Do Democrats Finally Have Their Answer to Trumpism?

John-Fetterman - Credit: (Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Appeal)
What kind of Democrats would it take to win against Donald Trump's Republican Party?
He (almost certainly a he) would be young and white, with a side parting and a square jaw — as "pleasantly harmless" as "vanilla ice cream or a pair of well-pressed khakis," as The Atlantic put it in 2018. His resume would shine before public service, with stints in the Marine Corps (military!) and as a district attorney (law enforcement!). He would defend popular entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicaid while condemning the GOP's 2017 tax breaks for the wealthy. Perhaps he would fire an AR-15 in an ad to prove he "loves to shoot" but demand stricter background checks after a mass shooting.
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In other words, that nominee would be Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Penn.), who won his seat in a March 2018 special election in the GOP-dominated district north of Pittsburgh. The 37-year-old had every reason to believe he could repeat the win at national level.
However, Pennsylvania's Democratic primary voters firmly rejected Lamb's archetypal virtues Tuesday night. John Fetterman, Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, won the US Senate primary in Pennsylvania. The finish equaled a lead he maintained throughout the race despite suffering a stroke late last week and undergoing surgery on day one to install a pacemaker. Fetterman will now face a yet-to-be-determined Republican nominee in what is believed to be the Democrats' best chance of flipping a Senate seat this November.
Fetterman's success defies easy categorization at a time when Democrats are desperate to see what kind of candidate might prevail given their president's relative unpopularity. Much of this sorting has revolved around where the ideal candidate sits on the progressive to moderate spectrum – with all parties involved unsurprisingly arguing that whichever ideology they favor for political reasons is also the most politically expedient. Fetterman, who has advanced degrees from Harvard but also a Carhartt aesthetic backed by deserved credibility among working-class voters, doesn't exactly fit that spectrum. And on Tuesday, Pennsylvania's primary electorate chose someone who is neither a Republican-Lite nor a progressive acolyte.
Lamb's special election victory was "hugely influential," according to a Democratic activist who worked for the party's campaign arm in Congress that year. Lamb was the mold in which other esteemed would-be House Democrats were forged: a cautious embrace of the party platform, an unwavering appeal to suburban voters disgusted by Trump's mess, and a vow to vote against Nancy Pelosi, the was the GOP's favorite bogeyman at the time. as speaker. Lamb's victory in a working-class white neighborhood — a former Democratic stronghold that Trump won by nearly 20 points in 2016 — boosted the party's ambitions as it sought to regain control of the House of Representatives.
It also swelled the ambitions of Joe Biden, who was born in nearby Scranton and was obsessed with bringing disillusioned former Democrats back into the party. Biden had been the only Democratic lamb allowed to campaign with him during that first run of 2018. Lamb, in turn, inspired Biden's own strategy for the 2020 presidential campaign. After Biden's 2020 victory, Lamb blamed the progressives for the party's worse-than-predicted performance in down-ballot races. "You and others are advocating a policy that is unworkable and extremely unpopular," Lamb told the New York Times, citing "police defunding" and the "ban on fracking" as the main culprits.
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