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Democrats: Doomed to Repeat the 2016 Election

During bouts of gallows humor about our present political condition, it is often said that we are doomed to repeat the 2016 presidential election in perpetuity.

President Donald Trump will not stop attacking his vanquished general election foe more than a year after taking office. His supporters still chant “Lock her up!” Hillary Clinton continues to re-litigate the campaign, devoting an entire book to the subject, continually coming up with new excuses for her shocking loss—some worth rehashing, many more of them not.

For the Democrats, this problem is even worse. While Trump and Ted Cruz have for the most part buried the hatchet, the loyal opposition cannot even get beyond the Democratic primaries the party ostensibly rigged on Clinton’s behalf against septuagenarian socialist Bernie Sanders. This is a major reason the Democratic National Committee still cannot capitalize financially off of Trump’s dysfunction.

In fairness, this isn’t entirely the fault of the main combatants. Clinton and Sanders occasionally take shots at each other, directly or through proxies, but competitive Democratic primaries are lazily described as contests between Hillary-loving centrists and the ascendant “Bernie wing” no matter what is really going on.

Then came this week’s primary in the Texas Seventh Congressional District, which provided fresh evidence that the Democratic establishment genuinely cannot get out of its own way. Democrats are trying to unseat Congressman John Culberson, an incumbent Republican whose district voted for Clinton in 2016. They have a real chance of winning, but the primary ended up being so messy that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee actually published opposition research against an insurgent liberal candidate.

That’s the prerogative of an organization that exists to get Democrats elected to Congress. But such interventions have to be undertaken carefully, or they may backfire.

The target of the DCCC’s ire was a progressive named Laura Moser, whose offenses include writing an article—for The Washingtonian, natch—in which she said she would “sooner have my teeth pulled out without anesthesia” than live in Texas.

“Democratic voters need to hear that Laura Moser is not going to change Washington,” the DCCC opposition memo retorted. “She is a Washington insider, who begrudgingly moved to Houston to run for Congress.”

It is, of course, easy to envision how Republicans would use Moser’s lack of affection for the Lone Star State—or, as the DCCC put it, her “outright disgust for life in Texas”—against her. It was equally easy to predict how these tactics would trigger a progressive backlash, winning Moser the support of Sanders-aligned groups like Our Revolution over other liberal contenders.

Lo and behold, Moser advanced to the runoff, something that was not a foregone conclusion before the scorched-earth strategy highlighting her regional eccentricities. She only received 24 percent of the vote in a crowded field, but that’s within five points of the top vote-getter.

Up went Moser’s fundraising. Up went her national media profile. Up went an ad called “Our Turn” with this effective messaging from her campaign: “We have to fix our broken politics―and that starts by rejecting the system where Washington party bosses tell us who to choose.”

Oops. As is always the case with both parties’ governing classes, you win some and you lose some. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acquired his current job title by mobilizing against iffy candidates in the 2014 GOP primaries after watching his party flit away chances to win the majority in two previous election cycles. But he might have wanted to take a mulligan on his decision to go nuclear on Congressman Mo Brooks in the Alabama senatorial primary last year while leaving Roy Moore unscathed.

For Democrats, the problem is that progressives believe their party’s establishment is still living in the 1990s. The consultants and the apparatchiks are in too many cases slaves to the conventional wisdom that got Bill Clinton elected in a political climate where one might conceivably win running to the left of Barack Obama.

Indeed, Sanders’ campaign was less about Hillary than Bill and the business-friendly Democratic Leadership Council politics developed in response to electoral challenges their party faced in the 1980s. The Clintons won the nomination because Sanders was unable to make sufficient inroads in communities of color, but lost the election because in Trump they faced the one Republican willing to pull at neoliberalism’s loose threads.

By electing the Clinton-aligned Tom Perez as DNC chairman and then trying to strangle Moser’s campaign in the crib, Democrats are sending signals to the Resistance that they haven’t learned anything. This, along with overcrowded primaries and an unfriendly Senate map, ranks among the three biggest risks Democrats face in the otherwise highly favorable environment the president has gift-wrapped for them.

The new progressivism comes with risks of its own, which may yet become apparent after the midterm elections are over. But Democrats should sooner have their teeth pulled without anesthesia than live in the 2016 primaries forever.

James Antle III is politics editor of the Washington Examiner and author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?

14 Comments (Open | Close)

14 Comments To "Democrats: Doomed to Repeat the 2016 Election"

#1 Comment By blackhorse On March 7, 2018 @ 10:42 pm

This is a sorting out process that will be going on for a while, but I would not expect it to effect turnout come November. The GOP is currently toxic. The country could benefit from a genuinely conservative party, in the TR Square Deal sense. None of the factions in the GOP, however, are so inclined.

#2 Comment By EngineerScotty On March 8, 2018 @ 2:19 am

What’s the problem here, exactly? There was a contested primary, one candidate won. Primary season is when this sort of intra-party debate ought to be settled. Perhaps this candidate is too “liberal” to win in Texas, perhaps not; I don’t know the district in question. I expect certain Democratic Party organs to endorse/support establishment candidates, and I also expect that most voters will and ought to ignore such organs–the DCCC is not the party.

Now if the national party starts undermining progressives in the general race, preferring to lose to a Republican than allowing the wrong sort of Democrat to win, there’s a problem. But such petulatent behavior seems more common on the party’s left wing; Obama in 2008 was better supported by his erstwhile primary opponent and her campaign than Clinton was in 2016. Hopefully that lesson will be remembered.

#3 Comment By Kent On March 8, 2018 @ 11:22 am

The neo-liberal Democratic Party is just the gay-friendly, anti-NRA version of the neo-liberal Republican Party.

Make enough Christians mad and the Republican win. Don’t give them a reason to show up and the Democrats win. Regardless, policies pretty much stay the same.

Democrats may have a chance coming up since a lot of good Christians are getting a little queasy with the Donald. But you never know. And it won’t matter anyway.

#4 Comment By Chris On March 8, 2018 @ 12:25 pm

To clarify, Moser said she would rather have her teeth pulled than live in her grandparents’ hometown of Paris, Texas, which is not in her Houston-area district, and did not disparage Texas as a whole. Indeed, part of the backfire wasn’t just that the DCCC attacked Moser, it was that the attack was so dishonest and hypocritical (they also attacked her for hiring her husband’s consulting firm – a rich attack from the consultant-friendly and incestuous DCCC).

#5 Comment By Cynthia McLean On March 8, 2018 @ 12:42 pm

Many of us have become Independents rather than affiliate with the Democratic Party that was shown to be so slimy in 2016 when Bernie Sanders and the substantive issues he was raising, were pushed to the curb. I don’t trust the Democratic establishment joined at the hip with Wall Street and the military industrial complex. Clinton and her party lost because they were more interested in their wealthy sponsors than We the People.

#6 Comment By b. On March 8, 2018 @ 1:39 pm

“This is a major reason the Democratic National Committee still cannot capitalize financially off of Trump’s dysfunction.”

Glad we have our priorities straight.

Obama starved the DNC of wealthy donors in a calculated bid to destroy rival power centers within the party. However, Sanders (and Dean before him) demonstrated that it is possible, and possibly a winning strategy, to rely on small donors and decisively reject being “bought”.

In other words, if Sanders and his allies were shaping DNC policy, the DNC would not “capitalize financially off of Trump’s dysfunction” by choice.

“For Democrats, the problem is that progressives believe their party’s establishment is still living in the 1990s.”

Is the sloppy, or acting in bad faith? For progressives, the problem is that the party’s establishment is in the pockets of wealthy donors and corporations pushing for “public-private partnerships” as pioneered by Clinton – to most profitable way to not solve and in fact extend the manifold problems the nation is facing. For the DNC, the problem is indeed that the progressives do no believe the party leadership is acting in good faith.

The DCCC is acting with the same priority – elect “centrist” Democrats or do not elect any Democrat at all – across the nation. It will be most interesting to see the actions of the Chicago machine as Sanders and his allies resist, and possibly defeat, the statist agenda. It will also be educational to observe when Obama will openly participate in the party campaign to sideline and suppress progressive candidates – which is only the prelude in the push to prevent Sanders 2020, as is a good part of the “Russia!” hysteria pushed by Obama and Clinton proxies.

For the voters, however, the 2018 choice is much easier than the 2020 – if the Democratic Party leadership thinks that Trumps failures will allow them to present their captive voters with the same Judas goats one more time, then 2018 is the moment to mark #NoToIncumbents and #NoneOfTheAbove – fiat justitia ruat caelum.

Otherwise, those same voters will find themselves alone in the booth with 2016-retread Judas goats such as Gillibrand or Harris. There was good reasons to reject the Bush/Cruz/Rubio/Clinton foreign policy in 2016, and nothing will be resolved if Trump’s opportunistic interventionism is answered by the election of another warmonger in search of power and profit.

#7 Comment By connecticut farmer On March 8, 2018 @ 1:40 pm

@Cynthia McLean

You are a disaffected Democrat. I’m a disaffected Republican. Either way, the current two party arrangement is archaic and generally sucks!

#8 Comment By EarlyBird On March 9, 2018 @ 2:31 pm

The DNC is going to ignore the massive groundswell of support for economic populism which Bernie (and Trump) exposed in the electorate, and continue to promote economic policies which are indistinguishable from the GOP’s.

But they’ll talk about “retraining” out-of-work 6th generation coal miners to become become beside nurses, more parental leave, and “free college!”

And just like the right does, the Dems will do their best to stoke the fires of the culture wars to get liberals to the polls, to distract the masses from the continuing dissolution of the middle class.

And because the left’s Social Justice Warriors are so particularly noxious and alienating, they’ll lose.

#9 Comment By Josh Wilson On March 9, 2018 @ 11:54 pm

Good points, James, and it seems they would all apply to the Republican party in 2014 and 2016: the grassroots is fed up with the establishment, there’s a civil-war brewing, and they’re too disorganized to produce a coherent message. Then Trump comes along and literally does the exact opposite of the 2012 autopsy.

Like the RNC of spring 2016, the DNC needs to get out of the way of their voters if they expect to win.

#10 Comment By Lucy Cooke On March 10, 2018 @ 11:22 am

quick thoughts: Change in the Democratic Party is possible. Real Progressive Democrats need to be inclusive, looking for and emphasizing what the “usual Democratic base” and Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” have in common, their human needs for affordable health care and education, jobs, and respect.
With inequality at levels unseen since the 1920s, it is time for the bottom ninety percent to unite. With such unity, there could be real change. Greater inequality worldwide is leading to the rise of new leaders, Jeremy Corbyn in Great Britain, Lopez Obrador in Mexico, and two populist parties just won the most votes in Italy.
“The Times THEY Are A-Changing”!
Hopefully Bernie Sanders will win here in 2020, third party. if necessary.
The Establishment worldwide denigrates populism. They are scared of government by the people and for the people.
The Establishment will probably blame Russian meddling.

#11 Comment By blackhorse On March 10, 2018 @ 7:52 pm

“The neo-liberal Democratic Party is just the gay-friendly, anti-NRA version of the neo-liberal Republican Party” I know leftys who say the same thing on the flip side. I would expect the ruth to lie somewhere between the extremes.

#12 Comment By blackhorse On March 10, 2018 @ 7:53 pm

“The neo-liberal Democratic Party is just the gay-friendly, anti-NRA version of the neo-liberal Republican Party” I know leftys who say the same thing on the flip side. I would expect the truth to lie somewhere between the extremes.

#13 Comment By David Vincelette On March 11, 2018 @ 1:52 pm

“Communities of color”? Can’t anyone write without silly euphemisms any more? Cultural Marxism on the march.

#14 Comment By Leslie Jacobs On March 13, 2018 @ 8:36 am

Reagan was 70 when he took office, and he was clearly senile by the end of his term. Hillary is now 70, and Bernie is 76.