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.
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.
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
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.