Democrats Have a Very Good Problem on Their Hands
(Bloomberg View) -- We'll see whether Democrats flock to the polls in off-year elections this November and in the midterms next year, but one thing is already certain: A flood of them are running for office.
On the one hand, as political scientist Seth Masket points out (see also Ed Kilgore on this topic), this is very good news for the party. Quality candidates win elections, even if nothing else is going in a party's direction. The fact that candidates are coming out of the woodwork is both an indication of general energy in the party and something that will still matter even if that enthusiasm dissipates a bit over the next several months.
On the other hand, however, there's pretty clearly a massive coordination problem for the party. Some of these candidates are in fact very qualified and will do well in U.S. House elections and, if they win, in the House. Others likely have plenty of potential to become great politicians but really should be starting out running for seats in state legislatures or other down-ballot campaigns. And still others probably should be gently steered toward stuffing envelopes or, in some cases, away from any involvement.
In hierarchical political parties, this sort of thing is fairly easy to do. The Democrats (and the Republicans) are no such animals. Anyone can run for anything, and there's no one to tell them not to (or at least no one who can say "no" and make it stick). Formal party officials and staff have some resources they can use to create incentives, and others within the party network also control resources, but coordinating all of that may prove to be very, very difficult. Especially since a surplus of candidates is a problem that very few within the party have much experience with.
It's not just getting the right people to run for the right offices, either.
A lot of the new candidates are going to lose. That's just the nature of politics. Some will lose in general elections, and others will lose in primaries, sometimes to party veterans who might seem stale and out-of-touch to some of the new folks. So one of the party's goals is going to have to be sustaining the enthusiasm of those losing candidates so that they become longer-term contributors, either as candidates or in other roles. And again, U.S. parties are not particularly well organized for that sort of thing.
What are U.S. parties good at? They are remarkably permeable, which is why Democrats have this "problem" and this opportunity to begin with. Anyone can show up and participate, and if lots of new people come in with new energy and new policy ideas, they can make a difference in remarkably little time. But the same lack of entrenched bureaucracy and fundamentally networked structure that makes them so easy to join -- which makes them, in important ways, so democratic -- can also make a lot of management tasks unusually difficult.
So I'll be watching how all of this shakes out. Republicans had similar issues in 2014 and especially 2010, and it often went quite badly -- but they showed how party dysfunction can go hand in hand with winning plenty of elections. Let's see if Democrats can do better.
1. Jamila Michener at the Monkey Cage on Medicaid and political efficacy.
2. Dan Drezner is brutal to Jared Kushner.
3. My Bloomberg View colleague Noah Smith has some suggestions for improving the U.S. economy.
4. Slate's Fred Kaplan on how Germany memorializes the past.
5. And Kevin Drum on who benefits from Donald Trump's tax plan.
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Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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