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Progressive Populism Will Save the Democratic Party

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  • Bumper Sticker Politics

    Will progressive-populist policies attract voters? Third Way president Jonathan Cowan argues no.

  • A New, New Deal?

    Jeff Weaver, a longtime adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders, argues that it’s time for the Democratic Party to rebuild a grand New Deal coalition.

  • Bernie vs. Hillary

    Former counselor to the Security of the Treasury Steven Rattner goes head-to-head with Jeff Weaver on the 2016 election.

  • Donald Trump & Medicare for All

    Will Medicare-for-all messaging help beat Trump in 2020? Steven Rattner and Jeff Weaver debate.

  • Audience Question: Democrats & Foreign Policy

    Our panelists agree: The United States should not wage war across the world.

  • History Makers

    National spokesperson for Karine Jean-Pierre argues that the midterms are full of history-making progressive candidates.

  • Audience Question: Win Me Over

    How can Democrats win over independents? Jeff Weaver responds.

Debate Details

Progressive Populism

As Democratic leaders and strategists gear up for the 2018 and 2020 elections, the party stands at a crossroads. For progressive populists, the path forward is clear: Democrats must get back in touch with the party’s working-class roots by championing a specific set of policies, including Medicare for all, free public college tuition, a guaranteed federal jobs program, and housing as a human right. They say this strategy is key to winning back disillusioned working-class voters and to regaining power in Washington and beyond. But others view this as a dangerous path. They argue that a handful of high-profile progressive wins have been overhyped by the media and, rather than make promises that may be impossible to execute in this political climate, Democrats should champion centrist, economically viable policies that will win elections and solidify the base. How can the Democratic Party, out of power and outnumbered in Washington D.C. and state capitals across the nation, bring itself out of the political wilderness?


The Debaters

For the motion

Karine Jean-Pierre

Karine Jean-Pierre

National Spokesperson & Senior Adviser,

Karine Jean-Pierre is the national spokesperson and senior adviser for, a progressive public policy advocacy group and political action... Read More

Jeff Weaver

Jeff Weaver

Campaign Manager, Bernie Sanders's 2016 Presidential Campaign & Author, “How Bernie Won”

Jeff Weaver is a senior political adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders and was the campaign manager for Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign. After... Read More

Against the motion

Jonathan Cowan

Jonathan Cowan

Co-Founder & President, Third Way

Jonathan Cowan is the co-founder and president of Third Way, a leading public policy think tank and prominent voice in center-left debates in America... Read More

Steven Rattner

Steven Rattner

Chairman & CEO, Willett Advisors LLC

Steven Rattner is the chairman and chief executive officer of Willett Advisors LLC, the investment arm for former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • Rising stars on the progressive left like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are gaining momentum among those who feel left behind in the 21st-century economy. Their economic message could win over swing-state voters – including some Trump voters – for the Democrats. 
  • As Americans adapt to a new economy, progressive populists argue that policies like Medicare for all, free public college tuition, and a federal jobs program will finally bridge the ever-widening inequality gap in our nation.  
  • Following huge Democratic losses in 2016, progressives promise to shake-up the party by replacing establishment Democrats who, they argue, are out of touch with both their constituents and the values that have long fueled Democratic movements in the past. 
Against The Motion
  • Rather than moving to the far left, centrists argue, the Democratic Party should promote experienced, center-left candidates who have the knowledge and political capital to win back working-class voters in the Midwest and beyond. 
  • Policies like Medicare for all, free public college, and a federal jobs program come with an exorbitant price tag. Rather than promising sweeping overhauls, centrists say, Democrats should create real opportunities for Americans by promoting pragmatic – and viable – economic policies.
  • Progressive populists, though dominating the headlines, have not yet proven their electoral viability. Centrists argue that rather than spark a nation-wide progressive wave, some of these candidates will win in already-blue districts, oust experienced Democrats, and fracture the party further.

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The Research

The Research

Tracking the House Races to Watch in the 2018 Midterm Elections

Jasmine C. Lee
September 26, 2018

"Democrats must flip at least 23 Republican-held seats to retake the House this November. There are currently 68 highly competitive seats — those considered a tossup between the two parties or leaning slightly toward one — according to race ratings provided by the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper."

Toward a Progressive Populism

Ehsan Zaffar
February 9, 2017

“As a check on power, progressive populism can serve a useful purpose. But populism driven by authoritarian forces can leave governments in disarray and even lead to armed conflict (see 1930s Germany).”

Far-left candidates did poorly in the Democratic primaries

The Economist
September 20, 2018

“The vast majority of democratic socialists lost to candidates approved by the party.”

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