New Democrats, also known as centrist Democrats, Clinton Democrats, or moderate Democrats, are a centrist ideological faction within the Democratic Party in the United States. As the Third Way faction of the party, they support cultural liberalism but take moderate to conservative fiscal stances. New Democrats dominated the party from the late-1980s through the mid-2010s.
After the landslide defeats by the Republican Party led by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, a group of prominent Democrats began to believe their party was out of touch and in need of a radical shift in economic policy and ideas of governance. The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) was founded in 1985 by Al From and a group of like-minded politicians and strategists. They advocated a political Third Way as an antidote to the electoral successes of Reaganism.
The landslide 1984 presidential election defeat spurred centrist Democrats to action and the DLC was formed. The DLC, an unofficial party organization, played a critical role in moving the Democratic Party's policies to the center of the American political spectrum. Prominent Democratic politicians such as Senators Al Gore and Joe Biden (both future Vice Presidents, and Biden a future President) participated in DLC affairs prior to their candidacies for the 1988 Democratic Party nomination. However, the DLC did not want the Democratic Party to be "simply posturing in the middle". The DLC instead framed its ideas as "progressive" and as a "Third Way" to address the problems of its era. Examples of the DLC's policy initiatives can be found in The New American Choice Resolutions.
Although the New Democrat label was briefly used by a progressive reformist group including Gary Hart and Eugene McCarthy in 1989, the term became more widely associated with the New Orleans Declaration and policies of the DLC which in 1990 renamed its bi-monthly magazine from The Mainstream Democrat to The New Democrat. When then-Governor Bill Clinton stepped down as DLC chairman to run for the presidency in the 1992 United States presidential election, he presented himself as a New Democrat.
The first wave New Democrats from the 1980s to 1990s were very similar to Southern Democrats and the Blue Dog Democrats. Al From, the founder of the DLC and its leader until 2009, had been a staffer for Louisiana Representative Gillis Long. Among the presidents of the DLC were Tennessee Senator Al Gore and Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. The first wave New Democrats sought the votes of White working-class Reagan Democrats.
In the 1990s, the New Democrat movement shifted away from the South and the West and moved to the Northeast. At the 1992 United States presidential election, Clinton was elected as the 42nd President of the United States, ending twelve years of Republican dominance. However, the 1994 United States elections gave Republicans control of the House and Senate, effectively wiping out Democratic representation in the South and West.
Presidency of Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton is the Democratic politician most identified with the New Democrats due to his promise of welfare reform in the 1992 United States presidential campaign and its subsequent enactment, his 1992 promise of a middle-class tax cut and his 1993 expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor. New Democrat and Third Way successes under Clinton and the writings of Anthony Giddens are often regarded to have inspired Tony Blair in the United Kingdom and his policies within the Labour Party as New Labour.
Clinton presented himself as a centrist candidate to draw White middle-class voters who had left the Democratic Party for the Republican Party. In 1990, Clinton became the DLC chair. Under his leadership, the DLC founded two-dozen chapters and created a base of support. Running as a New Democrat, Clinton won the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections.
Legislation signed into law with bipartisan support under President Clinton includes:
- The North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.
- The Don't Ask, Don't Tell ban on openly gay people serving in the Armed Forces (repealed in 2010).
- The Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages (ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013).
- The Religious Freedom Restoration Act federal religious discrimination statute.
- The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, sometimes referred to as the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill.
During the Clinton administration, New Democrats were responsible for passing the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993. It raised taxes on the wealthiest 1.2% of taxpayers, while cutting taxes on 15 million low-income families and making tax cuts available to 90% of small businesses. Additionally, it mandated that the budget be balanced over a number of years through the implementation of spending restraints. The top marginal tax rate was raised from 31% to 40% under the Clinton administration. Clinton's promise of welfare reform was passed in the form of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996.
Presidency of Barack Obama
In March 2009, Barack Obama, said in a meeting with the New Democrat Coalition that he was a "New Democrat" and a "pro-growth Democrat", that he "supports free and fair trade" and that he was "very concerned about a return to protectionism".
Throughout the Obama administration, a "free and fair trade" attitude was espoused, including in a 2015 trade report entitled The Economic Benefits of U.S. Trade that noted that free trade "help[s] developing countries lift people out of poverty" and "expand[s] markets for U.S. exports".
Throughout Obama's tenure, approximately 1,000 democrats lost their seats across all levels of government. Specifically, 958 state legislature seats, 62 house seats, 11 Senate seats, and 12 governorships, with a majority of these elected officials identifying as New Democrats. Some analysts such as Henry Eten at Five Thirty Eight, believe this was due to the changing demographic shift, as more Democrats identified as progressive in 2016 than moderate.
Hillary Clinton presidential campaign
Ahead of the 2016 Democratic Party presidential primaries, many New Democrats were backing the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, the wife of former New Democrat president, Bill Clinton who served as a Senator from New York during the 2000s and as Barack Obama's Secretary of State during the early 2010s. Originally considered to be an expected nominee, Clinton faced an unexpected challenge from Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders, whose campaign garnered the support of progressive and younger Democrats. Ultimately, Clinton won 34 of the 57[a] contests, compared to Sanders' 23, and garnered about 55 percent of the vote. Nevertheless, commentators saw the primary as a decline in the strength of New Democrats in the party, and an increasing influence of progressive Democrats within the party.
Ahead of the formal announcement of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, WikiLeaks published the Democratic National Committee email leak, in which DNC operatives, many of whom were New Democrats, seemed to deride Bernie Sanders' campaign and discuss ways to advance Clinton's nomination, leading to the resignation of DNC chair, and New Democrat member, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other implicated officials. The leak was allegedly part of an operation by the Russian government to undermine Hillary Clinton.
Although the ensuing controversy initially focused on emails that dated from relatively late in the primary, when Clinton was nearing the party's nomination, the emails cast doubt on the DNC's neutrality towards progressive and moderate candidates. This was evidenced by alleged bias in the scheduling and conduct of the debates,[b] as well as controversial DNC–Clinton agreements regarding financial arrangements and control over policy and hiring decisions.[c] Other media commentators have disputed the significance of the emails, arguing that the DNC's internal preference for Clinton was not historically unusual and didn't affect the primary enough to sway the outcome. The controversies ultimately led to the formation of a DNC "unity" commission to recommend reforms in the party's primary process.
Presidency of Donald Trump
In the 2018 mid-terms the New Democrat coalition saw massive gains in the size of the coalition, to remain the largest coalition in the party.
Presidency of Joe Biden
In the aftermath of 2020 United States presidential election, Joe Biden, who served as Vice President to Barack Obama, was elected the 46th president. However, in the 2020 United States House of Representatives elections, 13 Democrats lost their seats. All thirteen Democrats that lost their seats had won in the 2018 mid-term elections. Of those 13 members, 10 of them were New Democrats. The New Democrat Coalition became the second largest caucus in the party.
Columnist Michael Lind argued that neoliberalism for New Democrats was the "highest stage" of left liberalism. The counterculture youth of the 1960s became more fiscally conservative in the 1970s and 1980s but retained their cultural liberalism. Many leading New Democrats, including Bill Clinton, started out in the George McGovern wing of the Democratic Party and gradually moved toward the right on economic and military policy. According to historian Walter Scheidel, both major political parties shifted towards promoting free-market capitalism in the 1970s, with Republicans moving further to the political right than Democrats to the political left. He noted that Democrats played a significant role in the financial deregulation of the 1990s. Anthropologist Jason Hickel contended that the neoliberal policies of the Reagan era were carried forward by the Clinton administration, forming a new economic consensus which crossed party lines.
New Democrats have faced criticism from those further to the left. In a 2017 BBC interview, Noam Chomsky said that "the Democrats gave up on the working class forty years ago". Political analyst Thomas Frank asserted that the Democratic Party began to represent the interests of the professional class rather than the working class.
Elected to public office
- Evan Bayh (former)
- Mark Begich (former)
- Maria Cantwell
- Tom Carper
- Bob Casey Jr.
- Max Cleland (former)
- Hillary Clinton (former)
- Chris Coons
- Joe Donnelly (former)
- Dianne Feinstein
- Al Gore (former)
- Maggie Hassan
- Heidi Heitkamp (former)
- John Hickenlooper
- Tim Johnson (former)
- Doug Jones (former)
- Ted Kaufman (former)
- Amy Klobuchar
- Mary Landrieu (former)
- Joe Lieberman (former)
- Blanche Lincoln (former)
- Joe Manchin
- Claire McCaskill (former)
- Bill Nelson (former)
- Barack Obama (former)
- Mark Pryor (former)
- Kyrsten Sinema
- Debbie Stabenow
- Jon Tester
- Mark Warner
House of Representatives
- Pete Aguilar
- Colin Allred
- Brad Ashford (former)
- Ami Bera
- Don Beyer
- Lisa Blunt Rochester
- Carolyn Bourdeaux
- Brendan Boyle
- Anthony Brindisi (former)
- Anthony G. Brown
- Julia Brownley
- Cheri Bustos
- Lois Capps
- Salud Carbajal
- Tony Cardenas
- André Carson
- Ed Case
- Sean Casten
- Joaquin Castro
- Gerry Connolly
- Jim Cooper
- Lou Correa
- Jim Costa
- Joe Courtney
- Angie Craig
- Charlie Crist
- Jason Crow
- Henry Cuellar
- Sharice Davids
- Susan Davis
- Madeleine Dean
- John Delaney (former)
- Suzan DelBene
- Val Demings
- Eliot L. Engel (former)
- Veronica Escobar
- Elizabeth Esty
- Lizzie Fletcher
- Bill Foster
- Vicente Gonzalez
- Josh Gottheimer
- Gwen Graham
- Josh Harder
- Denny Heck
- Jim Himes
- Steven Horsford
- Chrissy Houlahan
- Sara Jacobs
- Bill Keating
- Derek Kilmer
- Ron Kind
- Ann Kirkpatrick
- Raja Krishnamoorthi
- Ann McLane Kuster
- Rick Larsen
- Brenda Lawrence
- Al Lawson
- Susie Lee
- Elaine Luria
- Tom Malinowski
- Sean Patrick Maloney
- Kathy Manning
- Lucy McBath
- Donald McEachin
- Gregory Meeks
- Joe Morelle
- Seth Moulton
- Patrick Murphy
- Stephanie Murphy
- Donald Norcross
- Tom O'Halleran
- Beto O'Rourke (former)
- Jimmy Panetta
- Chris Pappas
- Scott Peters
- Ed Perlmutter
- Dean Phillips
- Pedro Pierluisi
- Mike Quigley
- Kathleen Rice
- Cedric Richmond (former)
- Deborah K. Ross
- Raul Ruiz
- Loretta Sanchez (former)
- Adam Schiff
- Brad Schneider
- Kurt Schrader
- David Scott
- Kim Schrier
- Debbie Wasserman Schultz
- Terri Sewell
- Mikie Sherrill
- Elissa Slotkin
- Adam Smith
- Darren Soto
- Greg Stanton
- Haley Stevens
- Marilyn Strickland
- Norma Torres
- Lori Trahan
- David Trone
- Juan Vargas
- Marc Veasey
- Filemon Vela Jr.
- Jennifer Wexton
- Susan Wild
- Evan Bayh (former)
- Mike Beebe (former)
- Andy Beshear
- Phil Bredesen (former)
- Steve Bullock (former)
- John Carney
- Tom Carper (former)
- Roy Cooper
- Jim Doyle (former)
- Mike Easley (former)
- John Bel Edwards
- Dave Freudenthal (former)
- Christine Gregoire (former)
- Maggie Hassan (former)
- Brad Henry (former)
- John Hickenlooper (former)
- Laura Kelly
- Ted Kulongoski (former)
- Joe Manchin (former)
- Ronnie Musgrove (former)
- Janet Napolitano (former)
- Jared Polis
- Gina Raimondo (former)
- Brian Schweitzer (former)
- Kathleen Sebelius (former)
- Don Siegelman (former)
- Earl Ray Tomblin (former)
- Mark Warner (former)
- Coalition for a Democratic Majority
- Labor Right
- Moderate Dems Working Group
- New Democrat Coalition
- New Democrat Network
- Problem Solvers Caucus
- Radical centrism
- Senate Centrist Coalition
- Third Way (United States)
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- Brazile went on to write a book about the primary and what she called "unethical" behavior in which the DNC (after its debt from 2012 was resolved by the Clinton campaign) gave the Clinton campaign control over hirings and press releases, and allegedly helped it circumvent campaign finance regulation. Several Democratic leaders responded that the joint-fundraising agreement was standard, was for the purpose of the general election, and was also offered to the Sanders campaign. However, another agreement that came to light gave the Clinton campaign powers over the DNC well before the primary was decided. Some media commentators noted that the Clinton campaign's level of influence on staffing decisions was indeed unusual and could have ultimately influenced factors such as the debate schedule.
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