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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Vanden Heuval: Why the Democratic Party Must Make More Room for Progressives

In her Washington Post column, “Democratic Party establishment, it’s time to respect insurgent progressives,” Katrina vanden Heuval makes a persuasive case that “when insurgent forces are mobilized and a new progressive infrastructure is beginning to rise, Democrats should not revive a doomed strategy of excessive caution and deference to the permanent consultant class.”

Citing “genuine reasons for optimism” even in Texas, including “a huge enthusiasm gap in favor of Democrats,” a doubling of the 2014 turnout rate and “a new state record for early voting in a non-presidential election,” vanden Heuval notes that polls indicate that Democrats now have a realisic chance to pick up three House seats, as well as electing progressive Beto O’Rourke to the Senate. Further,

These chances for flipping seats aren’t unique to Texas. Across the country, including states and districts that Democrats have written off in prior elections, sustained grass-roots energy is boosting the party’s prospects. Yet there is also serious cause for concern, as some Democrats seem intent on sapping that energy in an attempt to reassert control of the party.

In late February, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), House Democrats’ official campaign arm, infuriated progressives by clumsily inserting itself in the primary in Texas’s 7th Congressional District. Although it’s not unusual for party committees to pick sides in primaries, the DCCC took the extraordinary step of publishing opposition research against Laura Moser, a progressive, pro-choice woman who has been a leader in the resistance to Trump. In 2017, Moser drew national attention when she created Daily Action, which enables subscribers to receive a text message every morning with a political action to take that day. But the DCCC disingenuously condemned Moser as a “Washington insider,” a particularly rich attack considering the source.

The cheap hit revealed how actual Washington insiders often work in the shadows to undermine progressives. The Intercept recently highlighted a number of primary races in which the DCCC and allied groups have taken sides based on wrongheaded views of candidates’ viability that largely come down to their ability to raise money. Also disheartening is that there are several cases of Democratic women attempting to thwart strong female candidates whose opponents are less progressive but more connected to donors. There is evidence suggesting that Emily’s List, which works to elect pro-choice women, has endorsed candidates (including one of Moser’s primary rivals) on the strength not of their progressive values but of their fundraising potential.

Tensions between the party and the progressive movement are threatening to bleed beyond this year’s midterms into the 2020 presidential race. Democratic National Committee members met last week to discuss proposed changes recommended by the Unity Reform Commission that was formed in the wake of the 2016 primary to make the nomination process more open, fair and inclusive of insurgent campaigns and their supporters. A vote on the proposals could come as early as this week, but there is a sense among those close to the debate that the party is unlikely to embrace the sweeping reforms that progressives are pushing for.

Vanden Heuval concludes with a warning that Democrats “may well never win in Texas or other similar places by quashing the passion of those who have been roused in this past year.”

Considering the divisive fallout in the wake of the DNC’s bias favoring Clinton over Sanders in 2016, the DCCC’s meddling in the Texas Democratic primary could prove costly in November if the Republicans hold these districts and Cruz’s senate seat by close margins. The same goes for other states.

There are compelling reasons why the  DNC, DSCC and the DCCC and other party institutions at the national and local levels would be wise to avoid taking sides in the primaries. There are plenty of other vehicles for supporting specific candidates for those who feel strongly about taking sides. But tainting the integrity of Democratic Party institutions by favoring candidates over other Democrats in primaries is a bad practice that is poised to backfire, perhaps in a big way. Neutrality in primaries is the safest bet for the DNC, DSCC and DCCC.

4 comments on “Vanden Heuval: Why the Democratic Party Must Make More Room for Progressives

  1. Victor on

    Neither Clinton nor Sanders are in the ballot in 2018. The divisions among the left aren’t personality clashes. The media has done a good a job as possible to portray Trump as the kind of disaster they both predicted and promoted all through the Republican primaries and the general election.

    Democrats should be headed to the kind of win unprecedented in decades. A win that could help differentiate the parties once again and not merely promise a return to the kind of status quo ante that produced Trump in the first place.

    Instead we get a rehash of the 2016 election that may have produced a Clinton win in the popular vote but that wouldn’t have given her governing majorities in the House and Senate.

    Clinton/Obama operatives still control the levers of power in messaging and funding in the Democratic parties and almost all related liberal organizations of the “resistance”.

    Voters are once again being asked to “stop Trump” but are being offered no other reason to actually vote Democrat. This may be enough for most liberals and progressives but not for the kind of voters who sit out this kind of messaging and just abstain.

    With high negativity and abstentions Democrats aren’t assured the kind of landslide needed to actually be able to challenge Trump on the policy front. It seems that is exactly what leaders of the Democratic party want, power but no accountability.

    Are Democrats going to validate McConnell’s strategy of obstruction? Trump is consistently campaigning on the need for more Republican Senate seats in order to get his agenda passed.

    Democrats biggest vulnerability is in the Senate and it is those candidates who are more vulnerable to running on a “stop Trump” only message.

  2. pjcamp on

    The insurgent progressives need to show respect in return. When butthurt Bernie supporters put Trump in the White House in a fit of revenge, they haven’t really earned much respect. If I heard some apologies, I might change my mind.

    BTW, spoken as a true blue progressive who voted for Sanders.

    • Victor on

      That isn’t asking for respect but for subservience. Most Sanders voters actually complied anyway. Clinton was doomed by Reagan Democrats. Even then she could have made for them if the campaign had taken minorities in states like Florida seriously. Clinton failed white progressives, white working class people and minorities all the same with her cautious messaging.

  3. Martin Lawford on

    Vanden Heuvel is right. It is quite understandable that the progressive voters of Texas and all other states want to know that their candidates were chosen by them in their voting booths and not by DCCC officials in Washington conference rooms.


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