Updated: Jul 5, 2021
I don't recall ever seeing such bad electoral advice for Democrats in a newspaper before. In his column for the Washington Post yesterday, Paul Kane urged the DCCC to run a dozen or so conservative 2020 losers from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party in rematches. These were men and women who failed as members of Congress and failed to inspire their non-Republican constituents to come out and vote for them. Almost all of them deserved to lose in 2020-- and the House Democrats are better off without them consistently and relentlessly tugging the congressional party rightward.
Before I get into the nonsense Kane is advocating, I want to say a few words about Pennsylvania's 8th congressional district in the northeastern part of the state. Once a Democratic bastion-- Obama beat Romney by 12 points-- voters there picked Trump over Hillary by 10 points and, even last year, Trump beat Biden 51.7% to 47.3%. The current PVI is an ominous R+5, 4 points redder than just two years ago! The GOP prioritized flipping the district from blue to red, nominating a wealthy Trump Wall Street creep, Jim Bognet, and backing him with hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside spending against the incumbent, Matt Cartwright. Bognet raised $1,519,527 and ran an all-negative campaign against Cartwright.
Cartwright was in a tough situation. And was very different kettle of fish than the 2020 incumbents Kane wrote about yesterday. Those incumbents had all run up Republican-lite records opposing Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and all the populist and progressive (and popular) proposals being dealt with by Congress. They all had "F" scores from ProgressivePunch. Cartwright had-- and has-- an "A." He's not a scared incrementalist. He's someone who understands his incumbents and figured out how to get their votes-- even from constituents voting for Trump. Co-Chair of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, along with Ted Lieu, Cartwright is a consummate communicator. In fact, he first won his seat in 2012 by beating a Paul Kane-type incumbent, an establishment-backed, fracking-backing Blue Dog, out of touch with the district. Last year, even as Trump was beating Biden in PA-08, Cartwright was reelected 178,442 (51.77%) to 166,227 (48.23%). Maybe Max Rose would have too, had he supported Medicare-for-All or had even tried to sell a progressive message, instead of running away from it and coming off like a political coward.
In 2018 Max Rose, a right-of-center Blue Dog, managed to win a swingy red seat-- like Cartwright's-- that includes part of Brooklyn and all of Staten Island. Obama beat Romney there; Hillary lost by 10 and then last year Trump beat Biden. But, unlike Cartwright, Rose ran a completely uninspiring, lesser-of-two- evils campaign that was aimed at Republicans rather than at Democrats and independents. He even voted against Pelosi as speaker to show how "independent" he is. He didn't fool anyone but managed to lose the endorsement of the Working Families Party-- which had brought him 3,894 votes (2.0%) in 2018. He also managed to lose the election to Republican Nicole Malliotakis with just 137,198 votes (46.8%) to her 155,608 (53.2%).
Now Kane wants Rose to run again. "House Democrats," he wrote, "received a much-needed bit of good news on Wednesday when Max Rose announced his tenure as pandemic adviser at the Pentagon would soon end, freeing up the New Yorker to consider another run for Congress. Rose was one of 13 incumbent Democrats defeated last year. A dozen of those were 2018 “majority makers” who flipped a previously GOP-held seat and helped return the gavel to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Those defeats punctuated a historically unusual election in which President Biden won the popular vote by more than 7 million votes, yet Pelosi’s Democrats had a net loss of 11 seats, 12 including a special election defeat earlier last year." Kane never tries to understand why the anti-progressive Blue Dogs and New Dems like Rose and the others lost. He is just as certain as the DCCC that these losers are the way to win back the districts. Maybe the fact that he was awarded a purple heart in Afghanistan--which he never stopped mentioning in 2020-- will work for Rose in 2022.
Three other vomit-inducing conservatives who managed to be swept into office during the 2018 blue wave and then proved themselves to be 100% worthless garbage in Congress-- Gil Cisneros (New Dem-CA), Kendra Horn (Blue Dog-OK) and Xochitl Torres-Small (Blue Dog-NM)-- were given sub-cabinet sinecures by Biden and hopefully won't give those plums up to run again. None had even a single redeeming feature as a member of Congress. And Joe Cunningham (Blue Dog-SC)-- who was an even worse member than the 4 already mentioned-- seems to think losing as a gubernatorial candidate in 2022 is going to help his career trajectory in the long run... so, thankfully, he won't be running for Congress next year either.
The worst DCCC chair in a decade, New Dem Sean Patrick Maloney, told Kane, in regard to Rose and Cisneros (a former Republican potato chip taster who won millions of dollars in a lottery) that "These are people who are living their values, finding their way to serve, and the door is wide open." And then speaker-in-waiting and anti-progressive avatar of the status quo, Hakeem Jeffries chimed in with the same stale, losing prescriptions as Maloney and Kane.
Maloney predicted “several” of the 13 incumbents that lost last year will eventually decide to run. Senior Democrats are giving them time to make their decision because of the decennial redrawing of House districts; it’s harder to launch a campaign without a clear idea of which voters you have to charm.
“It’s very early, and it’s a redistricting cycle, and everyone-- understandably, in many cases-- will take a wait-and-see approach until there are new lines,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), a top lieutenant in Pelosi’s leadership team and potential successor to the 81-year-old speaker. “Because otherwise, it’s almost impossible to figure out the electoral terrain you will confront.”
Republicans are sending early warnings that, should these Democrats decide to run again, they will face a similar barrage of attacks linking them to “defund the police” ideas pushed by far-left activists that were never embraced by those swing-district Democrats.
“After losing in 2020, the last thing former Democrat members want to do is run in this environment where they will be forced to defend House Democrats’ toxic socialist agenda that has led to rising inflation, skyrocketing crime and a crisis along our southern border,” said Michael McAdams, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Republicans already have candidates lined up in more than 340 of the 435 House districts, but most importantly, the NRCC has coaxed nine candidates from last year who lost by 5 percentage points or less to launch rematch bids for the midterms.
Maloney said each party will struggle with recruiting until the congressional maps get clarity, which might not come until early next year in some states. Republicans’ early recruiting successes could be diminished, given that they don’t yet know the contours of the districts that their prize recruits must win.
“This is tough for both of us,” he said.
House Democrats are also facing an issue of higher ambition among its newer members. Reps. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) and Val Demings (D-Fla.), both first elected in 2016, are leaving to run for governor and senator, respectively, in a state where the GOP-dominated state legislature will try to make those districts more Republican-leaning.
Two more meaningless, values-free careerists-- a Blue Dog and a New Dem-- who will be gone from Congress in long-shot bids for higher office... and likely sub-cabinet jobs waiting for them after they fail. Plus another conservative with the same idea-- Conor Lamb (PA). More bullshit from Jeffries-- bullshit being the only language he speaks in public: "These former members are incredibly talented public servants who will be assets to the administration and assets if they choose to run for their old seats in the House." There's no credible reason to believe that a single one of these losers would win in 2022 and in fact, there's every reason to believe they will lose again by even greater percentages.
Bob Lynch, a Miami-Dade state legislative candidate last year thought this idea was as ridiculous as I did. "The idea on the national level," he told me," is laughable at best, but in regards to South Florida it is outright delusional. Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel Powell won purely on the back of the Blue Wave in 2018. Credible rumors of Donna being senile aside, running a candidate in my district, who doesn’t even speak Spanish, is political suicide for everyone except for the hopelessly inept consultants urging her to do so, who will no doubt work their way up the ladder. The biggest problem in South Florida is Spanish language disinformation and propaganda on social media and right wing radio. Maria Elvira Salazar is a lunatic yes, but she is not stupid. She has household name recognition in our Spanish speaking community from her time as a TV anchor and reporter."
Lynch explained that "Debbie Mucarsel Powell beat Carlos Curbelo in 2018 because he may be the only one in the past few years who ran a worse campaign than Debbie or José Javier Rodríguez (now promoted to the Biden administration) did in 2020. Debbie accomplished nothing in Congress, got tied to her husband’s corrupt PPP loans, and thought she could coast to re-election. I will never forget Debbie and Miami Dade Democrats traveling around the county during early voting and on Election Day dancing around with a Chiva bus. Meanwhile, Republicans were doing the ground work. Knocking on doors, bussing people to the polls to get out the vote. South Floridians agree with the progressive agenda, but they are easily swayed by false allegations of socialism and communism. Dems need to run on incompetence and corruption linked to the GOP’s penchant for authoritarianism. That has to be done in Spanish and on the ground level. This is something that neither Debbie nor Donna’s 'strategists' and 'consultants' have shown any appetite to even think of engaging in. Doubling down on losers seems to be the strategy down here. Steve Simeonidis was re-elected to head up the Miami Dade Democrats despite presiding over the loss of a state senate and two congressional seats last year. Having a personal injury lawyer, who again doesn’t speak Spanish, pretty much sums up Dem’s efforts in Miami Dade. When you realize that fact, everything else makes sense as to why Miami Dade is quickly becoming a lost cause."
If political pipsqueaks like Maloney and Jeffries want to make themselves useful for 2022, I would suggest they read-- and take seriously-- Noah Smith's July 4th newsletter, Hispanic voters and the American Dream, about how Democrats can nip the Latino shift toward the GOP in the bud. 27% of Latinos voted for Romney; 38% voted for Trump last year. "An 11-point swing among Hispanics is a big deal," wrote Smith, "especially when the rest of the nation was swinging the opposite direction; another such swing, and the two parties would be splitting the Hispanic vote right down the middle." Aside from the unsubstantiated theory that "Hispanics like incumbents," Smith listed half a dozen other excuses for the 11 point swing:
A concern for law & order and a dislike of “defund the police”
Annoyance with the term “Latinx”
A greater-than-realized concern for border security and dislike of illegal immigration
The macho culture of MAGA
Fear of socialism due to personal or ancestral experience with leftist regimes in Latin America
Hispanics assimilating into whiteness and acquiring the values of White voters
Smith, though-- and this is the part I hope Jeffries and Maloney pay attention to-- would rather look at the economics of the election. "The boom of 2014-2019," he wrote, "was good for everyone, but in percentage terms it was especially good for Hispanics."
[M]ost importantly, Hispanics themselves feel the upward mobility too. This Pew survey is from all the way back in 2011, even before the most recent boom:
How are Hispanics moving up in America? The same way immigrant groups generally move up-- by building human networks, moving to opportunity, and getting an education. Here are two startling graphs about how Hispanic Americans have been climbing up the educational ladder:
In other words, despite starting from a very humble base, Hispanics are treading the same upward path that American immigrant groups always tread. The history of the Irish, Italians, Poles, and so on is repeating itself. Whatever structural forces have kept Black Americans and Native Americans from realizing their full economic potential, they don’t appear to be acting on Hispanics-- or at least, not to nearly the same extent. If Chetty et al. are correct, Hispanics are headed for parity with Whites, or very close to it.
And anyone who has been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the progress of Hispanic Americans over the decades knows that this is exactly the reason they came here. When Mexican immigrants waved American flags at pro-immigration rallies in the 2000s, they weren’t just courting public opinion-- they really believed in this country, and in the American Dream they were promised. The dream of working hard, bettering yourself, and moving up. They were immigrants, damn it. And their children and their grandchildren remembered that dream as well-- and now they’re achieving it. America has kept the promise it made.
So why would this make Hispanics shift toward the GOP? Maybe it’s because Trump presided over the most recent boom, in which Hispanic incomes did so well. Maybe it’s because when you start moving up the economic ladder, you get the urge to protect your gains with low taxes.
But it might also be because many liberals have been disparaging the American Dream. In 2015, a faculty training guide at the University of California warned professors that calling America a “land of opportunity” constituted a microaggression. Liberal rhetoric has turned increasingly against the notion of the American Dream, both because of the people who are still excluded from it-- undocumented immigrants, many Black and Native American people, many people caught up in the justice system, etc.-- and because of rising inequality. To call America a “land of opportunity” seems, to many liberals, a cruel taunt directed at those who still don’t enjoy full opportunity.
And of course, they’re not wrong; America is a deeply unequal place, and many are excluded from opportunity. That needs to be remedied, and to be remedied it needs to be remembered, highlighted, and focused on. But at the same time, focusing exclusively on the areas in which American opportunity still lags-- and punishing people who highlight the very real opportunity that still exists-- does a disservice to all the people who were given a chance, who believed in this nation and who worked hard for their place in it.
Like, for example, many Hispanic Americans. They, or their parents or grandparents, worked damn hard to get to this country and succeed here; my bet is that they do not want to see the America they believed in and fought so hard for be yanked away by pious White liberals and replaced with a stifling spoils system.
Now, you might respond that this derogatory attitude toward the American Dream is confined to media outlets, shouty activists, and overzealous university administrators. But in this age of ubiquitous social media exposure, politicians don’t have the luxury of merely standing above the cultural fray-- they have to actually address the things that it seems like “their side” is doing all over the country. And conservatives, for their part, are racing to take advantage of the situation, claiming that Biden’s programs are aimed at ending the American Dream. It’s all B.S., of course-- Biden’s programs would enhance and strengthen the American Dream. But if woke pundits and clucking university admins are running all over the country denouncing the idea that the American Dream even exists, then there’s no one to push back on conservative alarmism.
If they want to make sure that the Hispanic trend toward the GOP remains a blip, Democrats need to start talking about the American Dream again. And more than that, they need to focus their policies on upward mobility for working-class and middle-class strivers. For example, despite income gains, Hispanics are still way behind in wealth and homeownership (which for the middle class are the same thing). Elizabeth Warren and Cecilia Rouse’s proposal for down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers living in traditionally segregated areas should be expanded to target low-income Americans in general, or people who grew up in low-income households-- that will make sure it targets Hispanic as well as Black Americans, giving them a leg up into the middle class. Also, Biden’s call for free community college shouldn’t be tabled or left by the wayside, as this would be very targeted toward working-class Hispanic Americans climbing toward the middle class.
America isn’t a perfect land of opportunity by any means, but to immigrants and their children and grandchildren, it remains a beacon of hope. That’s the whole reason we take in immigrants in the first place. Liberals must not forget that.
Luring losers like Gil Cisneros-- a self-funder, no less-- might be the easiest thing for Maloney and Jeffries to do but it's a terrible idea that will only work for the Republicans. Figuring how to help keep Latinos identifying as Democrats-- and registering to vote-- is not as easy, but will actually pay off.
UPDATE From Oklahoma City
Tom Guild, a progressive activist and former congressional candidate added some information about OK-05, after warning me that the Oklahoma Democratic Party is expecting Kendra Horn to run again. "Ex Rep. Horn deeply disappointed many in the fifth district by being all things to all people during her campaign when she first ran, and then taking vote after vote once in office that deeply harmed the people of Oklahoma and America. Two votes that particularly stung were her votes against raising the minimum wage to $15 and against the PRO Act, the most important item on the agenda of unions and working people in the state and nation. This after taking union money to fund her campaign. On vote after vote she revealed her 'no labels' agenda and sided with Republicans in the U.S. House. She totally alienated the progressive base of the party in the congressional district and many of them publicly and privately indicated that they didn’t vote in the congressional race in November of 2020. Despite massive spending on her behalf by Super PACs and many millions spent by her official campaign committee, that together totaled nearly $20 million, she was not re-elected. She outspent the Republican who beat her by better than 2 to 1. As Maya Angelou said, when someone tells you who they are you should believe them. Ms. Horn has told us who she is, as disappointing as that is to many hard working people in Oklahoma’s Fifth Congressional District!"