The Progressive Insurgency in 2020: Building the bench

While the Democratic establishment pulls the party hard right, the grassroots is trying to pull the party to the left. Both are having some success, which is creating a huge divide in the party.
Nowhere has this been more obvious than in Rhode Island.

In 2016 Rhode Island progressives shocked the establishment. Four progressives ousted incumbent Democrats, including state House Majority Leader, a right-wing Democrat.
How did the party react? In 2018 it declared war on its base.

As it tries to fend off a progressive insurgency, the Democratic Party in one of the bluest states in the country is facing open revolt after endorsing candidates — including a Trump-voting former Republican — in primaries against three progressive women up for re-election this year.

Progressives across the country say they're fighting an out-of-touch party establishment, but nowhere are the battle lines more clearly drawn than Rhode Island, where the state is run largely by Democrats who oppose abortion rights and get "A" ratings from the National Rifle Association.

The long-simmering fight burst into the open this week after the Rhode Island Democratic Party released its slate of endorsements, which critics say is aimed at punishing three women who ousted old-guard incumbents two years ago.

So what happened? All the progressives were reelected and three more incumbents were knocked off.
And yet still the establishment didn't give trying to crush progressives in 2020. So how did that turn out?

State-level progressive candidates across Rhode Island celebrated victories Friday after 38,000 mail-in ballots were tallied in this week's primary elections in which more than a dozen centrist Democratic incumbents were rejected by voters in favor of challengers offering more visionary solutions.
...
"Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse should be paying close attention to the just crystal-clear message that Rhode Island voters have sent this week, an unambiguous progressive message," Denvir told The Intercept.

"Every single state legislator in Providence should [also] consider themselves on notice," he added. "There are very few legislators who are safe from a progressive challenge."

The harder the party elites fought its voters, the harder the progressives fought back and defeated them. Something similar happened in New York in 2018, when the Independent Democratic Conference was annihilated by progressive voters.

The IDC became a symbol of the corrupt compromises, and corporate influence, that made “Albany” a watchword for everything that’s been disappointing about New York politics...

All eight state senators who had been associated with the IDC were challenged in Democratic primaries Thursday. Six of them lost to progressives. Those primary finishes, which are likely to be followed by November wins in overwhelmingly Democratic districts, promise a big shift in Albany. They will move the legislature and state government to the left.

What does it mean? It means the Democratic leadership views you as the enemy, not Republicans.
But it also means that these assholes can be beaten. And that efforts to beat them are not a waste of time.

Progressives made significant gains this year that were largely not reported in the media. Most of these gains were down-ballot, not at the federal level. That's why I say "building the bench".

As Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats, told HuffPost, “We’ve been intentional about building infrastructure and an ecosystem that can take on decades worth of the establishment’s.”

The question I have to address right off the bat is: what is a progressive?
I'm going to define that first and foremost by who oppose the progressive candidates - i.e. the Democratic establishment.
Secondly I'm going to define it by who supported the candidates - insurgency groups such as Justice Democrats, Our Revolution, DSA, etc.
To define progressive by a basket of issues would get too complicated for here.

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As you can see in open seats progressives did quite well, but in challenging incumbent candidates there were only three wins, and lots of losses.
Of course before 2018 it was almost unheard of for a grassroots progressive candidate to beat an incumbent in the primaries.

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Our Revolution endorsed 28 candidates, but only six won.
Justice Democrats endorsed 10 candidates, and five won.
Brand New Congress endorsed 40 candidates, but only eight won.
[note: this only counts Congress, and many candidates had multiple endorsements]

Let's face it: money matters. Especially in politics.
The higher you go up the food chain the more money matters.
Which is why progressives struggle to win above the House level, because real progressives refuse to be bought.
On the other hand, state and local races don't require nearly as much cash.

Essentially "The Squad" is going to be several times larger next year.
Let's not get too singularly focused on Congress. Progressives made huge gains at the state level in multiple states. And that's what I want to talk about

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There are good chances for Democratic pickups of legislative chambers are the Senate in Arizona, Minnesota and North Carolina and the House in Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
The Democratic politicians that are retaking the state houses (assuming the polls are correct) is not the same beast that got crushed in 2010 and 2014. It was right-of-center Blue Dog Dems that got routed by the GOP a decade ago.

Let's consider Pennsylvania for starters. In 2016 there were no democratic socialists in the state house. There hadn't been since the 1920's.
In 2018 three DSA candidates won state house races, while beating two incumbents. This year a socialist knocked off a corporate Dem incumbent in the state senate.
This is only socialists here. Progressives had many more wins.

Four of the seven incumbent Democratic lawmakers on the ballot in Delaware lost their seats to progressives, including the four-decade incumbent Senate President Pro Tempore.
Five grassroots progressive Democratic challengers won over mostly long-established incumbent Senate Democrats who were moderate or conservative-leaning in New Mexico.
Virginia continued its shift to the left. Even Texas had some leftist victories.

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thanatokephaloides's picture

(Bernie Sanders did this.)

Not meaning to denigrate the massive amount of very hard work by the candidates themselves and their supporters, of course. But it is this, what you described in this Essay, that's really what we Berniecrats got for our trouble. The New Deal Democrat, once an endangered species, is on her way back from extinction. One can say "socialist" in polite conversation again in the US of America.

And that's a good thing!

Smile

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"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

OzoneTom's picture

Running at the more local levels to demand what communities know that they need.

At that level of detail, "more or less evil" is laughable.

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they continue to support, however reluctantly or unintentionally, one of the fundamental problems this country has: the entrenchment of political parties as the source of political power, rather than people as that source.

I'm skeptical that this will lead to anything but a big let-down 1, 2, 5 years from now. Historically what has happened is that movements that work within the party framework end up having some initial push and success and then get totally appropriated, and finally ignored. See, for example, the great things done during the Civil Rights era that *democrats* (not just republicans)--some of them the same ones who were icons of that era (Lewis)--worked very hard to dismantle, regress, and fight over the next 40 years. The Democratic Party is especially good it: I'd call them the Microsoft ("embrace, extend, extinguish") of the American political system.

Let me put it this way: I don't give a damn whether they support M4A, reducing our involvement in war, etc., if they aren't serious about dismantling the one-party-with-two-faces system we have. M4A, reasonable taxation of the rich, and not killing people in foreign wars are table stakes to just get my attention. If that's all they bring, they aren't serious about lasting change in this country as long as they continue to support the democratic party by "working within", and I couldn't care any less about their rhetoric.

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Pricknick's picture

@BayAreaLefty
is a prime example.

Historically what has happened is that movements that work within the party framework end up having some initial push and success and then get totally appropriated, and finally ignored.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez showed frustration with Congressional Democrats after they pulled a bill to pay raises, calling the effort 'superficial.'

"Yep. Voting against cost of living increases for members of Congress may sound nice, but doing so only increases pressure on them to keep dark money loopholes open. This makes campaign finance reform *harder.* ALL workers deserve cost of living increases, incl min wage workers," the New York Democrat said in a tweet storm Tuesday in response to congressional Democrats tabling a pay raise for members.

Did she need a pay raise while campaigning for her current position? Nope.
I agree cost of living is getting harder for those on the bottom. She sure as hell can't say she's on the bottom anymore. $174 grand goes a long way compared to a bartender. That's not including the perks.
I would really like for any congress critter to try and justify a 2.5% raise.
She tried and failed.

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Regardless of the path in life I chose, I realize it's always forward, never straight.

@Pricknick

households. I also don't think it's a high enough salary. I disagree with her reasoning: I don't think campaign finance/money is as big a deal as everyone else seems to. The problems and flaws in our government have less to do with how campaigns are financed and more to do with all the other corrupt activities (e.g. kickbacks, contracts going to businesses of friends and family, etc.) that happen far removed from any election cycle. Campaign finance might be one "in" or way candidates are bought, but it's far from the only or most significant one.

If I had to pick on AOC for anything, it's her naivete and partaking in the sham of "elect first, push left after". The "progressive" caucus' laughable whiny letter about Joe's potential cabinet picks is a perfect example of what I described in my previous comment.

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@Pricknick
This is important to you?
You can't see the forest because of the trees.

Or to put it another way, it's like hating Trump only because of his tweets.

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Pricknick's picture

@gjohnsit
that a raise will make them less dependent on a system they all use.

doing so only increases pressure on them to keep dark money loopholes open

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Regardless of the path in life I chose, I realize it's always forward, never straight.

@BayAreaLefty
Most people I have worked with oppose taxation of over 50%. "The government shouldn't get more of a man's money than he does". This shows the fallacy of limiting wealth by income taxes. First you let them "earn" their ill-got gains, then you take it away like Lucy and the football. Better to institute a maximum wage as well as a minimum wage. CEO's in particular basically set their own wage by means of their trained seal boards of directors. Directors make a huge wage for a single day of meeting a few times a year. Unless they are outside hostile actors with huge blocks of their own stock, they owe their position to the CEO. So they vote him outlandish salaries and free stock options. What CEO has more employees than POTUS? What CEO administers a budget bigger than POTUS? What CEO holds the power of war or peace in his hands? Why should any CEO be paid more than POTUS? In a democratic society what person is more important than a whole town of people?
My proposal is a law limiting salaries at entities engaged in interstate commerce to no more than 10X the median wage or the POTUS salary whichever is smaller. It wouldn't hurt to have POTUS there either. In rough terms, he is already there. 10X or whatever the voting polity thinks is fair. 100X? A human being should make more in one year than TWO average people make in a lifetime? Hard to sustain that argument. Absolute Communist equality is not the point. Some peoples labor is worth more than others. The question is two fold: How much more, and does it make sense to give it, then snatch it away?

The problem of business wealth and inherited wealth remains. I have ideas on that too, but that's for another day.

EDIT: I once computed that Bill Gates(?) made more money in a year than my entire family made in the last two thousand years. Good pay for being a rapacious thief of other men's work and all around asshole. IMHO Gates belongs at the end of a rope.

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We are so screwed.

@BayAreaLefty

I don't give a damn whether they support M4A, reducing our involvement in war, etc.

Because I sure as Hell do care about those things.

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@gjohnsit

seems. I wrote that support of those things was table stakes to even get my attention: that is, not supporting them is effectively an instant disqualification.

It’s not enough to support them, though. If the follow through, the action to get it done, resembles mewling letters demanding begging other Democrats to act progressive more than it does attacking the source of the problem it isn’t that impressive to me.

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Cassiodorus's picture

as the Biden right-wing agenda drops political participation to new lows.

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"Every election is fake." -- Janna Ordonia, from "Star vs. the Forces of Evil"

Pricknick's picture

@Cassiodorus
The rural south eastern Michigan area I live in is sprouting trump signs like spring mushrooms.
Heads you win, tails I lose.

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Regardless of the path in life I chose, I realize it's always forward, never straight.

Cassiodorus's picture

@Pricknick It won't amount to a lot in two weeks because, as the latest poll shows, Texas has become a swing state. Texas! And Pennsylvania is now a Biden state. Pennsylvania!

Unless things change a lot in the next two weeks, Biden's going to win. The Biden faithful can say "we thought Hillary Clinton was going to win, too," but I'm not buying the "we were overconfident last time" argument either. There are a lot fewer undecideds this year than there were in 2016.

Biden's going to win, and then you'll see in full force his right-wing agenda. And nobody will care. The "Left" will be neutralized, and the Right will be happy.

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"Every election is fake." -- Janna Ordonia, from "Star vs. the Forces of Evil"

Pricknick's picture

@Cassiodorus
as the link does not, the political affiliation of those questioned.
Maybe I'm missing something but most polls I've seen recently are oversampling in one way or another.
I don't, repeat, DO NOT trust any polling that does not include sampling of political leaning.
I also don't give a shit about polls in general but you seem to put a lot of trust in them so I'll play along.

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Regardless of the path in life I chose, I realize it's always forward, never straight.

Here in RI. People are waking up to the realization that local reps can and do make a difference in the perpetual establishment's grip on power. More people also see the disconnect of the DNC at the federal level. Groups like the RI Political Cooperative and Sunrise RI are helping local progressives challenge the system. And thanks to people like Bernie who helped open our eyes to a clearer understanding of the democrat machine.

https://upriseri.com/2019-12-10-ri-political-coop/

https://upriseri.com/2020-10-05-sunrise/

“This year’s primary election showed that the days of powerful men trading favors and making decisions behind closed doors with their corporate lobbyist friends are coming to an end,”
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