About Last Night: The Democrat Center Holds in Primary Results, For Now
Earlier this week Mark Kruger wrote about the intramural contest within the Democrat party between the rising progressive left and the more established center-left.
But AOC’s success and the media attention it brings heightens the fissures within the Democratic party. The debate is over whether Dem’s should be more socialist. A young, idealistic faction within the party wants to wrestle it further to the left. They advocate big changes in healthcare, housing and education with a primary role for government. An aging “establishment” wing of the party supports incremental changes (or in some case the status quo). It wants to maintain a position nearer to the center.
Much ink and characters have been spilled about the topic, and last night with primaries in Ohio, Missouri, Michigan, Kansas, and Washington we have some actual data and fresh results to add to the mix.
The Democratic Party’s left-wing insurgency found its limits Tuesday night, with voters favoring establishment candidates over more liberal challengers in almost every closely watched race across several states.
In Michigan, former state senator Gretchen Whitmer easily won the Democratic nomination for governor over Abdul El-Sayed, a doctor backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who was vying to become the country’s first Muslim governor.
In suburban House districts across the Midwest, left-wing candidates lost to Democrats backed by party leaders, abortion rights groups and labor unions.
And in St. Louis, where party giant-slayer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez traveled to help another young insurgent candidate topple an incumbent, Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) cruised to an easy primary win over challenger Cori Bush.
Six weeks after Ocasio-Cortez stunned Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), signs of a tea-party-like movement in the Democratic Party that would throw winnable races to far-left candidates appear to be fading. Instead, the party’s establishment has embraced ideas like expanding the Affordable Care Act, shrinking the space between its leaders and its disrupters.
“Trump has been the great doctor, stitching up our scars and healing us organically,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
The party’s centrists, who had bemoaned Crowley’s defeat, saw Tuesday night as a turning point. Whitmer, who ran on her record of expanding Medicaid in Michigan — and a memorable promise to “fix the damn roads” — will now lead an all-female ticket in a swing state that Hillary Clinton narrowly lost.
Vox drew mostly the same conclusion, adding “the left” to its column that was headed “losers” from last night along with the “moral victory” of coming close in OH-12.
The left has had a good 2018, don’t get me wrong. But Abdul El-Sayed’s second-place finish in the Michigan Democratic governor’s primary — even after a highly publicized appearance days before the election with superstar Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders — wasn’t its best moment.
Meanwhile, down south in Ohio, a moderate Democrat who explicitly rejects lefty priorities like Medicare-for-all, “Abolish ICE,” and tuition-free college, very nearly won a House district Republicans have held for 35 years. Progressives have made gains this year, compared to the past, but the moderate message still seems to have a place in certain areas.
Two establishment-backed candidates also beat self-styled Berniecrats in Michigan House primaries. The Kansas Second, with former Bernie Sanders staffer Brent Welder facing Sharice Davids, is too close to call, though Davids appears to be ahead.
Right now, it’s easy to imagine a House Freedom Caucus-size lefty caucus if things break right for Democrats. But that kind of support for the democratic socialist policies can have only so much effect, unless progressives start breaking through in more primaries.
At least for one night, any blue wave that might come will still be lead by the center. If the Democrats can manage to ride it.