Skip to contents
Elections
Free

Jim Clyburn Should Stop Telling Democrats What Works From His Safe Liberal Seat

Instead of getting stuck in Clyburn's echo chamber, let's look at the data.

Axios screenshot

Fellow Democrats—are you like me, and tired of self-styled “progressives” telling our most important candidates in swing districts and red states how to run their races?

The latest member of the “Squad” to do this is upstart Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the House Majority Whip who has represented a comfortably D+19 seat based in Charleston and Columbia for nearly 30 years. In the wake of downballot Democratic defeats last Tuesday, including in his home state, Clyburn, instead of keeping his disagreements in-house, has been making the rounds in the press to insist that other Democrats not mention Medicare for All or defunding the police.

“This foolishness about ‘you’ve got to be this progressive or that progressive.’ That phrase ‘defund the police’ cost Jaime Harrison tremendously,” Clyburn told Axios, referring to the South Carolina U.S. Senate candidate who raised more than $100 million and then lost to Lindsey Graham by double-digits. “I don’t blame progressive members, I want everybody in my caucus to be as practical as I am. That’s the difference here.”

“This foolishness about being more progressive than I am, that’s poppycock, and I’m not going to listen to it,” Clyburn added. This was not the only time he said this, as he told CBS News essentially the same thing.

Does that sound like someone who’s more interested in winning congressional majorities, or someone imposing yet another purity test to be the most holier-than-thou progressive in Congress?

Instead of getting stuck in the liberal echo chamber on Twitter, which is not real life, let’s look at the data. When Harrison entered the race last year, polling at the time found him down by as much as 20 points. But in the summer, when protests against the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Black people killed by the police began to hit their peak, Harrison began consistently polling even with Graham in a deeply conservative state.

The polls, it turned out, were deeply wrong; with nearly all the votes counted, Harrison is down by 10 points to Graham and effectively running even with Joe Biden, the Democratic president-elect who didn’t contest South Carolina whatsoever in the general election. But in the third quarter of the 2020 cycle, spanning July through September, Harrison raised nearly $57 million, breaking an all-time record for Senate candidates both in a single quarter on his way to breaking the all-time record for Senate candidates in a single campaign by raising $108 million.

Harrison shattered these records even though he himself did not support Medicare for All, and neither Harrison nor any other major Democratic candidate anywhere ran on a message of socialism or defunding the police during the general election. Maybe—just maybe—he has a better idea of how to run a statewide campaign in South Carolina than a litmus test liberal like Jim Clyburn who has never tried.

Graham still attacked him for it, of course, and the incumbent was also able to skillfully tie Harrison to some of the more radical, fringe elements of his party, such as Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton:

When you look at the facts rather than the noise on Twitter, Harrison ran the exact campaign Clyburn wanted. The reality, however, is that there are more Republican than Democratic voters in South Carolina. The congressman may want to think about that the next time he snipes at his fellow Democrats for doing what they need to in order to win elections.