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Seven Entrepreneurial Paths Toward a Democratic Majority

June 2, 2021
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(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Last week I proposed three theses about our current situation, basically arguing that a governing Democratic majority, consisting of an alliance of welcoming Democrats and pro-democracy ex-Republicans, might be achievable.

I then wondered:

Couldn’t this be a moment when entrepreneurs could bring supply, demand, and the moment together in the political marketplace to create an expanded pro-democracy, governing majority party? . . .

With entrepreneurship and leadership on all fronts—in politics and policy, among the public and among elites—this doesn’t seem an impossible task.

The alternative is to remain mired in a kind of political liquidity trap where the political market will equilibrate at a place that is suboptimal for democracy.

Since the piece appeared, many friends, acquaintances, and correspondents have (understandably) reacted in this way:

Okay, Bill, those three theses are nice. But could you give us just a little help, a mere smidgen of guidance, perhaps a bit of specificity, about where these opportunities for entrepreneurship lie?

It’s a fair question. It’s an important question. It’s also a difficult question. And of course it’s one that by definition is somewhat unanswerable. The history of entrepreneurship, I think, suggests that you discover new opportunities—sometimes the most important ones—only once you’ve begun the effort, and that attempts to lay out the exact shape of one’s enterprise ahead of time turn out to be at least partly wrong

I gather there’s even an entire branch of management theory on this. But it’s enough to think about Trumpism itself for a minute. No one looking to transform the Republican party into a vehicle for revanchist nationalism would have drawn up a plan that hinged on Donald J. Trump, Apprentice host and Reform party has-been. Donald Trump is, if nothing else, an accomplished political entrepreneur—and he demonstrates both the possibilities and improbabilities of successful political entrepreneurship.

On the other hand, it’s surely the case that it is helpful for entrepreneurs to have at least some grasp of the playing field, some sense of the range of possibilities that might produce success, some plans to at least get started with.

So here’s a sketch of seven entrepreneurial ventures or ground-breaking entreprises that could be undertaken to build on my three theses.

1. Thinking

Being a Red Dog Democrat means both that you’re very alarmed about the current authoritarian threat, and that you probably have somewhat more centrist or conservative views than many Democrats. So it’s a bit of mistake simply to think of Red Dogs as moderates. They might be closer to progressives on, say, breaking the filibuster to ensure voting rights—even as they might be hostile to many progressive views on economic or foreign policy. And Red Dogs also might have more in common with progressives than centrists on some particular issues, such as immigration.

So simply embracing “moderate,” rather than progressive, Democrats doesn’t quite capture the Red Dog dynamics.

Which means there’s a lot of fresh policy and intellectual work to be done in elaborating the contours of a Red Dog policy agenda that’s both more urgent and broader than that of many Democrats.

2. Voting

Red Dog ex-Republicans can influence the future of the Democratic party by voting in Democratic primaries. Entrepreneurs can encourage Red Dogs to vote in those contests, could organize attempts to persuade them, and, depending on state primary rules, could also start efforts to re-register Red Dogs as Democrats ahead of time so they can participate.

This would have a double effect: Both shaping the kind of candidates the Democratic party puts forward, while also creating some buy-in to the party from, and standing within the party for, these new Democratic voters.

The good news is that candidates such as Abigail Spanberger, Elissa Slotkin, and Jason Crow won Democratic nominations (and general elections) in 2018 even without organized Red Dog assistance. But there are presumably more nominees of that flavor in other districts who could prevail with early and organized Red Dog help.

3. Safe-Seat or Competitive-Seat Recruiting

Red Dog entrepreneurs don’t have to wait for attractive Democratic candidates to show up. They could pro-actively recruit candidates to run in Democratic primaries, including in relatively safe Democratic seats—which would mean they’d be elected in November. Lots of seats are relatively safe Democratic seats without having primary electorates that are especially progressive. These could be safe Red Dog-friendly Democratic seats.

4. Long-Shot Recruiting

Liam Kerr lays out this idea nicely: There are seats that are likely Republican—but that could still be competitive—that Democrats have often not really contested. The kind of Democrat thrown up by a normal nominating process in such environments would be unlikely to win these seats. But an ex-independent or ex- Republican who can win the Democratic nomination, and then peel off a few percentage points of the Republican vote in the general election, might have a chance for an upset. So contesting likely Republican seats with Red Dog Democrats might result in a couple of upsets.

(I’d add that the turmoil caused by redistricting helps Red Dog chances with respect to strategies 3 and 4.)

5. Flipping Incumbents

The Red Dog cause would benefit from a prominent incumbent who switches parties, makes a big deal about doing so, and then is reelected as a member of the other party. One member of Congress pulling a reverse Phil Gramm (flipping from a Republican to a Democrat) in 2021-2022 could have an outsized effect on the national dynamic. And of course these elected officials would be more likely to switch if they knew some organized Red Dog support awaited them.

6. The Narrative

The narrative matters, much as we might wish it didn’t. Success in any of the above endeavors could have an outsized effect on talk about the future of the Democratic party, since narratives can become somewhat self-fulfilling. An organized effort to self-consciously promote Red Dog successes, or even possible successes, as signposts on the way to a Red Dog future, could help create that future.

7. Joe Biden

It’s amazing how often one forgets that a moderate Democrat—call him a Red Dog-adjacent Democrat—won the Democratic nomination in 2020. And that this man is now in the White House. Where he has had an approval rating solidly over 50 percent since Election Day.

These facts should presumably count for something, both because it suggests the possibility of a Red Dog-adjacent Demcoratic Party, and because the Biden White House might put a thumb or two on the scales to help produce one. And while the Biden White House will not gratuitously pick fights with progressives, the Biden White House may see at some point that it is in its electoral and policy interest to have more and younger Biden Democrats in Congress and state houses, helping to shape the future of the party. Red Dog entrepreneurs can help prod the Biden White House in this direction.

So: Are there some plausible and attractive paths forward for enterprising Red Dogs? Are there opportunities for entrepreneurial talent or risk-taking venture capital?

I dare say so.

Is an actual Red Dog pathway to a Democratic majority likely, or even possible?

We won’t know if we don’t try.

William Kristol

William Kristol is editor-at-large of The Bulwark.