Democrats’ reputation as the party of lemmings, that species of rodents genetically predisposed to throwing themselves off cliffs, was reinforced last week by the party’s own Twitter controversy, pitting its cocky left-most faction against everyone else. The over-the-top tweets of the chief of staff to New York congresswoman and social media darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez laid bare some growing hard feelings within the party, increasing concerns that Democrats, reprising the debacle that handed the White House to Donald Trump, will conduct the 2020 campaign as a kamikaze mission rather than a crucial last clear chance to salvage America as we had known it.
In a tweet that he deleted too late to avoid alienating much of the House Democratic Caucus, Ocasio-Cortez’ top aide, Saikat Chakrabarti, derided moderate Democrats who do not necessarily see the world exactly as his boss does as “new Southern Democrats,” who “certainly seem hell bent to do to to black and brown people what the old Southern Democrats did in the 40’s.” Ocasio-Cortez herself then doubled down on this bit of demagoguery, accusing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of targeting women lawmakers of color. This proved too much for Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, who unloaded on Ocasio-Cortez. “What a weak argument.” snapped Congressman Clay. “Because you can’t get your way and because you’re getting pushback, you resort to the race card? Unbelievable. That’s unbelievable to me.” Clay added: “I find it juvenile, their tactics.”
Indeed, demagoguery is not the best look for a party struggling to demonstrate to America that the most successful demagogue in our 243-year history should be decisively rejected this time around. But the Democrats’ nomination contest has already featured its own display of demagoguery, and things are likely to get worse. Earlier this month, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, looking for a way — any way — to gain traction in a nomination process in which he is going nowhere, launched the dishonest charge that Joe Biden had somehow “celebrated” Southern segregationists by recalling how 40 years ago he had detested and opposed segregationist senators yet found the occasional common ground. This nonsense created an opening for California Sen. Kamala Harris. Allowing generously that she was not necessarily calling Biden a “racist,” she accused Biden of opposing civil rights because in the 1970s he had opposed busing as a tool to combat racial segregation — and then twisted herself in knots trying unsuccessfully to explain how her position now differed from Biden’s then. Mission accomplished however: Harris’ television moment pretending that Biden was soft on civil rights won her a big boost in the polls and in online fundraising.
A Democratic Party represented by individuals prepared to say anything will be ill-positioned to contrast itself with the ultimate “say anything” president. For all of the echo chamber-driven hubris of Democrats, the hard fact is that their electoral path to retaking the Oval Office is razor-thin and profoundly precarious. Donald Trump soundly defeated Hilary Clinton among independent voters in 2016, and positively demolished her among voters over age 40. The Democrats’ 2020 nominee will have to hold every state carried by Clinton last time while sweeping Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan in order to prevent President Trump’s re-election — and if that occurs, all she or he will do is barely eke out 273 electoral votes. Trump can lose all three states and still win re-election by flipping New Hampshire, Nevada or Minnesota, each of which he lost only narrowly.
Put simply, if Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders cannot show that they will hold every state Clinton won and flip Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, nominating them for president means that 2020 is going to look very much like 2016. Democrats inclined to indulge in demagoguery directed at fellow Democrats should keep that in mind if they care about the consequences of a Democratic Party divided against itself.
Jeff Robbins is a Boston lawyer and former U.S. delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
- Bombshell testimony shows alarm over White House-Ukraine shadow diplomacy was early and deep
- Analysis: Bombshell testimony shows alarm over White House-Ukraine shadow diplomacy was early and deep
- Obama's Chance for the White House
- Hilary Clinton and Politics on the Road to the White House
- Al Gore to Clean Toilets at the White House?
- Exactly How Strong Is That White House Fence?
- My Fourth Interview with Jose Caliente: White House Informant
- Parents of teen killed in crash coming to White House
- Run for the White House; A Three-Year Survivor Series
- A Note from Jose Caliente: White House Informant