Representative Joseph Crowley of New York, once seen as a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader of the House, suffered a shocking primary defeat on Tuesday, the most significant loss for a Democratic incumbent in more than a decade, and one that will reverberate across the party and the country.
Mr. Crowley was defeated by a 28-year-old political newcomer, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a former organizer for Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, who had declared it was time for generational, racial and ideological change.
The last time Mr. Crowley, 56, even had a primary challenger, in 2004, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was not old enough to vote.
Mr. Crowley, the No. 4 Democrat in the House, had drastically outspent his lesser-known rival to no avail, as Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign was lifted by an aggressive social media presence and fueled by attention from national progressives hoping to flex their muscle in a race against a potential future speaker.
Ocasio-Cortez is a member of Democratic Socialists for America.
As Chris Cillizza of CNN points out, this result has nothing to do with whether or not the Dems are going to retake the House in the fall. This House seat is solidly in Democratic hands. It has everything to do with the future of the Democratic Party. Excerpt:
Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party in 2016 — and the establishment’s acquiescence to him in 2017 and 2018 — put a massive spotlight on the divide between the GOP party leadership and the Republican base.
Meanwhile, overlooked amid the Trump furor, Democrats have been in the early stages of a civil war of their own — between pragmatic establishment types and liberals infuriated with the Trump presidency.
That Crowley, the heir apparent to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, could lose a primary to a 28-year-old, politically unknown and woefully underfunded Democratic Socialist speaks volumes about where the energy in the party is right now.
All you need to do is watch the two-minute bio video Ocasio-Cortez put out to understand a) where the party is right now and b) how terrifying that should be to the party establishment.
Yes indeed. Watch the video. It’s powerful. If I were a Democrat, it would be hard to resist.
This morning, in light of the Ocasio-Cortez upset, Megan McArdle re-upped her November 11, 2016, Trump upset Facebook post. Here’s what she said then, and repeats this morning:
My husband and I long ago planned a vacation for immediately after the election. We’re both exhausted; we had a zillion frequent flyer miles. So we decided to go to Asia for 12 days, and do no work.
Well, two things happened, one expected, and one not. The first was that I have horrible jet lag. My circadian rhythms make Prussian drill instructors look like devil-may care slouches; I knew from earlier experience that despite Ambien-induced attempts to reset my body clock, I would wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep.
The other thing I didn’t expect: Trump won the election.
I’ve been going back and forth on this all year. At times I have been convinced he couldn’t win; at other times, I’ve been shouting at smug liberals “Guys, pay attention! This could happen!” But by the time of the election, I assumed I was looking at a Clinton presidency. Journalists should know better than to “write the lede on the way to the ballpark”, but … well, yeah, okay, I shouldn’t have written the lede on the way to the ballpark.
This means that instead of taking off for vacation amidst the boring and long-awaited coronation of Clinton, I left the US with columns unwritten, columns now burning a hole in my psychological pocket. I may, from time to time, post some of those thoughts here. This isn’t work. It’s … it’s a hobby! That’s the ticket, I’m engaging in a creative craft!
So here’s my first thought, in a purely non-work, amateur capacity: Democrats are about to experience the madness that has beset the Republican Party over the last eight years.
Back when I was first blogging as Jane Galt, lo those many years ago, I coined “Jane’s First Law of Politics”: “The devotees of the Party that holds the presidency are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the Party that doesn’t hold the White House are insane.” I have never had cause to revisit this observation.
So when liberals spent years trying to diagnose the unique psychological disease that seemed to have beset the Republican Party–Acute Chronic Racism, or perhaps Psychosomatic Obstructionitis–I have always suspected that the fervent devotion to pointless and often counterproductive obstruction was less a Republican disease than a symptom of a larger structural problem in our politics. As people have geographically sorted themselves into partisan enclaves, partisanship has risen dramatically; the culture war has taken the kind of fierce battles that rocked the country during the civil rights era to all 50 states, rather than concentrating them on a handful of states and cities; and perhaps most importantly, a century of “good government” initiatives, from primary elections to campaign finance reform to anti-earmark legislation, have gutted the parties as a source of political discipline and political deal-making. These weak parties were unable to mount any kind of coherent response to the social media revolution, which allowed candidates and activists to do an end-run around the party professionals who would have stopped them in an earlier era.
The result is a fundamentally broken politics. But that politics is not broken because of something that “Republican elites” did. Liberals have been very fond of arguing that those elites somehow encouraged the growth of these destabilizing influences by not shutting down … well, name your candidate: right-wing talk radio, the tea party, obstructionist forces in Congress, Donald Trump. Liberals are about to find out what those Republicans have long known: they had no power to shut them down. All the tools they might have used had been taken away decades ago, mostly by progressives.
For exactly the same structural forces are at work on the left. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Those forces have been masked by Democratic possession of the presidency, which is a unifying force far out of proportion to its actual usefulness. As long as your party holds the White House, you feel like you have a shot at getting things done, and you are willing to cut a great deal of slack to your leadership. Prepare to see Republicans get a lot quieter and more cooperative, and the obstreperous forces on the left to get angrier and more intransigent.
In 2012, in the wake of their presidential loss, Republicans looked at what had happened and concluded that building a coalition that could take the presidency was best done by moderating on immigration in order to try to sweep socially conservative Latinos into the fold. This made a portion of the party base explode. In the wake of this election loss, in which a mainstream candidate tossed the presidency to the candidate with the highest unfavorables we’ve ever seen in a presidential election, professional Democrats are going to want to do a similar analysis. That analysis is almost certainly going to come up with an answer that’s intolerable to large portions of their base: that they need to back off the identity politics and embrace a more old-fashioned national greatness campaign mixed with pocketbook issues.
The activist groups in the base who are most heavily invested in identity politics will (correctly) read this as a decline in their power and status. They will be incandescent. And they will put exactly the same sort of pressure on their politicians that the Tea Party put on Republicans. They will want to see their politicians blocking Trump even if it hurts the party overall, even if it means sacrificing bits of their legislative agenda that they could get done. They will demand costly symbolic acts that function as a repudiation of Trump, and a show of fealty to party interest groups. They will care more about those things than any substantive legislative achievement. I’m not saying they won’t care about legislative achievement, but I suspect that it will be symbolism first, achievement later. Because that’s where our politics is in 2016, on both sides of the aisle. Centrist, process-oriented Democrats will now discover the joys that their counterparts on the right have known for years: of screaming fruitlessly that this sort of thing is hurting the alleged policy goals of the people demanding it, and being told for their troubles, that they’re just DINO sellouts.
I don’t know how we fix this. I don’t know if it can be fixed. But a healthy first step is for center-left folks to stop pointing and laughing at the Republican Party, and issuing faux-solemn, joyously incredulous diagnoses of “the problem with the Republican Party”. The Republican Party doesn’t have a problem. American politics has a problem. And everyone in America is going to have to figure out how to fix it.
Let me also refer you once again to Tucker Carlson’s great January 2016 Politico essay titled “Donald Trump Is Shocking, Vulgar, And Right: And, My Dear Fellow Republicans, He’s All Your Fault.”
It is time for a liberal to write “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Young, Radical, and Right: And, My Dear Fellow Democrats, She’s All Your Fault.”
I mean that not in the sense that Ocasio-Cortez’s policy prescriptions are correct. I mean it in the sense that liberal voters are sick of the Democratic Party establishment, in the same way that Tucker Carlson’s diagnosis of conservative disgust with the GOP establishment fueled Trump.
The problem is that in a nation as polarized as ours, avatars of the extremes can’t get things done. If the Democrats take the House this fall, Washington will be well and truly in a World War I trench-warfare situation, with both sides grinding on, neither one strong enough to push the other back, but both filled with fight.
I admire what Ocasio-Cortez has managed to do here. But as a conservative, I don’t gloat at Nancy Pelosi’s problems. This is only going to make things more divisive and more heated.