The potential electoral wave of 2018 is taking shape in exactly the same way as the 2006 wave that gave Democrats control of the House for the first time since 1994. But Democrats should be wary of repeating the same mistakes that cost them the majority after only four years in power — mistakes that helped create the Tea Party and led to an astonishing 63-seat loss for House Democrats in 2010.
I learned these lessons firsthand as a Democratic candidate in a Republican-leaning swing seat in 2006. During the hard-fought campaign before the election, as I and dozens of other centrist candidates around the country were making the case for bipartisanship and moderation in Congress, Pelosi was working overtime to divide the parties into two warring factions. Believing it was politically advantageous to draw a clear contrast between the parties, Pelosi urged Democratic House Members to stand in uniform opposition to key Republican initiatives.
During this time, some liberal advocacy groups took this strategy a step further by threatening primary challenges against incumbent Democrats who worked with their Republican colleagues, going so far as to air a negative ad against Democratic Congressman Allen Boyd. Boyd represented a Florida district that had overwhelmingly supported President George W. Bush only months before.
As a candidate engaged in a fierce battle to win a competitive seat, I took note of the fact that the type of Democrat many liberal groups seemed to be opposing — thoughtful centrists willing to work with both sides in search of bipartisan solutions — was exactly the type of Congressman I planned to be. Yet Democrats won control of the House that year in a wave dominated not by the progressive left, but by centrist candidates who had campaigned against polarization in Washington.
As the new Congress convened in 2007, labor unions and liberal activists combined to form a new outside group — a Super PAC known as Working For Us — that was specifically designed to do for Democrats what the Club for Growth PAC has done for Republicans. Club for Growth incentivized candidates and incumbents to move away from the political center and gravitate toward the ideological extreme; Working For Us vowed to promote and fund primary challenges to any Democrat who voted “to undermine the progressive economic agenda.”
Within a matter of months, the chairwoman of the House Progressive Caucus was already calling for primaries against her moderate Democratic colleagues — some of the very people who were responsible for Democrats being in the majority in the first place. All of this helped cement a culture on Capitol Hill where compromise is a dirty word and bipartisan cooperation is considered a treasonous act to those on the ideological extremes.