Stacey Abrams was repeatedly praised as a "bold progressive" with an "unapologetically left" agenda during her failed gubernatorial campaign in 2018. Now that she's running again in 2022, Abrams and her media allies would like to revise the record by insisting that she is in fact a pragmatic moderate.
Astead Herndon's most recent piece in the New York Times suggests the Stacey Abrams rebranding effort is well underway. Herndon, author of articles such as "Menace Enters the Republican Mainstream," conducted his own "review" of Abrams's political ideology and found "a leader who has carefully calibrated her positions, making a point to avoid drifting into one Democratic lane or another."
The article includes a revealing quote from Democratic megadonor Steve Phillips about why white progressives, who comprise the vast majority of party activists and professional journalists, have been so willing to embrace Abrams as one of their own. "It's hard for white progressives to be too critical of someone who is so strongly and fiercely unapologetically Black and female," Phillips told the Times. "Her authenticity comes from the sectors that are the core parts of the progressive base."
It's certainly true that the white progressives who dominate the Democratic Party at the national level are egregiously out of touch with the policy preferences of most minority voters. Abrams has been reluctant to embrace extreme left-wing positions that might offend her billionaire donors, such as defunding the police, single-payer health care, and the Green New Deal. Whether or not that makes her a "moderate" is a different question.
The media coverage of the 2018 campaign, for example, was rather emphatic in terms of promoting Abrams as an example of how Democrats could find success by rejecting moderation. As it happens, much of the coverage appeared in the pages of the New York Times.
The Times published an opinion piece in May 2018 arguing that Abrams could "change the way Democrats win in the South." Emory University professor Alan Abramowitz noted that Abrams "ran as an outspoken progressive" in the Democratic primary and was endorsed by socialist senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.). Whereas Democrats in Georgia had "hoped to win over moderate-to-conservative white voters," Abrams adopted a new strategy that "emphasized her progressive positions."
Abrams was featured in a September 2018 opinion piece on the "rise of black progressives" who are "unapologetically left" and have "rejected the idea that [they need] centrist Democrats to win." In October 2018, Politico celebrated the "Year of the Black Progressive" by examining how Abrams and other "bold progressive" candidates were "winning Democratic nominations not despite being progressive, but precisely because they're running to the left of their competition to have a shot at winning white liberals."
Writing for the Times on the eve of the election in November 2018, Rutgers University professor Brittney Cooper, aka @ProfessorCrunk, touted Abrams as an example of how black women are "pushing the [Democratic] party farther left" and "creating a new vision for what progressive politics should be and how to get there." This new vision, Cooper argued, signaled a rejection of "the Clinton-era push for centrist voters with down policy positions."
Writing for the Times in January 2022, Herndon suggests the exact opposite is true, noting that Abrams's "pragmatism has encouraged some moderates—including Georgians who served with Ms. Abrams in the State Capitol—to compare her to other center-left national figures who had credibility among the grass-roots base, like Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton."
The article goes on to quote an Abrams spokesman who confirmed that the former progressive icon is actually a pragmatic moderate now who "defines herself by her values and her ability to deliver results for the common good by navigating disparate groups and ideologies."
The rebrand might have something to do with the fact that Abrams and other "bold progressives" didn't fare so well in 2018. Abrams did not win in Georgia, notwithstanding her dangerous plot to subvert democracy by claiming otherwise. Plenty of progressive candidates sought the Democratic nomination in 2020, only to be trounced by the bumbling geezer who wrote the 1994 Crime Bill.
This year's election cycle is shaping up to be even more unfavorable for Democrats, mostly as a result of Joe Biden's failed presidency. If Abrams has to pretend to be a moderate to have any shot at winning, the media will be more than happy to oblige.