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Why Progressive Democrats Keep Getting Crushed

What voters want vs. what activists want.
June 9, 2022
The Defund The Police Experiment Is Officially Over | Not My Party With Tim Miller

[Editor’s note: Watch Not My Party every week on Snapchat.]

Tim Miller: The Democratic party is in the middle of a vibe shift. Out with “Defund the Police,” in with “Please protect my street.”

Nancy Pelosi: Protect and defend in every way is our oath of office. . . . “Defund the Police” is dead.

Miller: This is “Not My Party,” brought to you by The Bulwark. On Tuesday, in California’s primary elections, Democrats once again sent a message to politicians in their party.

Russell Jackson (Željko Ivanek in Madam Secretary): It’s a clear message.

Miller: They’re sick of crime, homelessness, and they are done with the Defund the Police experiment.

Citizen Z (DJ Qualls in Z Nation): That was quick.

Miller: It was a dramatic fall for a movement that was once the belle of the ball. Let’s rewind and see how we got here. Following the brutal killing of George Floyd, progressive activists thought the national groundswell was their moment to push for extreme changes in policing.

Lisa Bender: Our commitment is to end our city’s toxic relationship with the police department.

Miller: Democratic politicians deferred to the activists and mistakenly interpreted the widespread support for cracking down on racist, killer cops as an endorsement of the entire “Defund” program.

Cori Bush: Suck it up. Defunding the police has to happen.

Miller: This was a disastrous mistake—and politically, it was a total loser. A recent poll that caught my eye asked voters how their views of a politician would change based on certain actions. Second to last in favorability is getting a Mitch McConnell endorsement. And dead last was supporting Defund the Police. The best polling issue? Support for giving police the funding they need.

Joe Biden: The answer’s not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police.

Miller: This backlash wasn’t just from suburban Karens. Polls show black voters rejected “Defund” overwhelmingly as well.

George Costanzo (Jason Alexander on Seinfeld): I did not know that.

Miller: But more than the polling, the reality of these reforms had a negative impact for the quality of life for people living in these big blue metros. Let’s teleport to the big Democratic-run cities to see what’s going on. In Seattle, after the CHAZ anarchy experiment—

Reporter (voiceover): “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.”

Miller: —a moderate mayor replaced the old progressive regime by promising to clean up homelessness. And Seattle elected their first Republican city attorney in 39 years.

Walter Blunt (Patrick Stewart on Blunt Talk): Mild shock.

Miller: In L.A., a billionaire former Republican, who donated to W. and Mitt, is headed to a runoff in the mayor’s race, running on that same clean-up-the-streets message.

Kim Kardashian: I don’t typically endorse anyone in politics. . . . Rick Caruso is my choice.

Miller: In San Francisco, far-left district attorney Chesa Boudin was recalled in a city that has fewer Republicans than a Jake Paul Hype House. In New York, Eric Adams won the mayor’s race, running a pro-cop campaign, beating out the AOC-endorsed Maya Wiley. What this shows is big-city Democratic voters are looking for change they can believe in. And that change doesn’t look like AOC.

Bean (from Disenchantment): That’s gonna be a hard nope.

Miller: Now, let’s be clear. They aren’t exactly looking for some race-baiting “law and order” MAGA either.

Donald Trump: Law and order.

Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid in Revenge of the Sith): For a safe and secure society.

Miller: These voters want sensible reforms that balance public safety and human rights. Democrats who are smart should take advantage of this vibe shift and give voters the practical alternatives they’re looking for, or else they’re gonna get beat by more closet Republicans who are gaming the system.

Nora Diniro (Samantha Mathis in Pump Up the Volume): Is this all just a game to you?

Nikolai Jakov (from Archer): Pretty much, yeah.

Miller: A Democratic reform agenda on policing and crime would look something like this: (1) Hold police accountable with things like body cameras and banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants. (2) End the qualified immunity that protects killer cops. (3) Criminal justice reform that reduces sentences for nonviolent and drug offenders.

Kenny Davis (Harland Williams in Half Baked): My weed’s wearing off.

Miller: (4) And most importantly, funding the cops who are responsive to a community’s needs. Plus, additional resources to clean up homelessness and make city life more livable. Progressives who are unhappy with getting their wings clipped will either have to come up with an alternative that responds to what their own voters want, or figure out how to turn out way more young lefties to vote.

Keith (John Legend in La La Land): Where are the kids? Where are the young people?

Marcus White (Jon Barinholtz on Superstore): Partying hard.

Miller: In California, on Tuesday the turnout among young voters was way down, despite desperate pleas from the L.A. influencer crowd.

♪ Because you know I’m all about that bass ♪ ♪ ’Bout that bass for mayor ♪

Miller: And if they don’t adapt to this ongoing vibe shift, this trend that’s propelling Republicans and more centrist Democrats to wins in blue cities will continue, while the pro-Defund Berniecrats are only winning flame wars on Twitter. We’ll see you next week for a recap of the January 6th hearings. Watch them.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.