After a brutally long primary election cycle and a head-spinning run-up to the general election, the 2018 midterm elections are finally behind us. Sure, the heralded “blue wave” was more of a blue splash, but Democrats took back the House of Representatives and evened the score in governor’s mansions across the country. A new wave of exciting progressive politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) represent the likely future of the Democratic party, marking the first time the Democratic Party has bothered to actually care about people since 1967.  

However, one demographic didn’t come away quite so pleased. For conservative Democrats, the 2018 midterms were an embarrassing affair. Now, it’s not like so-called Blue Dog Democrats, a largely Southern bloc so-called because they were being “choked blue” by both parties’ polarization, were thriving beforehand. The 2010 midterms were something of a bloodbath for the caucus, with 28 of the incumbent 54 members in the dedicated Blue Dog Caucus losing their re-election, per a Nov. 11 Politico article from that year. The upcoming 115th Congress will only feature 18 Blue Dog members, a far cry from their legislative peak during the President Bush Jr. years. 

Of the six Democratic Senators who could reasonably be considered right-leaning, only two appear to be making it out of this election with their jobs intact. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) all were blown out in their re-election efforts, with none of them getting about 45 percent of the vote. Donnelly and McCaskill’s efforts were particularly embarrassing with both Senators coming in support of President Trump’s incredibly racist petition to remove jus soil citizenship in the waning days of the campaign cycle, per an Oct. 30 New York Times article. Guess it would be worth selling out your actual voter base in favor of chasing after that solid Democratic constituency of hardcore xenophobes if you won, right? Missing step there, guys. 

Although his election is headed toward a recount, things don’t look good for Bill Nelson (D-Fla), who tacked way to the center in his race against Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). Jon Tester (D-Mont.) squeaked by in an incredibly close race, aided by accusations of carpetbagging against his opponent, wealthy Maryland real estate developer Matt Rosendale. Voters apparently believed Tester when he said the election was over “who understands the rural nature of this state” in a Nov. 2 Washington Post interview. The only convincing Senate victory for a conservative Democrat was Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), whose vote to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh has made him something of a pariah in a party that already loathes him. 

As for conservative Democratic challengers, forget about it. Former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen’s (D-Tenn.) campaign was a hope spot for national Democrats, but he was swiftly embarrassed by hardline Trumpist Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) in a snoozefest of a race. Democratic Senate candidates in Mississippi, Nebraska and Wyoming all failed to crack 40 percent of the vote. The only Blue Dog anywhere near a Senate victory is Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), currently in the midst of a razor-thin recount

As for Blue Dogs in the House of Representative, their electoral victories weren’t exactly hard-fought. Most returning Blue Dogs either ran unopposed or had the advantage of running against weak opponents. In the most ridiculous example of the cycle, Blue Dog co-chair Dan Lipinski’s (D-Ill.) general election opponent was self-professed neo-Nazi Arthur Jones, who proclaimed that “the Holocaust is what I said it is: It’s an international extortion racket” in a Feb. 6 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times and has disavowed Donald Trump for allowing his daughter to marry the Jewish Jared Kushner. Real stiff competition there. 

While obviously individual electorates and politicians might skew conservative, the apathetic nature with which the Democratic establishment treats Blue Dogs is largely counterproductive. What good comes from having a mildly more palatable conservative stumbling around Congress? If we can’t trust the likes of Manchin to vote for anything resembling a worthwhile agenda, why promote them in the first place? Primaries are won fair and square, but the kingmakers in the party apparatus itself spend far more time kneecapping left-leaning candidates than they do Blue Dogs. 

When national Democrats concede these races to uninspiring, anti-progressive candidates, they show both a complete lack of imagination and a degree of contempt for non-coastal areas. Telling people that the “best we can get” out of West Virginia is Joe Manchin is patronizing and insulting to local activists and political leaders yearning for real change. Baby steps towards semi-competent governance won’t cut it.

In particular, Democrats seem perfectly happy to write off rural areas to the Republicans as a matter of policy. Why not promote candidates with an unambiguous progressive, leftist economic agenda that might appeal to these constituencies? If the Democratic Party is the “big tent” it claims itself to be, it has to realize that leftward progress can be tailored to local populations. You can’t just make strides on race, gender and sexuality in urban areas and give up on the rest of your platform. Real change happens on all fronts. 

If Joe Manchin is going to do the same will he/won’t he dance of a Susan Collins (R-Maine) when the next Brett Kavanaugh saunters into the Senate, why bother getting him into office in the first place? Then again, we can barely trust the Senate Minority Leader either, but neoliberals are a slight one step below Blue Dogs in terms of uselessness. 

Furthermore, the Democratic base clearly is aching for a fighter, not a compromiser. As a case study, look no further than Andrew Gillum who, barring a miracle recount, will lose the Florida governor's race to Ron DeSantis. Gillum’s campaign started strong with a wave of progressive energy, powered by his support for Medicaid for All and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. What happened? Gillum got scared of his own platform and ran away from his left-wing base. 

He tied his campaign closely to 2016 primary scapegoat Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, paid lip service to conservative dog whistles like immigration issues and increased military intervention and accepted speaking tours from centrist bores like Michael Bloomberg and Hillary Clinton. In an Aug. 29 Meet the Press interview, Gillum brushed aside the label of democratic socialist so eagerly embraced by stars like Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, instead insisting that “I am a Democrat. And, frankly, the values that I hold, I think, are consistent with the values of the Democratic Party.”  

Unfortunately for Mr. Gillum, the only consistent Democratic values these days are losing elections and getting screwed over by Republicans. In that regard, Mr. Gillum more than lived up to the party credo.