Scorecard for the progressive insurgency in the Democratic Party

Now is a good time to take a step back and look at the big picture.
Is the effort to reform the calcified and corrupt Democratic Party working?
Short answer: the results are mixed.

I have two articles that have used very different metrics to arrive at answers.
Both of them were published before last night's primaries where progressives did very good.
The first study is from the pro-establishment, centrist Brookings.

As we wrote in an earlier analysis, this year has seen an outpouring of enthusiasm among self-proclaimed progressives, and many more progressives are running in Democratic primaries than have run in recent years. However, the number of progressives winning their primaries is respectable but not overwhelming. As the table below indicates, non-incumbents who we rate as “establishment” candidates are winning more often than progressives and in numbers that are not substantially different from our last count.


This is not as bad as it looks because progressive candidates are almost always running against severe disadvantages, such as a) being outspent, b) fighting the dirty tricks of a corrupt establishment, and c) having candidates without name recognition.
It's not a fair fight.


It's very enlightening to see how progressive candidates do best where the Democratic Party is weak.

The second study is from the centrist FiveThirtyEight.

According to our data, 41 percent of candidates who received an endorsement from one or more of these progressive groups won their primary races. The most successful progressive group was the PCCC; the candidates it endorsed won about 67 percent of the time.5 Justice Democrats and Our Revolution had the worst win rates — candidates they endorsed won only 32 percent of their primaries (but they also endorsed more people overall, giving their candidates more chances to lose).
The organization with the best endorsement record in Democratic primaries remains the Democratic Party itself. Candidates who are on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue List or endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee6 had a win rate of 95 percent (37 wins out of 39 endorsements). In races where a party-endorsed candidate ran against a progressive-group-endorsed candidate (excluding any races where a candidate was endorsed by both sides), the party-endorsed candidate won 89 percent of the time.

In other words, the best predictor of primary success remains establishment support.

Unsaid in this article is that the DCCC always endorses incumbents, while the progressive groups often endorse challengers.
So once again, it's not as bad as it looks.

Electorally, insurgent candidates have fared remarkably well given the odds. They are, almost by definition, fresh and inexperienced. They face opponents who start with more money, more-experienced operatives, and often, greater name recognition. Outside groups with deep pockets line up against them. Many are seeking to build small-donor, volunteer-driven campaigns from the ground up.
...The media needs to focus less on horse-race coverage and more on what’s building and what’s left behind. The insurgency in the Democratic Party isn’t on its deathbed, nor is it about to sweep out the old. It is only just beginning. Democrats are still in the early stages of a big debate on direction. Insurgent candidates are only starting to build the capacity — in ideas, in small donors, in supporting institutions — to run serious challengers. But there is new energy and a new generation that is demanding change.

The progressive insurgents that win this time will be experienced incumbents next time around. The progressive insurgents that lose this time will have a network and some name recognition next time around.
The question is if this progressive insurgency can retain it's energy and idealism, get discouraged and peter out, or will the establishment co-opt it like the GOP did almost immediately to the Tea Party?

I think the real danger is progressives getting discouraged.
This insurgency is trying to accomplish a monumental task. That requires time and a sustained effort. To which I say, don't underestimate these kids.

But Ocasio-Cortez has said from the start that she won’t play it safe. She talks instead about a movement strategy: go for the wins that are possible, but also look to “build power” and “make unlikely races flippable for the next cycle.”

Fortunately, I don't believe there is much danger of being co-opted by the Democratic establishment. Because unlike the GOP, the Democratic establishment hates and despises it's base.

The cure for the Democratic civil war is simple: Get behind -- and consistently push for -- major progressive policies.

Jail the banksters. Restore Glass-Steagall. Bring home the troops. A $20-an-hour minimum wage. Free college tuition. Interest-free college loans. Medicare for all.

The DNC hires pollsters. They conduct focus groups. They analyze social media. They read exit polls. They must know why progressives aren't that into the DNC.

The fact that corporatist Democrats refuse to give progressives what they want leads me to an uncomfortable conclusion: They'd rather lose to the Republicans than govern as partners with progressives.

Some will scoff at any attempt at reforming the Democrats, but when is the last time there was a serious effort even made? Jesse Jackson and Howard Dean were just populists (now sell-outs), not the leaders of a grassroots movement.
Unless you are very, very old then you've never seen this before. So we have to check the history books for guidance.

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"Looking forward to all the journalists who wrote last week that the progressive movement was dead correcting their takes tomorrow."
- Josh Miller-Lewis—deputy communications director for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)


You self-described “pragmatic” Democrats who publicly fret that such policies would be far too costly to taxpayers or to employers should remember that there is nothing pragmatic about losing elections. You can’t be the grownup in the room if you’re not in the room. That’s why you never hear Republicans worrying about how to pay for their $1.5 trillion tax cut for the rich: it’s a losing argument. And besides, your trickle-down instincts are wrong!
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Cassiodorus's picture

@gjohnsit Losing elections in great bunches has been very pragmatic for the Democratic Party. Look at all the victories they've scored for their Republican BFFs!

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"Centrist/mainstream Democrats are counterrevolutionary stooges in a time when revolution is more needed than at any time in history." - Christopher Cox

ggersh's picture

no longer be a D party.

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"We'll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false." William Casey, CIA Director 1st staff meeting, 1981

“USA will export two things soon, jack and squat. no planes, no cars soon.”

They will still control the big city machines, but I think they are going to lose the Suburbs. They have already lost the rural areas.

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GreatLakeSailor's picture

This is Wisconsin Gov. dem primary.

Dear GLS,

Thank you so much for your support and your incredible volunteer efforts.

Congratulations to Tony Evers. He will make a wonderful Governor for all of us. Please join me in supporting his campaign for Governor. We must all work together to help Mr. Evers win and usher in a new era in Wisconsin.

What an awesome team we are!

Last night I heard stories of amazing people who worked across the state as part of our Voters for Vinehout crew.

What typifies our race is the 94-year-old volunteer from the north side of Madison who passed our literature to her neighborhood in ninety-degree heat. Ours was the first campaign she had ever helped!

So many people got involved that had never helped out before.

Person to person campaigning is hard work and takes a lot of people. But, I believe, this is the path to taking back our democracy.

Real political change takes time. Remember, Tommy Douglas, the father of the Canadian Medicare. It took him 27 years to pass Medicare for All.

Sometimes it is as important to focus on our journey as well as our goals.

We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Others will stand on our shoulders.

To all of your who helped along the journey, I am deeply grateful for your contributions.

In Solidarity,


Vinehout was my pick - time, a little money, my vote - because she is a ed/health/economic progressive populist, but she wasn't a statewide name and came in 4th. DiabloAggressive She'da mopped the floor with Walker. Tony Evers is a recycled Mary Burke.

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The only reason the 1% are rich is because the 99% have agreed to it.

Creosote.'s picture

Bryce strikes me as someone groomed to look like a "worker" by outside interests
and who would have stepped back into a suit in a minute. What a slick line he pushes.

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karl pearson's picture

The progressive insurgency has a better chance of not being co-opted by the establishment Dems since it is genuine. The Tea party was in the making for years prior to its 2009 grand entrance on the stage.

As luck—or careful, strategic planning—would have it, just such a highly leveraged network with these very pillars was in place as the Tea Party movement appeared to emerge from nowhere at the start of President Obama’s first term in office. That Tea Party movement looked an awful lot like the efforts the Kochs’ CSE had led in the Clinton and Bush years—just with more money, broad state-based causes, better-trained leaders, and a willingness to integrate and coordinate more efficiently with each other.
According to publicly available IRS records, the five essential pillars of just such a Tea Party movement network were all funded and in place by that spring of 2009—the Sam Adams Alliance to direct grassroots efforts; the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity to direct propaganda efforts in state capitals across the United States; the State Policy Network to coordinate funding and free-market policies at state-based think tanks; hundreds of grants from the Koch foundations to American universities that were linked in through SPN; and, of course, CSE’s successor, Americans for Prosperity, built to coordinate the effort nationally.
All of them saw their budgets expand significantly as Obama ran for the White House and then took office—months or even a full year before the Tea Party movement erupted into public view. This explains why the Tea Party movement was able to mobilize, spread, and network so rapidly, as if by magic.

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The fact that corporatist Democrats refuse to give progressives what they want leads me to an uncomfortable conclusion: They'd rather lose to the Republicans than govern as partners with progressives.

I said that repeatedly for over a decade at TOP. It's been blindingly obvious for a long time, since at least Ned Lamont's last run.

The real danger I see is our fresh new progressives getting co-opted. "Go along to get along," as Sam Rayburn used to say. The only way I can see that being avoided is if the new lefty Democrats form a caucus like the Freedom Caucus on the right. The CPC is defanged and deboned. It should not be permitted to speak for progressives in the House. A strong left caucus could be the nucleus around which a true left wing of the Democratic party could be reinvented.

The right wing has many lessons to teach us, and this should be one of them. Form a cohesive caucus and exact a price for supporting Democratic bills, and they will have power and avoid co-option. Don't do that, and we'll be working to replace them in a few more years.

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Not Henry Kissinger's picture

In only the first primary season since the 2016 debacle, Progressive challengers won nearly as many races as establishment candidates.

That's huge!

Think about it: how many non establishment challengers won Dem primary races in the prior, say, 10 years?

Maybe one or two a cycle?

Then all of a sudden this year we've won probably as many as we won the entire last decade.

Heck, even the fact that they've created a separate category for Progressive challengers is a big step in the right direction - let alone the fact that we are quickly nearing parity.

It will be interesting to see the results of the general. My bet is a larger percentage of Progressive candidates beat their GOP opponents than do the DCCC stiffs.

In any event, we should all be celebrating how the Progressive movement is finally starting to show real electoral momentum.

It's been too long coming.

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Mark from Queens's picture

If anyone's interested you can sign up to get it.

Here's the introductory letter:

Welcome to The Intercept Politics, a new, limited-edition newsletter running through the midterm elections. We’ll send you occasional, important updates from Intercept coverage about candidates, issues, and elections.

Politics Newsletter

Progressive Insurgents Cruise to Victory

Progressive candidates scored convincing victories in yesterday’s Democratic primaries. In Minnesota, Ilhan Omar handily won her race, becoming the second Muslim woman to win her congressional primary this year, while embattled Attorney General Lori Swanson lost decisively in her bid to become her state’s governor following an investigation by The Intercept about her use of government staff for electoral work.

In Connecticut, Jahana Hayes won her congressional primary against an establishment candidate who was backed by the Democratic Party, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and MoveOn. Hayes’s victory is historic, as she is set to become her state’s first African-American Democrat in Congress — and so far, the only black representative in all of New England.

All that and much more below in the first edition of The Intercept Politics newsletter.

Of the many races they covered were these:

Ilhan Omar Romps in Minneapolis Democratic Primary, While Tim Walz and Keith Ellison Win Statewide

Jahana Hayes Crushes Party-Backed Candidate in a Landslide

Democrats Complain About Green Party “Spoilers,” but Few in Congress Back a Solution: Ranked-Choice Voting

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"If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:


- Kurt Vonnegut

Brett Wilkins's picture

I haven't seen this level of public comfort with true progressive candidates and even with socialism — witness the latest Gallup poll finding Democrats favor socialism over capitalism — anytime in the 30 or so years I've been paying attention to politics. It's encouraging, although this is the United States; it is a right-of-center nation and the Republicrat monopoly will ruthlessly try to crush progressive challengers. We've really got our work cut out...

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