For those not familiar with the term “Blue Dog Democrat” it means a southern Dem with a conservative voting record. This is as opposed to a “Yellow Dog Dem,” who “would rather vote for a yellow dog running in the street than for a Republican.” The Blue Dog Caucus in the House, the group started in 1995, has 18 members. Once upon a time Bill Clinton was considered one. At its height in 2009 it boasted 54 members, 21 percent of the then entire Dem caucus. This cycle sees them, or Dems who claim to be moderates, much in play. But as current DNC Chair Tom Perez, who openly supports socialist candidates, calling them “future of the party,” recently said in a Freudian slip, “There are no more moderate Democrats left.”
That is a false statement, as history has proven that Freud preferred a camisole.
It also seems like hyperbole because of the existence of Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who voted against the president’s tax decrease but voted for Brett Kavanaugh. Manchin is up against the dichotomy now, as he’s in a junkyard dogfight in his race against a Trump-backed GOP challenger. The major polls and media call it leaning Dem. They may be right for once.
However, in days of yore Blue Dogs wildly roamed the political savannah, insuring Dem congressional majorities for almost fifty years. Senators like Jim Webb (a great man, writer, Marine, and American) of Virginia recently, and congressmen like John Stennis of Mississippi in the past, futilely tried to hold the tide against their far left fellow Dems. The old Dixiecrats, though odious on civil rights, fit this bill somewhat. LBJ did also and Reagan’s “boll weevils” did as well. But by the early 70s onto the 80s and 90s, the Dems as a whole had turned even harder left than a significant number of their own electorate. They mirrored the British Labor Party under Michael Foot, whose 1983 election manifesto led one of its own MPs to label it “the longest suicide note in history.”
By 1994, the public figured it out and brought about the regular GOP congressional majorities of the last twenty-five years. Nevertheless, in West Virginia the Blue Dogs held their own until about ten years ago. Webb himself chronicles this in his Born Fighting and J.D. Vance also does in his Hillbilly Elegy.
As their numbers decreased nationally, Blue Dogs held their conservative ground on national defense, guns, and on most cultural issues. But they had never been conservative on economics, preferring Trump-style populism. That’s why President Trump has been a perfect storm there; he pushed all of their buttons. But will the strength of his coattails put GOP nominee Patrick Morrisey in office over Manchin?
To understand the Blue Dog variety I turn to a friend. Since I didn’t ask his permission I won’t mention his name. We’re pals on social media so he may be reading this. His family hails from West Virginia. I’ve known him for over thirty years and he is simply one of the best men I have ever met.
We served together in the First Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas. We were both in intelligence work. He was a DivArty NCO. I was a lowly battalion enlisted analyst in the same. And this guy was “strac”—an army term for spit and polish down to his crewcut. Good at intel and at soldiering, I ran into him several years later in Europe, where he won the VII Corps Soldier of the Year award. He gave me my first obscene nickname, shaking his head at the ground and muttering “fu***** Kamioner” during inspections when he realized I was wearing new wave band concert buttons underneath the chest pocket flaps of my battle dress uniform. I was a damned good intel analyst. But, to be diplomatic, I was a unique and distinctive soldier. In the military intel world that is occasionally appreciated.
When I badly screwed up my knee during desert training at Ft. Irwin and was medevaced to March AFB for surgery, he visited me and claims to have known what room I was in, by hearing me bellow towards the nurses, “I want morphine, not less-phine!”
The point being that this was a model soldier and seemingly conservative guy. He now does very well as a CIO. You would think this is a natural Republican voter. But no way. Not a fan of the president and a self-described —a bit tongue in cheek— “lefty.” We’ve never talked about it much, as pals can steer away from subjects of controversy amongst themselves. But I suspect his Dem voting and lefty ideals stem from a working class core and long family background that still sees any Republican as a guardian of an oligarchy he and West Virginia saw only too well in the days of the powerful coal barons. Some of the rebellious and contrary Copperhead there too, I’m guessing. I bet it’s a tribal thing and no amount of empirical evidence from me will likely convince him otherwise. Many of us are like that on one issue or another. Yellow Dog indeed.
More moderate WV Dems are Manchin’s core and while some do support the president, some will not extend that support to a Republican when the Dem seems conservative enough. Manchin added on to that image with his vote for Kavanaugh. But the other side of that coin means a cadre of hard leftist Dems, that must be at least a third of that party even in conservative West Virginia, will sit on their hands rather than vote for anyone who supported Kavanaugh. That could cost Manchin big and be the margin Morrisey needs to beat him.
Though Manchin is no fool and likely cut an insurance deal for his Kavanaugh vote, if he loses you may see him get a Trump administration appointment or run for something else soon, this time as a Republican with strong support from the president. My call? He squeaks out a win.
In doing such his last stand will have temporarily staved off one impending Blue Dog extinction. But the writing is on the wall. An authoritarian socialist party cannot tolerate moderately conservative representatives at the national level.
It ruins the narrative and sends the wrong message to American masochists everywhere.
Can’t have that at all.