Litmus Tests Limit the Democratic Party

The 2018 congressional midterm elections are fast approaching, and both sides, Democrat and Republican, are campaigning and fundraising. On the left, there is an ongoing debate over whether or not pro-life Democrats should receive campaign funds through the DCCC, the fundraising arm of the Congressional Democrats. As the party tries to regain control of the legislative branch, the chairman of the DCCC, Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, stated in an interview with The Hill that “[t]here is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates.” Lujan stressed that “[a]s we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.”

This decision has created a backlash on the left with social liberals who want their view to be the prevailing policy platform within the Democratic Party. Mitchell Stille, the campaign manager for NARAL Pro-Choice America, told The Hill that “[t]hrowing weight behind anti-choice candidates is bad politics that will lead to worse policy,” While it may run contrary to the prevailing view of the Democratic Party platform, a diversity of thought within the Democratic Caucus will not only breed mutual understanding; it will allow the Democrats to build a majority coalition.

In the 1960s, there was ideological diversity in both major political parties. Within the Republican Party, a thriving liberal faction flourished. Massachusetts Republican Senator Edward Brooke played a pivotal role in the passage of President Lyndon Johnson’s legislative agenda including voting for the Voting Rights Act and the creation of Medicare and Medicaid. On the other hand, there were southern Democrats that staunchly opposed Johnson’s civil rights agenda, but supported many of his social welfare policies. In the 1980’s, there was still a diversity of thought within the Democratic and Republican Caucuses. Dozens of Democrats voted to enact President Reagan’s historic Roth-Kemp tax cuts. Speaker Tip O’Neil worked alongside President Reagan to shore up the Social Security program. Democratic Senator Ernest “Fritz” Hollings joined with Republicans Phil Gramm and Warren Rudman to impose caps on discretionary spending in a bipartisan attempt at fiscal restraint.

As time has passed, Republicans have become more conservative, and Democrats have become more liberal. Exceptions do exist. Susan Collins and Joe Manchin immediately come to mind. However, partisans on both sides seem to ignore the benefits of ideological diversity within their parties.

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is a pariah to many in the Democratic Party. During the era of Trump, Manchin voted to confirm many of the President’s cabinet appointments including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He was one of three Democrats to vote for the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. Manchin was even considered by President Trump to serve as a member of his cabinet. Manchin is the most conservative Democrat within the caucus. Faced with these facts, some liberals say Manchin might as well be a republican. Some liberals want to primary Senator Manchin. This move would be shortsighted. Manchin, despite his voting record, voted to block the unqualified Betsy DeVos. He voted to block the many attempts of Senate Republicans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Most importantly, he voted for Chuck Schumer to be Majority Leader. A generic Republican would have voted for Mitch McConnell. This is what many liberals don’t realize.

Democrats should look back to how they regained the House during the 2006 midterm elections. Leadership allowed Democrats from all corners of the country to run their races as they pleased, and candidates were allowed to take policy positions that reflected the composition of their districts, not their partisan orthodoxy. Chairman Rahm Emanuel vetted outstanding candidates no matter whether or not they were pro-life or pro-choice. They were Democrats. They believed in a living wage. They believed in affordable and accessible healthcare for all Americans. They believed in America’s teachers and their students, and they still do. While each Democrat may not believe in every single element of the party platform, they are Democrats nonetheless. Leadership should support candidates from all corners of the country whether they are liberal, moderate, or even conservative.


James Nickerson is a Senior Editor at Sojourn Review. You can follow him on Twitter here.