House Democrats, under the guidance of Cheri Bustos-- who has already fallen on her sword-- and Pelosi-- who insists she is an indispensable historical figure and never will-- have spent close to half a billion dollars to lose. The cycle started well for the House Dems. The North Carolina Supreme Court redrew district lines and handed the Democrats two seats previously held by Republicans. Cheri Bustos was eager to claim them as part of her brilliant ability to flip red seats blue. But on election night, that wasn't the narrative that unfolded. Three North Carolina challengers failed to dislodged other targeted Republicans. And it was far worse for the DCCC around the country. As of this moment, 6 conservative Democratic incumbents have seen their seats flip from blue to red, despite millions of dollars wasted on them by the DCCC and Pelosi's House Majority PAC (the figures below):
• Harley Rouda (New Dem-CA)- $9,542,690 • Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (New Dem-FL)- $6,221,973 • Donna Shalala (FL)- zero (maybe if she had just joined the New Dems or Blue Dogs...) • Abby Finkenauer (secret New Dem-IA)- $3,520,621 • Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)- $4,939,977 • Xochitl Torres Small (Blue Dog-NM)- $6,258,912 • Kendra Horn (Blue Dog-OK)- $5,290,990 • Joe Cunningham (Blue Dog-SC)- $3,935,049It's almost like the DCCC gave a dollar to each candidate for every time they voted with the Republicans against progressive measures! But this doesn't describe the extent of the carnage. New York has 7 uncalled races, 5 for Democratic incumbents, 2 of whom are as good as dead: Blue Dogs Anthony Brindisi and Max Rose. Of California's 3 uncalled races, 2 are for Democratic incumbents and though TJ Cox and Gil Cisneros may both win, one or both is just as likely to lose. The uncalled race in Illinois is from Lauren Underwood's seat and it looks like she'll be ok. The uncalled race is Iowa is for the seat Democrat Dave Loebsack gave up and with 89% of the vote counted, the Republican, Mariannette Miller-Meeks has 196,860 votes and Democrat Rita Hart has 196,812, a 48 vote spread! The DCCC spent north of $6.5 million trying to hold this seat and Hart outraised Miller-Meeks $3,631,135 to $1,518,295. And that leaves Utah, where 99% of the votes are counted, leaving Blue Dog Ben McAdams losing to retired football player Burgess Owens, 172,678 (47.5%) to 171,039 (47.0%). The DCCC spent $5,975,685 trying to save McAdams, who mostly votes against anything that even hints of progressivism. In any case, the Democrats gained 3 seats-- an open seat in the Atlanta suburbs + the two seats the judges gave them in North Carolina-- and lost between 8 and 14 (or more). So a net loss between 5 and 11-- or worse, but not better. Yet somehow, Politico's "Huddle" writer, Melanie Zanona. thought the best explanation of that would be to write "with Dems likely to have a thinner caucus next year." A sloppy thought like that pisses me off. Why "likely?" Is that some kind of Beltway-moron-Speak? Zanona asserted that "Tensions inside the Democratic party are boiling over and spilling out into public view. The latest shots came from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who responded to a report that fellow New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries asked other top Dems on a private leadership call: 'Do we want to govern or do we want to be internet celebrities?'" It might be helpful at this point to mention that Hakeem in an establishment liberal and Pelosi's choice as Next Speaker (her former choice, Joe Crowley, having been banished from Congress when that same AOC beat him in 2018). Jeffries has two Twitter accounts, one under @Hakeem_Jeffries, which has 17,800 followers and one under @RepJeffries with 298,000 followers. Not bad! Almost 316,000 followers if you combine them. AOC, on the other hand, has 10.2 million people following her on Twitter. Maybe there's a reason for the disparity that Jeffries should think about rather than trying-- ineffectively-- to ridicule.
She responded to Jeffries by noting that it is "Pretty astounding that some Dems don’t believe it’s possible to govern, be politically popular, and command formidable bully pulpits at the same time, but it actually explains a lot about how we got here. We don’t have to choose between these things! We can do better and win!"
Yes, indeed. But Zanona wrote that that made he ask herself-- and share with Politico readers "At what point, if ever, do progressives form a Freedom Caucus of the left? The conservative group wielded immense power (and created quite a few headaches for leadership) when the GOP held the majority, by sticking together as a voting bloc and bending the party to their will. And progressives have shown interest in flexing their muscles next year. The Congressional Progressive Caucus recently adopted some major reforms intended to centralize its growing power in Washington. Among the changes: new rules on attendance and voting, as well as eliminating the second co-chair position... [I]t actually wouldn’t take much for progressives to be powerful. And the four-member 'squad' is set to expand its ranks next year with the additions of Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman and Ritchie Torres." I think she left off Mondaire Jones but, no matter, she included Ritchie Torres, no doubt he has more in common with AOC than with Jeffries, which is not remotely the case.
Zanona wrote that "squad members have shown varying degrees of willingness to play hard ball. And they might not want to be seen as obstructionist when Dems finally have the White House. As former Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows once told your Huddle host, they would have to be willing to completely 'burn the ships down' in order to be successful. And so far, most progressives do not appear to be at that point. (In fact, some have directly said they don't want to be the Democratic version of the Freedom Caucus.) But that could change, depending on how leadership navigates the party’s civil war, who Joe Biden taps to serve in his Cabinet and administration, and which policies party leaders decide to pursue."
Party leaders... yes, most of them in their seventies and eighties and long past their expiration dates but refusing to face the reality of retirement. John Harris noted that conservative Democrats, establishment liberals and progressives all agree on one thing: the party leadership is "arrogant, bereft of creativity, generationally obsolete." AOC added that they are "blinded [by] anti-activist sentiment," while right-of-center Democrat Conor Lamb told the NY Times that he and his crowd "don’t always feel that the leadership takes our input as seriously as we would like."
2020 showed the limits of mobilization politics. There is a near-term problem, and a long-term one. In the moment, the things that a candidate or party do to mobilize their side, even or especially when successful, typically also motivate the other side. It was Trump, on his way to winning the second-most votes in American history, who helped Biden win the first-most. The Democratic turnout for the presidency didn’t translate to gains in the House and Senate; turns out there are still some ticket-splitters out there. In a larger sense, even if a mobilization strategy wins an election it is a persuasion strategy that will win an argument. If AOC helps fundamentally change the U.S. response to climate change, or systemic racial inequities, these would be outsized historic achievements. She is right that you can’t do this with the strategy of caution and accommodation that some moderates-- but not all-- gravitate toward. But you also can’t do it without a constant calibration of appeals that are both challenging and reassuring. You can’t do it without reframing and updating outmoded terms of debate. You can’t do it without engaging consistently-- in both political and substantive terms-- people whose views overlap only in part with your own. In some ways, this tension between the politics of mobilization versus persuasion is more central to the Democrats’ future than the increasingly stale debate over whether moderates are too tepid to drive meaningful change or progressives are too radical to win.
It is folly for progressives to avoid the obvious: The reason they are far from achieving their policy aims goes beyond the notion that moderate Democrats are clods who can’t play the game. There are many places in the country where progressives need better arguments to reach people who don’t currently support their goals. The post-election memo by four progressive groups-- New Deal Strategies, Justice Democrats, Sunrise Movement and Data for Progress-- came closer to the mark than Ocasio-Cortez’s interview. It called for a new set of policy and rhetorical appeals that seek to merge the Black Lives Matter message with an economic message that would also appeal to less--prosperous and less-educated whites who have been attracted to Trump. There is not abundant evidence that this can be successful, but it is at least more attuned to the genuine challenge than scolding fellow Democrats for not being with it on Facebook. Ocasio-Cortez has earned the right to lecture moderate Democrats like Conor Lamb on how to connect with a rising generation of impatient progressives. Lamb has earned the right to lecture Ocasio-Cortez on how to take a seat that used to be held by Republicans and put it in the Democratic column. But a more promising strategy likely would put listening before lecturing.
Harris, an establishment type through and through dismisses AOC as being "on a political planet where she is amply rewarded for her uncommon skill at framing issues in bold terms, for her stylish spontaneity, for her comfort with political combat, for her instinct to open her sails rather than trim them." He is certainly right about the need for more persuasion, but he suggests progressives need to be more like the Republican-lite members of their own caucus. Why? Because he doesn't understand what giving in to conservatives mean to working families. And never will.