By now, most Americans have heard that Democrat Conor Lamb’s stunning victory in Pennsylvania last week sent a strong message to Republicans (namely about the president’s unpopularity and the growing concern about they should have about the upcoming midterms). However, there is a case to be made that the thirty-three year old’s shocking upset sent just as important of a message to members of his own party.
Lamb is not the typical Democrat. He does support social security, Obamacare and eliminating student debt, but also supports President Trump’s tariffs. Straying from the typical liberal message, Lamb opposes abortion (morally, though accepts the Supreme court’s decision), Nancy Pelosi and gun control. This is a far cry from Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. While it is foolish for Paul Ryan and Trump to label Lamb as a “conservative,” he certainly is not an extreme liberal either.
The fact is, Lamb, like most of the United States, falls somewhere in the middle. He is undoubtedly a Democrat, but does not necessarily agree with every aspect of the Democratic party. He is not caught up in the sharp partisan divide of Washington, D.C. and is unafraid to voice beliefs that may be unpopular with those on the far-left. More than anything, he is representative of the district he serves: fed up with Trump, but not wanting to abandon their values.
Democrats should take a page from Lamb’s book come the midterms. This country at its core is, and has always been, moderate. This is why the party in control in D.C. never remains in power for too long. Voters in plenty of American districts have shown a willingness to vote in a politician on the other side of the aisle, so long as they still maintain many of the fundamental values of their regions.
A problem the Democratic party sometimes has is buying into the mistruth that all Democrats are alike. In reality, Democrats in Pennsylvania and Mississippi differ from Democrats in New York and California. Propping up a Bernie Sanders-type candidate in Wyoming won’t work as well as running one in Oregon. Candidates must bend to the will of their people if they want to get elected in areas that tend to lean conservative.
This is not to say that the Democratic party must completely abandon their values. There must be a negotiation between politicians and constituents. Lamb was able to flip a district that Trump won by twenty points in 2016 by listening to the people. He is still clearly a Democrat and embodies the issues his party holds dear, but also acknowledges his voters’ concerns about guns, jobs and Nancy Pelosi.
Conor Lamb and the Democratic party should not bend on certain key issues, such as abortion, LGBTQ rights, immigration and a slew of other matters that they believe are pivotal to the fundamental values of this country. That being said, the inability to compromise with constituents on the campaign trail could end up being costly at the polls.
Due to social media, Hollywood and the concentration of liberals in prominent U.S. cities, far-left Democrats often like to think that their vision for the country is the prevailing one. They can make the mistake of thinking that they do not need to find a middle ground because all Democrats think the same way they do, which can create the illusion of “liberal elites” in the eyes of voters.
Conor Lamb is an Ivy League-educated liberal Democrat who could easily fit this mold of “latte liberalism,” but instead understands the values of Pennsylvanians in his district and drifts more towards the center than the far-left. While extreme liberalism may win in big cities, rural districts in the middle of the country tend to be more conservative and are willing to vote for Democrats so long as they remain at least semi-centrist. It is a strategy that worked for Bill Clinton in the nineties and is now working for Conor Lamb.
With every seat in Congress pivotal to deciding the ultimate fate of the Trump presidency, Democrats would be wise to heed the strategy of their newest colleague.