not because I dislike Jon Adler and in different times I'd vote again for Mr Adler (as I've voted for him before) but the thought of Nancy Pelosi running congress again makes me more than queasy.

Posted by: visionbrkr | October 13, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Your downward spiral continues Klein... Point about Republican party discipline and ideological purity, but ultimately conclude with not sure what that has got the Republicans, and then list a host of measures passed signed by GWB that show a lack of party discipline and ideological purity. The measures you cite from the Bush years did not receive unanimous Republican support and needed plenty of Democratic votes to pass.

Posted by: cdosquared5 | October 13, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

And go F yourself for the "Civil rights, feminism and sexual equality have all made enormous strides."

Yes, anyone that would deign to disagree with your political beliefs is a racist and a sexist. Why don't you go find your intellectual rigor and integrity in the garbage that Weigel left it in for you, <>

Posted by: cdosquared5 | October 13, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

"Conservatives might have the stronger brand, but liberals, in recent years, have had the more successful one."

I like your differentiation between partisanship and ideology (as opposed to Democrats and Republicans), but I think you have it 100% backwards. Yes, both parties have gotten things done. However, while the political battles have been won by Democrats, it's the conservatives who've won out on policy.

Back in the day, conservatives thought bank bailouts were the preferred option versus WPA-like options. They won. They thought a Romneycare-style regime was better than single payer. They won. And, they thought that Cap and Trade was the preferred option over hardcore standards-setting. They won that, too.

Conservatives win because they push debate rightward and enact conservative policies, without having to expend political capital to do it -- they have the Democrats do it for them. Granted, the details of these policies are far better than would be if passed by the GOP (HCR in particular) but the overall frameworks of these things are conservative ideas, not liberal ones.

Posted by: Chris_ | October 13, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr, holy crap, man. We're in the same district. Looks like our votes are going to cancel each other out. Normally I'd vote against Adler (or write someone in), but in this election I'm holding my nose and voting the party.

Posted by: MosBen | October 13, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

"But aside from tax cuts, I'm not really sure what that's gotten them."

How about, I don't know, the Iraq War? I'd say that's a pretty big accomplishment of the Bush administration.

How about welfare "reform?" Now that it's pretty accepted even among liberals that children should be punished for their parent's choices, that's somehow a progressive victory?

What about John Roberts, Sam Alito, and some of the conservative Court rulings -- i.e., the school desegregation case? What about the chipping away of Miranda rights, the Establishment Clause, etc. -- all this let alone that the Court only once in a blue moon expands rights.

As for smaller conservative victories, how about the so-called "partial-birth" abortion ban? That the Hyde amendment still gets passed every single year? That the number of capital crimes has increased? How about the bankruptcy bill of 2005?

There have been plenty of major conservative victories over the last decade.

Posted by: moronjim | October 13, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Manchin is DOA. Stick a fork in him.

Posted by: illogicbuster | October 13, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

MosBen,

haha. I'll tell you what I won't vote if you won't ;-) just kidding. Sadly I'm holding my nose and voting the party too. I'd love a better candidate than Runyan but Adler (no matter how much he'd try to argue otherwise) voted with the Dems more than I'd like to see. Also i'm seeing a lot of NJAR advertising for Adler lately on TV locally. Wonder what that's about???

Posted by: visionbrkr | October 13, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

The Manchin campaign isn't too hard to understand.

Remember when MTV used to have those dance shows in the 90s with the kids shouting out "MTV sucks!"? Same thing. It's trying to appeal to a contrarian audience.

In the MTV case, it was rebellious teens.

In Manchin's case, it's an anti-incumbent electorate.

Posted by: Rick00 | October 13, 2010 10:27 PM | Report abuse

You've just given yet another great reason why Democrats should support abolishing the filibuster.

Focused minority can stop big majority if only 40 votes are needed to stop them.

If 50 votes are needed, then that 40 or 42 can have all the focus in the world they still won't be able to paralyze the country so that the majority is blamed, and they won't be able to stop the country from moving forward so we fall behind one country after another as they move ahead of us.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | October 14, 2010 12:35 AM | Report abuse

Fixed up version of my last comment:

You've just given yet another great reason why Democrats should support abolishing the filibuster.

Focused minority can stop majority if only 41 votes are needed to stop them.

If 50 votes are needed, then that 41 or 42 can have all the focus in the world, they still won't be able to paralyze the country so that the majority is blamed, and they won't be able to stop the country from moving forward for decades or more so we fall behind one country after another as they move ahead of us.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | October 14, 2010 2:01 AM | Report abuse

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