We ran through the big races yesterday. I was so busy that I forgot to mention Alexandra Hunt in Philly and Matt West in the crowded new Oregon district (OR-06), the one with all the crypto-billionaire money trying to buy the seat for mystery meat candidate Carrick Flynn. and speaking about OR-06, one of the strangest things about that race is that not only did crypto-billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried and his cronies put $11,391,607 into independent expenditures boosting Flynn, Bankman-Fried, one of Biden's top 3 2020 donors, also ordered Pelosi's House Majority PAC to spend a million dollars on Flynn, which it dutifully did. Today is not about the harm MAGA does; it is about the harm the Democratic Party establishment does.
This morning, David Sirota's essay on today's campaign cash orgy wasn't just about the flood of crypto-wealth seeking to buy government-- especially up and down the Oregon ballot. It was about how big money brought the Democratic establishment along for the ride: They Are Not Even Pretending Anymore. His contention is that Democratic leaders-- from Biden and Obama to Pelosi, Clyburn, Jeffries, Hoyer and Schumer-- are "joining with oligarchs to try to permanently destroy the progressive movement."
His point is that the Democratic establishment infrastructure has raked in $12 million from oligarchs to help the leadership rig primaries across the country in favor of corrupt conservatives and away from progressive tribunes of working families. Top culprits include SKDK, led by Biden White House senior advisor Anita Dunn, Waterfront Strategies, an affiliate of the Democratic media buying firm GMMB that works with the super PACs for both House and Senate Democrats and notorious scumbag Mark Mellman, whose main trick is laundering Republican money into Democratic primaries on behalf of the Republican wing of the Democratic Party. What a circus!
"The first few months of 2022," wrote Sirota, "tell the story of their leadership-sanctioned crusade to snuff out the progressive movement." He highlighted OR-05 where Biden and Pelosi are backing the arguably worst Democrat in the House, corrupt reactionary Blue Dog Kurt Schrader, the last House Democrat to have voted against raising the minimum wage and one of the ones who tanked Build Back Better and destroyed the Democrats' plan to lower the cost of prescription drugs. The local Democratic Party overwhelmingly endorsed progressive challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner, so in marched Biden and Pelosi with the establishment machine to try to save Schrader. The clueless, dishonest and incredibly unpopular Biden: "when it has mattered most, Kurt has been there for me." Sirota pointed out that "Schrader’s campaign is being boosted by a super PAC bankrolled by a Big Pharma front group."
He covered today's other hot Oregon races-- in which the Democratic establishment has come down on the wrong side in every case. And then reminded his readers about what happened in Ohio last month where "House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) intervened to secure the election for corporate-friendly Democrat Shontel Brown in Cleveland’s newly-drawn safe Democratic House seat. In that race, the Democratic leaders aligned themselves against progressive Nina Turner and with an oil-industry-funded super PAC called Democratic Majority For Israel (DMFI) in support of a candidate who refused to co-sponsor the party’s major climate legislation. The effort to crush Turner also got a boost from the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC, which endorsed Brown. DMFI is led by the pollster Mellman and an ally to the pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)."
This same crew has been at work in Pennsylvania where "Democratic power brokers are joining an AIPAC-funded super PAC’s effort to try to tank progressive state Rep. Summer Lee (D) in her battle against Steve Irwin, who previously led the “union avoidance” division of a corporate law firm. The spending has reportedly erased Lee’s lead in the race." Mellman and AIPAC are doing the same thing in North Carolina's bluest district, where they are working to tank Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, and in the district east of there, where they are trying to defeat Erica Smith in favor of Don Davis, an anti-Choice state Senator to the right of Joe Manchin.
"In Texas," wrote Sirota, "Pelosi and Clyburn responded to the likely overturning of Roe v. Wade by reiterating their support for incumbent anti-abortion Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar in his primary with pro-choice candidate Jessica Cisneros. The House leadership is sticking by Cuellar even after law enforcement officials raided his home. 'I'm supporting Henry Cuellar, he's a valued member of our caucus,' Pelosi declared."
There Is No Pretense Anymore
Taken together, the endorsements, the donor overlap, and the party ties of the allegedly independent committees show there is no real separation between the Democratic leadership and the “outside” spending. This is one large party-sanctioned operation aimed at the left, even when corporatists are undermining the party’s agenda and its own president. Indeed, rather than amping up potential progressive primary pressure on Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Biden’s political machine actually ran ads touting her as she was killing his signature economic legislation and driving down his approval ratings.
This lack of pretense, where the leadership isn’t even pretending to be impartial or progressive, represents a significant break from the past.
Once upon a time (read: up to the mid 2000s), Democratic leaders typically stayed officially neutral in intraparty battles. These weren’t exactly halcyon days-- the power brokers still quietly encouraged donor support for preferred candidates. However, that kind of rigging was hidden in the shadows, so as to not publicly violate the once-sacrosanct idea that Democratic voters should be trusted to choose nominees and-- by extension-- the party’s ideological complexion.
That tradition began to change in 2006 after Rahm Emanuel bought a Chicago-area congressional seat and began hand-picking House Democratic nominees through the party’s campaign apparatus. Later, the party’s political machine went all in against Sanders’ 2020 presidential primary campaign and then went in even stronger for corporate candidates in contested Senate primaries in Iowa, Maine, Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas and Colorado-- and in the latter case, even progressives like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) participated in the scale-thumbing.
All of this escalated to the DCCC literally blacklisting political consultants who worked for unapproved Democratic candidates.
For their part, Democratic operatives don’t ever admit they are trying to help business donors pulverize rank-and-file voters and perform a hostile takeover of the party. Instead, they often make the “pragmatism” argument, asserting (with few facts) their primary interventions are designed to help corporate candidates who are allegedly the most “electable” in tough general elections.
The existence of reasonably progressive red- and purple-state senators like Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin should debunk such assumptions, but also: Many of the party leadership’s interventions were and continue to happen in Democratic-leaning locales whose general elections inherently favor the eventual Democratic nominees, regardless of their ideological moorings.
Meanwhile, in purple states, many of those corporate-friendly candidates picked by party bosses for their alleged “electability” last cycle were summarily crushed in their general elections.
None of those losses prompted accountability or change-- it’s still the same gerontocracy and consultants calling the shots, which spotlights an important truth.
Democratic leaders are bad at defeating Republicans in competitive races, bad at passing meaningful legislation, bad at coming up with a coherent message, and-- according to new polling data-- bad at convincing most voters to like their party. The new redistricting maps in New York show they are even bad at protecting their own representation in blue states.
But they are extremely good at two things: preserving their own power inside their party and destroying the American Left.
Movements Cannot Be Built With Unicorns
Of course, there are always exceptions.
In 2018, the exception was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeating lobbyist favorite and Biff Tannen doppleganger Joe Crowley in a New York City Democratic primary.
In 2020, it was Cori Bush defeating the Clay machine in a St. Louis Democratic primary.
This year, with a little luck it could be Lt. Gov. John Fetterman defeating corporate-bankrolled, establishment-backed Rep. Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania’s Senate Democratic primary.
The problem is that so far, such victories-- laudable as they are-- seem to be unicorn stories rather than reflections of a systemic power shift in primary politics that can be reliably replicated.
Ocasio-Cortez snuck up on a lazy Democratic incumbent who was both ideologically and demographically out of touch with his district.
Bush had run once before and then won a low-turnout primary against an incumbent who was so preposterously corrupt and loyal to bankers that he was portrayed as at odds even with Wall Street favorite Barack Obama-- an electoral death sentence in a Democratic primary in a majority African American district.
As for Fetterman, he may be the closest to creating a replicable model, but there are caveats.
He’s been running for a Senate seat for seven straight years, and vaulted himself into a statewide office by winning a primary against a scandal-plagued incumbent. In that interim, he has used sartorial iconoclasm and tireless campaigning to develop a quasi-celebrity brand, build a grassroots fundraising base, and deter Senate Democrats from officially intervening in the Pennsylvania primary like they previously had in 2020 primaries.
All of that is to his credit. Fetterman is now in the rare position of being a serious Senate contender with progressive positions that have drawn powerful corporate enemies-- and if he wins Tuesday’s primary, it is undoubtedly a major defeat for the Democratic machine.
However, Fetterman’s playbook is difficult to employ further down the ballot in lower profile House races or state legislative battles where candidates struggle to achieve any name recognition at all. The same goes for many Senate and gubernatorial races.
Sure, if you’ve never worked on a campaign, it’s easy to blame progressive candidates and insist they should all just find a way to pull off miracles like AOC or Bush or (hopefully) Fetterman. But American politics isn’t Moneyball. There’s no way that progressive candidates in most races can be Billy Bean’s Oakland A’s engineering a Cinderella story by finding a glitch in the numbers-- at least not consistently.
Yes, the occasional unicorn with a unique brand and notoriety in the exact right situation can win a primary every now and again (and I say that as the spouse of a Democratic legislator who did that). But a national movement up and down the ballot to dethrone a corrupt and decrepit Democratic Party establishment almost certainly will not be successful if it must rely only on once-in-a-blue-moon candidates running in extremely rare conditions.
Put another way: Movements are built not from anomalies, but from the day to day slog of normalcy. A movement’s success can be judged on whether the political infrastructure exists not just to help a rare unicorn win a high-profile office, but to also win primaries for rank-and-file, non-celebrity candidates running for the lowest tier offices that voters barely know exist.
...“Big Money corporate interests, with the aid of the House Democratic leadership and corporatist elements in the White House, are coming for the millions of progressive and economically populist voters who joined with center-left corporatists to elect Joe Biden and a Democratic Congress,” Sanders’ longtime top aide Jeff Weaver wrote this week. “The goal of (their) war is to make elected progressives extinct and to extinguish the agenda of higher wages, affordable health care, criminal justice reform, addressing climate change, and putting more economic and political power in the hands of everyday people of all races.”
A week from today there are two big races you can still materially help, Jessica Cisneros' congressional runoff with corrupt anti-Choice conservative Henry Cuellar in south Texas and Vincent Fort's battle against fully senile, Republian-lite Blue Dog David Scott in a district encompassing Atlanta's close-in suburbs. Please allow me to recommend that you click here and visit the Blue America "Primary a Blue Dog" ActBlue page and give as generously as you can to Cisneros' and Fort's campaigns and to the other progressives taking on entrenched Blue Dogs this cycle.