National Journal

Politics
By Alex Roarty
March 30, 2014

Bracing for a rough midterm-election outcome, Democrats aren’t waiting until Election Day to start blaming one another for the party’s problems. Anticipating the possibility that Republicans will flip the Senate, the finger-pointing game is already underway between the party’s warring factions.

Earlier this month, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas argued liberals had successfully purged so-called squishy moderates from the Democratic Party’s ranks—even if those same lawmakers had helped the party retain conservative-leaning Senate and House seats. From the middle, the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way has become more outspoken in criticizing progressive leaders, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, for advocating an agenda that will compromise the party’s ability to attract moderate voters.

The public spats between outside groups are nothing compared with the private finger-pointing over who could be responsible if Republicans ride a political wave this year. The moderate wing is prepared to blame the party for avoiding centrist initiatives like free-trade deals and entitlement reform, while the Left will argue party leaders didn’t do enough to protect benefits.

“This is a coming divide for the Democratic Party,” said one progressive strategist, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “Not only about explaining 2014, but laying the groundwork for 2016.”

The split between the party’s progressive and centrist wings isn’t new, and the looming difficulty of the midterms play only a part in their ongoing conflict. But the threat of losses later this year is exacerbating the existing tensions.

In Third Way cofounder Matt Bennett’s telling, it wasn’t a lack of populism that caused the party’s problems. It was an incessant focus on class-war rhetoric in 2013 that repelled some voters.

“Democrats lost touch with the middle class,” he said. “We engaged in arguments that have intellectual but not emotional resonance. Income inequality is a problem, but that doesn’t make it something that will land in public,” Bennett said.

Bennett’s group has led the charge for Democratic lawmakers and the president to back a socially liberal but economically centrist platform—and in doing so, has become enemy No. 1 of many activists.

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