Two Candidate 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.

Politico On “How the Bernie Wing Won the Democratic Primaries”

While there have been many negatives since the 2016 election, including both the presidency of Donald Trump and the Democratic establishment falling into McCarthyism and Cold War Revivalism, one good result was a weakening of the hold by the Clinton/DLC faction on the Democratic Party. A Clinton victory would have probably meant watching the Democrats pushing conservative candidates who would go down to defeat by even more conservative Republicans. Instead we are seeing a chance for more liberal and progressive candidates to run.

Politico has already declared the left to be the winners this year in an article entitled, How the Bernie Wing Won the Democratic Primaries. Here are some excerpts (quoting of which, as usual, does not indicate complete agreement):

In state after state, the left is proving to be the animating force in Democratic primaries, producing a surge of candidates who are forcefully driving the party toward a more liberal orientation on nearly every issue.

These candidates are running on an agenda that moves the party beyond its recent comfort zone and toward single-payer health care, stricter gun control, a $15 minimum wage, more expansive LGBT rights and greater protections for immigrants.

In the surest sign of the reoriented issue landscape, they’re joined by some of the most prominent prospects in the 2020 Democratic presidential field—Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris among them—who are embracing the same agenda.

According to data compiled by the Brookings Institution’s Primaries Project, the number of self-identified, nonincumbent progressive candidates in Texas spiked compared with the previous two election years. This year, there were nearly four times as many progressive candidates as in 2016. Meanwhile, the number of moderate and establishment candidates remained flat for the past three elections in Texas.

Even in Illinois, where the Democratic Party holds most of the levers of power, the data tell a similar story: There were more progressive candidates this year, the Primaries Project reports, than moderate and establishment candidates, by a count of 25 to 21…

The party’s ascendant left is coming after everybody, regardless of the outcome in Lipinski’s race. Progressive energy is pulsing through the primaries, most notably in the proliferation of Trump-backlash grass-roots groups like Indivisible, Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress that are teeming with activists inspired by Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. There’s no comparable counterweight within the establishment…

These progressives aren’t necessarily sweeping races up and down the ballot. But they are winning enough of them—and generating enough grass-roots pressure—to continue driving the party leftward.

In Texas, a greater percentage of the progressive candidates either won or advanced to a runoff than the percentage of moderate and establishment candidates who did. In Illinois, the success rate between the wings was about equal. Five moderate or establishment candidates won their primaries, compared with three progressives.

Many on the left will question whether Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris truly embrace the same agenda, but as politicians they definitely see the need to at least give lip service to a more progressive agenda than Hillary Clinton did, despite her weak attempts to modify some of her conservative positions.

As is so often the case with articles which cite issues backed by more progressive candidates, I am also disappointed that nothing is said about Democrats opposing American interventionism and the neoconservative foreign policy which was promoted by their last presidential candidate. Nor was anything said about scaling back the surveillance state, restoring civil liberties lost as a consequence of the “war on terror,” or ending the drug war. It is as if the Democratic Party has stopped trying to dismantle the deleterious policies of George W. Bush.

If the victory is being called a victory by the “Bernie Wing,” in articles such as this, I hope that Bernie Sanders speaks out more on these issues. He has often taken the correct side, even if he has not stressed such issues. Sanders initially ran as an insurgent candidate to raise the economic issues which were more important to him, not expecting to win the 2016 nomination. Now that his wing has a chance of taking over the party, and winning elections at all levels, I hope that he does devote more time to these issues.