A piece in The Bulwark gives us another political neologism, as if we had enough to deal with in designated “more conservative”, “more moderate”, “less liberal”, and even anti-progressive Democrats. At their margins they may be responsible for the Democratic losses in Congress even as Trump has been defeated. “Can’t we all just get along?”
The Democrats Receive: The Red Dogs
In the 1990s, after the GOP won control of both houses of Congress, moderate Democrats who believed their party had moved too far to the left started calling themselves the “Blue Dogs.” 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? 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 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.
The Red Dogs might still vote for a Republican in a local race, maybe even enthusiastically if they live in a blue state or a swing district where the Republican candidate is more pragmatic. But in the nationalized races (which most are these days) they’re now aligned with the Democrats.
The existence of these new teams is, I realize, frustrating for many involved. But for the liberals who are cranky about the trade, let me give you a scouting report on your new teammates.
(1) You can keep the Reds in the tent without doing any of the dog-whistle pandering to white grievance culture that will be required to win back the Obama-Trump voters.
- Black Lives Matter? Got the t-shirt.
- Kneeling for the anthem? You do you, Kaep!
- Gay and Trans rights: Hell yes!
- Mask wearing: The Red Dogs triple bag it!
(2) There are substantial progressive policy priorities that Red Dog voters either actively support or won’t make a stink about. Here are just a few of those items:
- Pro-democracy reforms
- Marijuana legalization
- Raising the minimum wage
- Infrastructure spending
- Universal pre-K
- Cracking down on predatory lenders
- Environmental conservation
- They’d rather the COVID relief bill include assistance for the working class and tax breaks for families than a three-martini-lunch tax credit.
(3) There’s another batch of policies where the Red Dogs will go along with liberals either part, or most, of the way.
- Climate regulations, re-entering the Paris Agreement, and investing in green energy—yes! (But banning fossil fuels is going to hurt you with the charter Red Dogs in places like Dallas and Houston.)
- Major criminal justice and police reform—awesome! (“Defunding” the police is not going to be a winner.)
- Dream Act, refugee resettlement, pathway to citizenship—sweet. Republicans used to be for this! (Decriminalizing the border, not so much.)
- Reasonable gun-control legislation. Think of it this way: Anything that has a prayer of getting through Joe Manchin and Jon Tester, the Red Dogs will support enthusiastically.
- Taxing the rich. (Okay. Just don’t stick it to the HENRY’s too hard.)
- Health care public option. (Key word: “option.”)
- A new Trans-Pacific Partnership. (Do Democrats support free trade agreements anymore? That’s unclear at this stage. But if they do, the Red Dogs are with them.)
Not every Red Dog will agree with everything on the above list. And there will be areas of disagreement within the coalition not covered above. Abortion rights, education reform, and the like.
But for the most part, this new team can unite behind a broadly popular center-left agenda that is—let’s just be honest here—already beyond what is realistically achievable in our current political environment.
“The populist wing of the Democratic party, which carries disproportionate weight on Twitter dot com, loathes the Red Dogs. It has a weird obsession with extirpating from the party every person who has ever attended a brunch”
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) December 21, 2020