The truce between the Progressive and Establishment wing of the Democratic party seems to have halted. Despite winning the presidency, keeping control of the House of Representatives, and retaining the chance to create a tie in the Senate, Democrats have been quick to point fingers, searching for someone to blame, for why their lead in the House decreased, rather than increased as hoped for.
On Thursday, November 5th, in a now widely heard phone call, Rep. Abigail Spanberger from Virginia launched some hard critiques on the Progressive wing of the party. Rep. Spanberger, who recently won re-election by about 8,000 votes in a district that went for Trump in 2016, spoke disapprovingly about losing seats “that we should not have lost.” She diagnosed the Democratic party’s issue as some members tainting their message with agendas such as “Defund the Police” and socialist rhetoric like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.
Other members of the party echoed Spanberger’s remarks. Rep. Conor Lamb, a centrist Democrat from Pennsylvania, called the Progressive’s messaging “unprofessional and unrealistic.”
The Progressive Democrats on the other hand, took issue with the message that their platform was the calculus that cost the House its majority margin. Representative of New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez insisted that Democrats must improve their digital fundraising, door knocking, and campaign during the off-election season if they want to keep their seats and that the Progressive wing of the party has much to offer that the Establishment Democrats have not been willing to utilize.
She also came supported with data, pointing out that Representatives Mike Levin and Katie Porter (CA), Jared Golden (ME), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ), and Matt Cartwright (PA), all were supporters of progressive ideas such as Medicare for All and won re-election in swing districts.
Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, raised the issue of isolating a portion of the party that is young and energized if we retract from a progressive message that directly impacts young people like canceling student loan debt and addressing the climate crisis with the Green New Deal. Progressives, including Rep. Rashida Talib, also noted that silencing progressive ideals lends itself to silencing the communities of color that helped usher in a Biden-Harris administration.
But maybe both of these takes can be true. I do not doubt that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez knows what is best for her district. It is unfair for Rep. Conor Lamb to self-diagnosis his district’s issues with her platform. However, the same can be said in reverse.
Centrist Rep. Max Rose of Staten Island, New York faced an incredibly difficult primary challenge and expectedly did not win re-election. The one-term congressman was running in a deep red district while Trump was on the ballot and against a Trump Republican. While opposing Defund the Police, Rep. Rose marched with Black Lives Matter in protest of police violence. This lead to a slew of Republican-funded ads painting him as an extreme leftist who would take money away from police departments. Max Rose lost his seat by 16 points.
In 2018, Rep. Katie Porter of California beat a two-term Republican incumbent and became the first Democrat to represent her district, all while embracing progressive policies. She has secured her seat for a second term in the November 2020 election.
The campaigns and communities are not homogenous across the map. The diagnosis cannot be either. We cannot point fingers at one person or idea and expect it to cure all the defects which cost the House seats — especially not when each of those defects stemmed from different communities, with different environments and backgrounds, shaping the politics of that district.
The infighting quite frankly feels irresponsible. Deepening divisions amongst the Democrats only gives Republicans ad material and worse, drives away voters we worked so hard to bring to the table. This is heightened when two pivotal Senate seats are at stake in the Georgia runoffs.
Instead of waging Twitter wars, I would love to see the Democrats working together to pull from the strengths of each coalition. The energy of the Progressive party will be crucial in future races. There is no question that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is a master campaigner in the digital age. That should not go un-exploited. But Georgia swung for Biden, a centrist. Having those Biden voters turn out again will be absolutely necessary and it is only going to happen if they receive a message they are receptive to. If centrist voters are telling us that leftist messaging is driving them away, we have to make better messages.
Careful, smart, organized, and targeted campaigning (and listening to Stacey Abrams), will win us both Georgia Senate seats. But the smartest, most organized, most energized campaign will be one generated from a unified Democratic party.