As Democrats rally around President-elect Joe Biden, many in the party’s centrist wing are increasingly trying to distance themselves from the rhetoric of their far-left colleagues whose open embrace of the term socialism, moderates say, is turning off many would-be voters.
Most notable is Florida Rep.-elect Carlos Gimenez, the former mayor of Miami-Dade County. Gimenez, who fled the Cuban Revolution, told Fox News that Democrats’ “extremism” helped him flip a House seat for Republicans.
“The whole issue of socialism and communism, the extremism of my opponent and many members of the Democrat Party gave us the victory,” Gimenez said. He defeated freshman Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in the 26th District.
“Down here in Miami-Dade County we have people that have come from Cuba. They have people that have come from Cuba. They have come from Venezuela, they’ve come from Nicaragua, south of Central America, and they understand what socialism is all about,” Gimenez said.
During the campaign, President Donald Trump and Republicans frequently hurled the “socialist” label at Democrats, warning that a vote for them in the 2020 presidential election was a vote for a “socialist hellhole.”
Though Trump has been denied a second term, he has continued to use the term, homing in on the Georgia U.S. Senate runoff election on Jan. 5.
Trump has urged his supporters to vote for Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue to prevent the “socialists” and “communists” from gaining control of the U.S. Senate.
“Trump said that Perdue’s opponent, Jon Ossoff, and Loeffler’s opponent, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, are the “two most extreme, far-left, liberal candidates in history.”
To counter Republicans’ attacks, many Democrats have tried to reframe the argument by suggesting that socialist proposals are merely ideas that many Americans support – labels aside.
Rep.-elect Marie Newman, a progressive who counted Ocasio-Cortez among her backers, rejected Republicans’ attempt to brand her party as “socialist,” countering that Democrats are the party of “jobs, jobs, jobs.”
“Republicans have been calling us socialists since about 1901,” Newman, 56, told Fox News recently in an interview during congressional orientation in Washington. “We are not socialists. We are Democrats. Get over it.”
During an appearance on Snapchat’s “Good Luck America” earlier this month, former President Barack Obama acknowledged that “socialism” is still too “loaded” of a word for Democrats to embrace.
“Socialism is still a loaded term for a lot of folks. Once again, instead of talking labels and ideology, we should focus on talking about getting certain things done,” Obama said.
He suggested that more Americans might be willing to embrace certain items on the supposed socialist’s agenda if Democrats ditched the label.
“Nobody really cares about the label,” Obama said. “They care that this is something that is important to a lot of young people and a lot of older people alike.”
Advocates point to a version of socialism called the “Nordic model,” seen in countries like Denmark, which provide high-quality social services such as health care and education while fostering a strong economy.
Labels aside, there are signs that more Americans are warming to the term.
A 2019 Gallup Poll found that 39% of Americans have a favorable opinion of socialism – up from about 20% in 2010; 57% view it negatively.
And according to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC), an annual poll assessing Americans’ attitudes toward socialism, Millennials and Gen Z-ers are becoming increasingly comfortable with socialism.
“We are seeing the high watermark, politically, of socialism [and] Marxism in the United States,” VOC Executive Director Marion Smith told Fox News recently. “Never before in history has the United States seen positive opinions of these ideologies to the extent that we’re seeing today. That’s just a fact.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.