The year is 1994 and the Democrats have just suffered a catastrophic defeat in the Congressional elections. The Republicans, under the leadership of Newt Gingrich, have successfully picked up fifty-four seats cementing themselves as the new majority party in Congress. The current Democratic Speaker of the House, Tom Foley (D-Washington) was even defeated in his election, a good indication of the beating the Democrats had just received in Congress.
The reason for this Republican victory can largely be accredited to Gingrich, who was able to convince people that Bill Clinton’s proposed healthcare reform was an abandonment of the moderate, “New Democrat” positions he had previously campaigned on. Gingrich created what he called a “Contract with America”, which focused on curbing federal power. The Democrats had veered too far left and Republican politicians, like Gingrich, were able to use this as a tool to win over moderate voters.
Twenty-three moderate, Democratic Congressman got together and decided that someone needed to stand up against the far-left members of their party before the Democrats were turned into unelectable radicals. These Congressmen would hold meetings in the office of Billy Tauzin, a Democratic representative from Louisiana. On Tauzin’s wall hung one of George Rodrigue’s famous Blue Dog paintings. The members of this group, in reference to the painting on Tauzin’s wall, called themselves the Blue Dog Coalition, which lead to the term “Blue Dog Democrat.”
Interestingly, Tauzin actually switched to the Republicans shortly after the founding of the Blue Dog Coalition, as he felt that conservatives were no longer welcome in the Democratic Party. Tauzin also later became the Deputy majority whip of the Republicans, making him the first Congressman ever to have leadership in both parties in the House. (He was a previous assistant majority whip for the Democrats).
Members of the Blue Dog Coalition are essentially moderates with a very small left leaning. They often come from Southern states and conservative districts that rarely elect Democrats as their representatives. The Blue Dog’s voting habits are very unpredictable and, as a result, both parties will often court their crucial votes. While each member is different, some more moderate than others, I would say a good representation of Blue Dog Democrats are fiscally conservative, social liberals who advocate a strong national defense.
The Blue Dog Coalition’s size and power has swayed over the years as the country moves in different political directions. Today, the Republicans hold a strong enough majority over Congress that they do not need any of the Blue Dog’s votes. Furthermore, as districts become increasingly gerrymandered it has become a lot harder for moderates to win any seats. This gerrymandering has led to a decrease in the membership of Blue Dog Democrats who only had 14 members in the 2015-2016 Congressional term. Despite their small numbers and relative insignificance (voting wise), Republicans in Congress will often reach out to Blue Dogs to be co-sponsors of their legislation in order for them to claim bi-partisan support of their legislation.
Many in the left strongly dislike the unpredictable voting pattern of the Blue Dog Coalition and will prop up more Liberal candidates in an attempt to outflank and defeat Blue Dog Congressman in their respective Congressional primaries. What many in the left seem to increasingly fail to realize is how crucial the Blue Dogs are for the Democratic Party’s future success. These Congressmen have successfully won conservative districts while wearing the Democratic label. People can idolize Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders all they want but, truthfully, these candidates are unelectable and would have dismal success if they ran for government anywhere out of their dark blue enclaves of Massachusetts and Vermont.
Politics is a dog-eat-dog world and if Democrats want to stay on top, it is paramount that they realize: the best dogs come in blue.