New York Times Reports, “Democrats Embrace Liberal Insurgents, Demanding New Face for Party”

The Democratic Party establishment has desired to nominate more moderate candidates, even in safe Democratic areas where they could not use their questionable arguments that more moderate candidates are more electable. Earlier in the year we saw examples of how the party establishment has attempted to suppress insurgent candidates. The New York Times notes how the Democratic Party establishment is having problems this year:

…Democratic voters and activists have increasingly succeeded at transforming their party into a more ambitious liberal force. In key races, they have also replaced elected leaders with newcomers who look and sound like the diverse, youthful base that the party relies on in presidential elections but that asserts itself sparingly in midterm elections and down-ballot primaries.

Should that mood of insurgency prevail on Election Day, it could set the stage for an even more tumultuous phase of redefinition next year: A liberal base that feels validated after November may be unlikely to heed calls from party leaders to pick their battles in the new Congress, or to approach the 2020 race with sensitivity to more conservative sections of the country. The next presidential primaries could become a climactic test for the awakened Democratic base, with women and candidates of color holding an appeal others might struggle to match.

Martin T. Meehan, a former member of Congress from Massachusetts, a state rocked on Tuesday by primary upsets, said Mr. Trump had helped fuse once-fractious Democratic constituencies into a powerful alliance for primary season. Mr. Meehan, now the president of the University of Massachusetts, likened it to earlier moments of political realignment, when ethnic groups like Italian-, Irish- and Greek-American voters learned to work together in the middle of last century…

The most dramatic upsets have come in New York, where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old activist and former bartender, defeated Representative Joseph Crowley, a Democratic boss in Queens and Washington, in a June primary; and Massachusetts, where Ayanna Pressley, a 44-year-old member of the Boston City Council, on Tuesday wrested the nomination away from Representative Michael Capuano, a 10-term progressive she branded as passive and conventional. Both women channeled liberal alarm at Mr. Trump and at social inequality in their own communities, and promised an unyielding fight for change…

In some revealing open-seat races, Democratic voters have also flouted the directives of party leaders and embraced inspiring activists. They nominated Jahana Hayes, an African-American educator, for Congress in Connecticut over a candidate approved by the state Democratic Party, and picked Andrew Gillum, the African-American mayor of Tallahassee, for governor of Florida over a field of better-funded candidates that included the scion of an imposing dynasty.

…Democratic insurgents predict that the party’s shifting attitude toward primary elections is more likely to intensify than recede. As Republican power brokers have found in recent years, once-potent instruments for enforcing partisan hierarchy have diminished in value: Political newcomers have deftly used online fund-raising and social media-based campaign tactics to replace the access to big donors and television airwaves that party leaders can more easily control.

And in Washington, as the number of Democratic upstarts elected to Congress grows, party leaders may face new pressures in navigating primary elections..

In keeping with Massachusetts political convention, Mr. Capuano mobilized a set of muscular institutions behind him, drawing endorsements from labor unions and influential Democrats including Boston’s mayor, Martin J. Walsh; Deval Patrick, the state’s first African-American governor; and black congressional leaders like John Lewis and Maxine Waters.

All that support was not decisive, and Ms. Pressley won by 17 points.

Sam Yoon, a former member of the Boston City Council, said Ms. Pressley’s victory had exposed a momentous cultural transition in the party. Mr. Yoon, 48, mounted a campaign nearly a decade ago against the legendarily iron-fisted former mayor, Thomas M. Menino, attempting unsuccessfully to energize young progressives and minority communities in a movement for change.

“I think the dynamic is just wide-open now,” Mr. Yoon said. “The establishment doesn’t have the hold that it used to.”

While we are undoubtedly seeing a reaction against Donald Trump, the changes in the Democratic Party are likely to be more a reaction to how the party leaders forced a candidate as conservative as Hillary Clinton on the party in 2016–and the excitement created by the campaign run by Bernie Sanders. The winners this year also make a mockery of the bogus “Bernie Bros” smears used by Clinton supporters against the left. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Jahana Hayes, and Andrew Gillum are certainly not the stereotypical white male Bernie Bros which Clinton supporters falsely claimed made up their opposition.

Among those now excited by the successes of the left are Barack Obama, who has returned to public life this week in a speech praising Medicare for all: “Democrats aren’t just running on good, old ideas like a higher minimum wage. They’re running on good, new ideas like Medicare for all,” Obama said. Perhaps Obama should have backed Sanders in 2016 over the Clinton, who campaigned against the plan. At very least, someone who had become president with promises of hope and change should have realized that a candidate as conservative and corrupt as Hillary Clinton was a poor choice in a year when voters demanded change.

Abdul El-Sayed Attempting To Bring Progressive Wave To Michigan In Key Primary This Week

The goal this year must not only be to elect candidates to oppose Trump, but to also reform the Democratic Party (which is responsible for the situation in 2016 which enabled Trump to be elected president). Tuesday provides an opportunity for another progressive upset in Michigan, but it will be a challenge due to the presence of both a real progressive (Abdul El-Sayed) and a faux progressive (Shri Thanedar) who will divide the vote against establishment candidate Gretchen Whitmer.

El-Sayed is running on a platform similar to that of Bernie Sanders. Sanders has endorsed El-Sayed, and came to Michigan to campaign for him on Sunday. The previous weekend, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was responsible for a major upset over the Democratic establishment, came to campaign for El-Sayed. He was also recently endorsed by The Nation and previously received endorsements from groups including  Justice DemocratsOur RevolutionThe People for BernieOur Revolution, the Progressive Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party, and Democracy for America.

El-Sayed is behind in the polls, but victory might be within reach. Progressives are encouraged by the greater enthusiasm seen for his campaign as compared to his opponents. Progressives are also encouraged by the memories of Bernie Sanders coming back from twenty-points behind just prior to the Michigan Democratic primary in 2016 to upset Hillary Clinton. The polls missed support for a progressive alternative to the Democratic establishment then, and could be doing so again.

The front runner, Gretchen Whitmer, is the daughter of a former president and  CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and the recipient of their money. She is also the only Democratic candidate who opposes single payer health care. She has also benefited from dark money contributions, which has become an issue in the race.  When she twisted the facts to respond to El-Sayed, the Truth Squad at a Michigan newspaper called her claims “mostly inaccurate” as she tried to equate contributions from private individuals with her corporate contributions.

The task of upsetting the establishment candidate is made more difficult by the presence of faux-progressive Shri Thanedar, who is running as a progressive for strategic reasons, and has put $10 million of his own money into the race.  Hopefully the efforts of Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and several progressive groups will lead to progressives coming out to vote for the true progressive candidate in the race, Abdul El-Sayed.

Two Candidates Running As Bernie Sanders Style Progressives In Michigan Threaten To Split Vote, With Only One Worthy Of Progressive Support

There has been a lot of talk lately about an anti-establishment fervor in the Democratic Party, largely fueled by both dissatisfaction with the status quo and the manner in which the DNC rigged the rules to block challengers to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Clinton’s inability to beat a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump cast more doubt on the party establishment’s strategy of promoting moderate candidates. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory over party insider Joseph Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district Democratic primary gave additional hope for progressive and true liberal Democrats hoping to beat the party establishment. In Michigan efforts to beat establishment candidate Gretchen Whitmer (who would still be far preferable to GOP front runner Bill Schuette) for the nomination for Governor might be thwarted by two candidates running as progressives in Michigan who are likely to split the vote.  However, only one is a true progressive.

While both Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar are running as Bernie Sanders style progressives, only El-Sayed looks like the real deal. The Intercept has had multiple articles exposing Thanedar as an opportunist. In a new article today, The Intercept shows how they differ on health care, but first recapped the case against Thanedar:

In Michigan, businessperson Shri Thanedar has spent millions of dollars on television ads casting himself as “the most progressive Democrat running for governor,” and promising that he would bring single-payer health care to Michigan.

“Health care is not a privilege; it is our fundamental right. I will bring single-payer health care to Michigan,” Thanedar says in a TV commercial. “Agree? Vote for Shri.”

But there’s reason to be skeptical.

Over the last year, investigations by The Intercept have revealed many facts which cast doubt on Thanedar’s progressive branding. He donated thousands of dollars to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, he was spotted clapping and nodding approvingly at a Marco Rubio presidential rally, and several Michigan political consultants have claimed that Thanedar once consulted them about possibly running as a Republican.

The Intercept interviewed Thanedar and found that “Thanedar’s much touted single-payer health care ‘plan’ appears to be nonexistent.” In contrast, they found that former Detroit Public Health chief Abdul El-Sayed “has a detailed strategy for how to accomplish it.” However, Thanedar is likely to split the progressive vote due to having spent much more on advertising. The Intercept notes:

Last month, he released a plan to establish “Michicare,” which would levy payroll and business taxes to establish state-funded public coverage for all Michigan residents…

But despite having a more well-developed plan, El-Sayed’s middle-class background means he does not have the same resources to advertise his health care plan as does Thanedar, who, not without controversy, made a fortune in the chemical testing industry.

As a result, there’s a real risk that the public might be misled.

The article also notes how this will impact the race against establishment candidate Gretchen Whitmer:

But by coopting a progressive message and splitting the progressive vote, Thanedar has helped Whitmer, an establishment candidate, take a comfortable lead.

Whitmer is the daughter of former Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO Richard Whitmer. She’s the only Democratic candidate in the race who does not back single-payer, saying that it’s not “realistic” in Michigan at this time. BCBS Michigan lobbyists threw a fundraiser for Whitmer earlier this year. And she’s currently taking heat from an unidentified group who have paid for ads attacking her from accepting “big money” from insurance companies.

El-Sayed has been endorsed by Justice Democrats, Our Revolution, The People for Bernie, Our Revolution, the Progressive Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party, Democracy for America, and after her victory in New York, by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Whitmer has a long list of establishment endorsements. I am not aware of any significant endorsements for Thanedar but the Grosse Pointe Democratic Club has issued an anti-endorsement for Thanedar warning Democrats NOT to vote for him.

Bernie Sanders Congratulates Progressive Winners Last Night–Wins For The Left Even More Important With The Retirement Of Anthony Kennedy

Despite efforts of the Democratic establishment to fight progressive candidates, there have been some major victories for the left, including the surprise upset of  Joseph Crowley in New York. Perhaps this will give Cynthia Nixon some momentum in her primary campaign against  Andrew Cuomo. Bernie Sanders has congratulated two of the progressives who won last night.

Sanders had this to say about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who beat Crowley, who was previously considered as a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi: “She took on the entire local Democratic establishment in her district and won a very strong victory. She demonstrated once again what progressive grassroots politics can do.”

Sanders also congratulated Ben Jealous, who won the Democratic nomination for governor in Maryland:

“Ben showed that running a progressive, issue-oriented campaign can bring all working people together in the fight for justice,” Sanders said in the statement. “That’s what Ben has done in the primary and that is what a united Democratic Party will do in the general election.”

“What the people of Maryland understand is that we can most effectively oppose Donald Trump’s extremism with strong progressive leadership at the state and local level — and there are few progressives stronger than Ben,” he added.

The importance of having more true liberals and progressives in state governments and Congress was highlighted by the announcement that Anthony Kennedy is retiring from the Supreme Court, giving Donald Trump a second Court pick. While we cannot understate the significance of the Supreme Court moving further to the right, we must also keep in mind that the Court’s function is to interpret the law. The strongest defense we have now is to increase the number of true liberal and progressives in Congress and state governments, as opposed to Republicans and establishment Democrats, to influence the laws which are written.

The one positive outcome of a Trump presidency is that this does give Democrats a chance to win in Congressional and state elections after a decade of losing, while a Clinton presidency would have led to a continuation of this trend. Democratic victories will only be meaningful if Democrats are willing to stand for something other than being just a little less crazy than the Republicans, as in recent years.  This will take victories by the grassroots over the establishment, as we saw last night.