The Republican Party has made its position on dissidents from the Trump ideological line crystal clear. They are not welcome. If conservative stalwarts like Rep. Liz Cheney get booted from the party leadership for speaking plainly about the ex-president’s lies about a “stolen” election in 2020, there is little hope that the party of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush will return to a sensible conservative—and pro-democracy—position anytime soon.
So, how should these dissident Republicans respond? As an interesting debate hosted by the good folks at the Niskanen Center highlighted, there are three potential options: (1) some Republicans will want to stay and fight for a new, reformist position within the GOP; (2) others may want to bolt the party altogether and try a third-party option; or (3) disenchanted Republicans could switch partisan sides and become new moderate voices inside the Democratic Party.
TLP is neutral on which of these makes the most sense. It’s not our place to tell Republican voters what to do with their own party affiliation. It’s not easy for people to just leave a party that has defined their political identity for many years.
However, as liberal Democrats committed to an open-minded and egalitarian party, built around national economic development and cultural moderation, we believe Democrats should offer an outstretched hand and a welcoming face to anyone who might be looking for a new political home—as any smart party committed to winning more elections in moderate or conservative states and districts must do.
This third group of party switchers, let’s call them “Biden Republicans” for now, makes up roughly 7-9 percent of Republican voters nationally and in key states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona that decided the election, according to the AP’s Votecast study. Not a huge group but still potentially important given increasingly close elections these days.
Biden Republicans are typically described as more affluent and educated suburban voters, including many women. This is mostly correct if overstated. A larger group of potential converts is more demographically and ideologically complex if you widen the lens to include all Trump-Biden voters and not just ex-Republicans.
For example, in a pre-election analysis of Trump-Biden voters, Ruy Teixeira and I found these voters are roughly one third white with a college degree, one third white without a college degree, and one third non-white voters of all education levels. This diverse group holds a range of views compatible with the emerging new center in politics:
Trump-Biden voters’ views may be summarized as progressive on economics and moderate to conservative on social issues. For example, 70 percent of Trump-Biden voters support increasing taxes on those earning over $600,000 per year, and 60 percent of these voters back tax cuts for those earning $100,000 or less annually.
Nearly 6 in 10 Trump-Biden voters support steps to ensure students can graduate from college debt-free or to enact a jobs guarantee, respectively. More than 7 in 10 voters back expansive steps to combat global warming through new clean energy investments. More than 70 percent support paid family leave, and about two-thirds support a $15 per hour minimum wage. On health care, they support a public option for government health insurance, at 70 percent; less than half support a Medicare-for-all proposal.
Trump-Biden voters present an interesting mix of views on the proper role of government in society. On immigration, for example, a plurality of Trump-Biden voters oppose Trump’s Mexican border wall. Nearly three-quarters back a path to citizenship for “dreamers,” or those who arrived as children without documents. But nearly half of voters support moving from a family-based immigration system to one based on merit.
Fully 78 percent believe that government should promote traditional family values in society; nearly half support allowing vouchers for private or religious schools; and more than 60 percent think the Ten Commandments should be allowed to be displayed at public schools and courthouses.
By wide margins, Trump-Biden voters oppose reparations for slavery and believe that there are only two genders, male and female. On guns, they express moderate views: 62 percent oppose banning all guns, while 85 percent support background checks for all gun purchases.
If you combine these two groups—whiter, more affluent and educated Biden Republicans and more working class and multiracial Trump-Biden voters—you can see the outlines of a successful outreach strategy for Democrats based on core national values and a pro-worker, pro-family, pro-America agenda:
The Democratic Party welcomes anyone who wants to help workers and their families get ahead in life and stand up for America’s interests in the world. We believe in equal dignity and rights for all people, freedom of thought and speech, and political cooperation carried out in good faith and with good will towards others.
If Democrats want to get over the 50-50 split in the Senate—and build legislative majorities greater than a few seats in Congress and in some state houses—they need to actively embrace a true big tent philosophy and reject dogmatism of any kind that fails to persuade others to join the liberal democratic cause for national renewal. Recruit Biden Republicans to run in conservative-leaning districts and states and welcome these voters into campaigns in other environments.
Democrats will not be rejecting their own values in taking this approach. Rather, the party will be doing the labor and outreach necessary to build more consensus and find more backers for their agenda for America.