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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Progressives Trying to Replace Centrist Dem Office-holders Should Not Purge Moderates from Rank and File

At The Washington Post, Dave Weigel reports on a new initiative to ‘primary’ current Democrats who have voted with Republicans, and elect progressives in their stead:

Cenk Uygur, founder of the Young Turks video network that has become virally popular among progressive voters, is launching a project called Justice Democrats to defeat members of the Democratic Party who have cast votes seen as unacceptable.

“The aim in 2018 is to put a significant number of Justice Democrats in the Congress. The aim for 2020 is to more significantly take over the Democratic Party,” Uygur said. “If they’re going to continue to be corporate Democrats, that’s doomed for failure for the rest of time.”

There’s nothing wrong with organizing primary challengers to defeat moderate or conservative Democrats and elect more progressive replacements. The rhetoric will get hot, but vigorous internal debate is a sign of a healthy party. And Uygur is surely right that Democrats should be more progressive and less corporate to build a stable majority. I like their platform, as Weigel describes it:

The Justice Democrats platform mirrors much of what Sanders ran on, some of which had been adopted into the 2016 Democratic platform. Where Sanders called for renegotiating trade deals, the platform doubles down. Democrats have called for infrastructure spending; the platform calls for the party to “invest billions in rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, schools, levees, airports etc.” It goes even further than Sanders, however, in asking candidates to ban foreign aid to human rights violators.

But after the primaries are done, and regardless of the outcome, Dems must unify behind the party nominees, from the court house to the White House. In an electorate as evenly divided as ours, purging those whose views are a little more corporate would be a huge gift to Republicans. Lets not forget that a one vote margin in the U.S. Senate secured the Affordable Care Act.

‘Justice Democrats’ gets a big bump from Dems who were angered by “the 13 Democratic senators who opposed a Sanders-backed measure to make it easier to import prescription drugs from Canada.” That was a moment that made progressive Democrats, including this one, wince with disgust.

Paul Blest joins the call for electing more progressive Democrats in his unfortunately-titled “Democrats need to start fighting — with each other” at The Week:

…Moderate Democrats have rarely faced the same challenges from their left flank. In more conservative states, the excuse is usually that moderates like Mark Pryor (Arkansas) or Mary Landrieu (Louisiana) are the best the Democrats could possibly do, given the circumstances. In liberal states, like New Jersey — which has one senator who opposed the Iran deal and another who sat on the board of directors for the Alliance for School Choice with Betsy DeVos — the excuse is often a lawmaker’s close proximity to an industry that requires “pro-business” policies.

Enough is enough.

If Democrats want to regain national power, they must stop cynically and brazenly triangulating. They can no longer just quietly lament their centrist leaders. Progressives must fight back. They have to take on moderate, establishment-backed Democrats in primaries — even, in some cases, incumbents — who don’t embody the core ideals of a progressive movement positioning itself to be a real alternative to the GOP.

— a well-stated talking point for more progressive Democrats. Further, adds Blest,

…While Republican-controlled seats should unquestionably be the focus, it’s also true that no Democrat — no senator, no member of Congress, no governor, and no state legislator — should be able to take their own renomination in 2018 for granted if they cosign any part of the right’s agenda to privatize everything, install the extremely wealthy in the halls of government, and roll back decades worth of social progress.

There is a real need for fresh blood in the Democratic Party; not just in districts that could be flipped from Republican hands, but in safe seats occupied by Democrats who came to prominence through aligning themselves with the Third Way. After all, this is the faction of the party that ultimately negotiated the public option out of the Affordable Care Act,which arguably contributed to the law’s pending doom.

The trick is to do all of this without alienating a large number of rank and file voters and making them feel excluded. Screwing this up is how you create non-voters and defectors to the GOP.

Now that the inaugural hoopla and escitement about the Womens March are fading, attention is turning to the confirmation of Trump’s cabinet nominees, nearly all of whom merit unified and vigorous  Democratic opposition. There will be some differences among Democrats on the nominees, but we can hope they will unify against the worst ones.

Perhaps even more importantly, Ed O’Keefe and Steven Mufson report “Senate Democrats set to unveil a Trump-size infrastructure plan.” This is the mother of all Democratic issues, the one that should unify all Democrats because it requires direct public investment in massive job-creation. Any Democrat that hesitates on this reform is a DINO, and should probably switch parties. O’Keefe and Mufson explain:

The Democrats said their infrastructure plan would rely on direct federal spending and would span a range of projects including not only roads and bridges, but also the nation’s broadband network, hospitals run by the Department of Veterans Affairs and schools.

Eager to drive a wedge between the new president and congressional Republicans, Democrats consider talk of infrastructure projects as a way to piggyback on Trump’s frequent vows to repair the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges and persuade him to adopt ideas that would put him at odds with GOP leaders, who have done little to embrace what would amount to a major new government spending program.

Advisers to Trump have said they would rely on federal tax credits and public-private partnerships rather than federal spending to pay for a new infrastructure program.

Democrats will have their hands full preventing Republicans and Trump from turning the infrastructure program into a giant pork barrell for the GOP’s contributors, the way they did with U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dems must be unified on the infrastructure to win the issue and prevent the Republicans from perverting it into a boondoggle for their contributors that creates few jobs.

Campaigning to replace moderate/conservative Democrats with more progressives is not the same thing as “purging” less liberal Democrats from the party. Clinton’s inability to win over some Sanders supporters is likely matched by Sanders’s failure to win over her supporters. There are very real divisions among rank and file Democrats, and it’s unclear what proportion of Democrats are economic progressives and what percentage are ‘corporate’ Democrats. But both groups are large subsets of the Democratic party and there is considerable overlap on different issues.

The Democratic Party would be strengthened with more progressives in the Senate, House and state legislatures and governor’s mansions. But it would be a shame if the centrists were replaced by Republicans because of weak Democratic solidarity. Post-primary solidarity should be a bedrock principle of a healthy Democratic Party.

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