Jul 10, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Rise of the anti-"woke" Democrat

Mayoral candidate Eric Adams greets NYPD officers in Manhattan on Wednesday.

Mayoral candidate Eric Adams greets NYPD officers in Manhattan on Wednesday. Photo: John Minchillo/AP

A growing number of Democrats are ringing the alarm that their party sounds — and acts — too judgmental, too sensitive, too "woke" to large swaths of America. 

Why it matters: These Democrats warn that by jamming politically correct terms or new norms down the throats of voters, they risk exacerbating the cultural wars — and inadvertently helping Trumpian candidates. 

Top Democrats confide that they're very aware of the danger. Already, we've seen a widespread pullback in the "defund the police" rhetoric.

  • Former NYPD captain Eric Adams, who this week won New York City's Democratic mayoral primary, showed his party the power of a message that supports police while including justice and reform.
  • "If we are for SAFETY — we NEED the NYPD!" Adams says on his campaign site. "At the same time," he acknowledges, "we face a crisis of confidence in our police."

Democratic strategist James Carville has been warning his party about this for months, telling Vox in an April interview:

  • "You ever get the sense that people in faculty lounges in fancy colleges use a different language than ordinary people? ... This is not how voters talk."

Conservative columnist Peggy Noonan wrote this week in the Wall Street Journal that she believes the left is misreading its position and "overplaying its hand."

  • She cited a new essay by Kevin Drum, formerly of Washington Monthly and Mother Jones, who wrote: "[T]he truth is that the Democratic Party has been pulled far enough left that even lots of non-crazy people find us just plain scary — something that Fox News takes vigorous advantage of."

On the flip side, "How to Be an Antiracist" author Ibram X. Kendi, who directs Boston University's Center for Antiracist Research, wrote in The Atlantic on Friday that Republican operatives "have conjured an imagined monster to scare the American people and project themselves as the nation’s defenders from that fictional monster."

What we're hearing: Moderate and swing-district lawmakers and aides tell Axios' Margaret Talev and Alayna Treene that the party could suffer massive losses in next year's midterms if Democrats run like Sen. Elizabeth Warren is president.

  • One former Senate aide said it's "bye-bye majority" if Democrats run on "extreme wokeness."

Between the lines: The big question is how different the midterms will be from 2020. People voted for Democrats in November when the same talking points and ideas were being discussed. The presidency was at stake, but the other cultural or social issues were the same.

What to watch: This tension is a huge test for President Biden. He knows that the rising left in his party, while great for fundraising and media coverage, could be electorally disastrous.

Axios' Kim Hart and Alayna Treene contributed reporting.

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