In a Democratic Party that’s been shedding white working-class voters during the Obama era, leaders would be wise to pay closer attention to Webb’s views on economic and cultural issue—and consider co-opting some as their own. On paper, his resume is first-rate: decorated Vietnam War veteran, secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, swing-state Democratic senator, and an acclaimed author. At a time when economic anxiety is a defining feature of American politics, Webb’s record on the subject is as impressive as Elizabeth Warren’s. That he’s treated more like a fringe figure these days is a testament to how far his party has drifted from its roots.
Consider: There will be only five red-state Senate Democrats left in the next Congress if, as expected, Sen. Mary Landrieu is defeated in next month’s runoff. Even more striking, there will be only five House Democrats left representing districts that Mitt Romney carried in 2012. The once-influential Blue Dog Caucus of fiscally hawkish Democrats is all but extinct. Republicans now boast twice as many blue-state senators (10) and five times as many blue-district representatives (25) than their Democratic counterparts in red territory.
While lots of ink has been spilled charting the GOP’s drift rightward, the Democratic Party’s move toward ideological homogeneity has been shorter and swifter. In 2006, the year Webb was elected to the Senate, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel elected dozens of moderate-minded representatives across the country with conservative views on gun control and immigration. Even in 2008, when Barack Obama headed the Democratic ticket, House Democrats won deeply conservative districts in northern Mississippi, suburban Louisiana, and rural Alabama. Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who lost by 17 points in his bid for a third term, didn’t even face Republican opposition six years earlier. This isn’t ancient history.