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U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on efforts to address global supply chain bottlenecks during an event in the East Room of the White House on Oct. 13.Evan Vucci/The Associated Press

Here are the leading topics of conversation in the United States today: vaccine mandates, the effect of the global transportation bottleneck on the availability of Christmas toys, the tawdry e-mails of a football coach, Alex Ovechkin’s new hockey contract.

Plus this: the thoughts of a political theorist nobody outside the deep innards of Democratic politics ever heard of until two weeks ago.

Those thoughts – that the Democrats are doomed, that the reason is the prominence of progressives in the party’s appeals to the public and in its legislation on Capitol Hill, that congressional Republicans and Donald Trump are positioned to come roaring back – have caused an uproar in an otherwise fallow political season.

And, if nothing else, they have proven the effect a powerful electoral idea can have on a U.S. political party struggling to gain or stay in office.

The theorist this time is David Shor, and he is something of a wunderkind – a college graduate at 17, a Barack Obama polling aide, a millennial who looks a bit like Jim Morrison and whose common-sense analysis has progressives reeling and conservatives preening.

His view, distilled into a phrase he didn’t use but might employ: The Democrats stand for too much.

Not too many things, but too much spending, too much emphasis on progressive policies, too much dependence on voters with college degrees. Too much, in that context, translates into too little support to prevail in next year’s midterm congressional elections and, perhaps, in the 2024 presidential election.

This is not exactly a new notion. Mr. Trump has been saying basically the same thing, and so have some Democrats who have awakened to the prospect that they may have only 15 months left in their control of Capitol Hill and the White House. But the fact that it comes from a metrics-minded, newly minted savant whose website consists entirely of his picture and the phrase “I try to elect Democrats” has his partisan colleagues in a full-fledged swivet, even as they struggle to craft a majority of their own lawmakers in the House to approve President Joe Biden’s infrastructure and spending bills.

The emergence of a single theorist as the straw that stirs the political drink is a peculiarly American phenomenon.

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F. Clifton White, a one-time moderate, came up with the rationale to push the Republican Party to the right after Richard Nixon’s defeat at the hands of John F. Kennedy in 1960. Both theorist and organizer, Mr. White fomented what some GOP regulars described as a “coup” and delivered the 1964 Republican nomination to the devoutly conservative Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. (Mr. Goldwater lost in a landslide to Lyndon B. Johnson, but his campaign offered a forum for the emergence of a new conservative voice, Ronald Reagan, who won the governor’s chair in California two years later and the presidency in 1980.)

Then there was Kevin Phillips, like Mr. White a graduate of Colgate University and a young staffer in Mr. Nixon’s 1968 campaign. A year later Mr. Phillips published The Emerging Republican Majority, which is often credited with the Republican “Southern Strategy” that challenged Democratic power in what for a century had been known as the Solid South. The erosion of Democratic support in the South was evident in the 1964 campaign, came into focus in 1968 and generally took form after that, though Southerners such as Jimmy Carter (1976) and Bill Clinton (1992 but less so in 1996) showed some scattered strength in the region.

But the title of Mr. Phillips’ book, if not exactly its contents, has been the guiding strategy of the post-Nixon Republican Party to this day.

The Democratic analogue to these figures, until Mr. Shor came along, was the controversial Patrick Caddell, not quite 25 when he began advising Mr. Carter, then a barely known governor of Georgia, not to look too imperious and to appear “different from other politicians, not part of the establishment.” Mr. Carter, remembered for carrying his own valise, followed that advice, and Mr. Caddell, who switched sides in the political game, later offered it Mr. Trump, who needed little tutoring in the matter. Included in Mr. Caddell’s famous 62-page memo that he gave Mr. Carter after the 1976 election was this sentence, an apt description of American civic life almost a half-century later: “Americans have no real expectation that the government is willing or able to solve the country’s problems.”

That notion is at odds with the entire worldview of Mr. Biden.

And yet, at 21, Mr. Caddell served as pollster to Mr. Biden, then a New Castle County council member in Delaware who was a long-shot candidate for the Senate against an established Republican. Mr. Biden considered Mr. Caddell a close friend, and the pollster was part of his inner circle in his first presidential campaign, which ended in 1987. Later, Mr. Biden’s office released a statement saying, “The senator wants it to be known that he has no animosity toward Pat Caddell, but that he has ended his relationship with him.”

Now Mr. Biden is bucking Mr. Caddell’s thesis by arguing that government can indeed solve the country’s problems. But Mr. Shor argues that to do so the President and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill must emphasize the elements of their legislation that appeal to Americans in the middle, demonstrating, as he put it in a New York Times interview, that they ”care more and cater to the preference of our low-socioeconomic-status supporters.”

This is not going down well on the left of the Democratic Party, which is clustered in cities and increasingly comprised of the well-educated. But Mr. Shor believes the political future will be won outside cities and among those who do not lean left. Only slightly more than a third of Americans believe Mr. Biden and the Democrats are focusing on issues they care about “a lot,” according to the latest CBS News/YouGov Poll. Thus the Democratic Party, like parties worldwide, has some important, hard questions to address, chief among them: Is it worth it to risk alienating its current constituencies in an effort to appeal to a great mass of voters who do not share their priorities?

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