On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that California Democratic officials overwhelmingly endorsed the long-shot primary opponent of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is seeking a fifth term in the U.S. Senate this November.
Challenging her is 51-year old Kevin de León, a liberal Democratic state senator from Los Angeles who, reports the Journal, “is the author of California’s sanctuary-state legislation, backs a single-payer health-care system and has authored a number of bills aimed at increasing renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions in the state.”
In other words, the executive board of the California Democratic Party has rejected Feinstein in favor of a Bernie Sanders-style Democrat who doesn’t appear to be very popular with California voters. De León won only 12 percent of the primary vote to Feinstein’s 44 percent, but thanks to California’s open primary system he will face Feinstein again in November’s general election with the party’s official backing.
The endorsement of de León, despite Feinstein winning 70 percent of Democratic primary voters and carrying every county by double digits, is emblematic of how the Democratic Party is being pushed ever leftward by its base—electoral consequences be damned.
The growing dominance of Sanders-esque candidates and unalloyed identity politics among the Democratic base threatens to turn what should be a successful midterm election for Democrats into an embarrassing debacle. The worst-case scenario for the Democratic Party in November is that they gain control of neither the House nor the Senate, exposing the unpopularity of left-wing identity politics among the general electorate and their own failed strategy of dominating the opposition rather than persuading it.
By All Means, Democrats, Run On Socialism
A perfect example of the limited appeal of self-styled “socialist” Democrats is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old political novice whose upset win last month in the New York Democratic primary for the Fourteenth Congressional District catapulted her to national fame.
Among other things, Ocasio-Cortez’s victory got her a David Remnick-penned profile in The New Yorker, the subhead of which teases, “will her democratic-socialist identity push the Party to the left?” Well, yes. But really it’s the wrong question to ask, since the party’s leftward lurch in recent years is what enabled someone with Ocasio-Cortez’s democratic-socialist identity to win a primary against Democratic Caucus Chair Joseph Crowley in the first place.
Ocasio-Cortez, like de León, more or less parrots Sanders’ talking points and policy prescriptions down to the letter. In a campaign ad that went viral, she declared, “What the Bronx and Queens needs is Medicare for all, tuition-free public college, a federal jobs guarantee, and criminal-justice reform.” Something like a European welfare state, in other words.
Although Ocasio-Cortez is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, Remnick is at pains to explain that she’s not that kind of socialist. In fact, we’re told that when millennials like Ocasio-Cortez use the term “socialist,” they’re thinking less of Lenin and Mao and more along the lines of Teddy Roosevelt and FDR—the Square Deal and the New Deal, not the gulag and the Cultural Revolution.
“For many older Americans, ‘socialist’ is bound to have a ring of the sinister or the antiquated,” writes Remnick. “This is generally not the case with a generation whose most formative political experience was the economic collapse of 2008-09.” That is, it’s not actual socialism that the kids are into, it’s just that they don’t like capitalism.
Still, is anti-capitalism a winning electoral strategy? Later in the profile, Ocasio-Cortez tells Remnick, “There is a lot that is economically dystopic in this country. So that’s why people are open to change.”
“Economically dystopic” is of course a term better suited to actual socialist dystopias like Venezuela or North Korea than the most economically prosperous country in the history of the world. Moreover, such rhetoric doesn’t exactly resonate when unemployment is at a 30-year low and more jobs are available than skilled workers to fill them. Outside of socialist circles, ordinary Americans know when the economy is doing well and when it’s not. And right now it’s doing well.
In addition to basic economic illiteracy, Ocasio-Cortez gave an embarrassing performance this week on PBS’s new “Firing Line,” claiming that the Israeli Defense Force is murdering civilians and that Israeli settlements are “expanding” in Gaza, both of which are not only untrue, but demonstrate an appalling ignorance of the most basic contours of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet Ocasio-Cortez is supposed to be the future of the Democratic Party.
Are Democrats Self-Destructing?
If so, then the Democratic Party might well be in worse shape than the GOP is—much worse. Writing in National Journal, Josh Kraushaar last week chronicled the ongoing surrender of both major parties to their respective fringes. Among Democrats, he writes of the quixotic campaign to block the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Former Hillary Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon, who also worked for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, “is adopting tactics normally associated with the party’s far-left activists,” writes Kraushaar.
After lashing out at Sen. Tim Kaine for having the temerity to have questions about Kavanaugh’s judicial philosophy, Fallon called for any law professor or lawyer who praises Kavanaugh to be banned from serving in a future Democratic administration.
Kavanaugh is a thoroughly conventional pick for the Supreme Court, whom no serious person would claim isn’t qualified for the position. But Democrats are not prone to seriousness these days. Immediately after Trump announced Kavanaugh’s nomination, a string of national Democrats including senators Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Corey Booker appeared at a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court to denounce Kavanaugh in hyperbolic terms.
“Are you ready for a fight? Are you ready to defend Roe versus Wade?” shouted Sanders. “Are you ready to tell the Supreme Court that we think it’s absurd that they give constitutional rights to billionaires to buy elections?”
.@SenSanders: "Are you ready for a fight?!? Are you ready to defend Roe v. Wade?"
— CSPAN (@cspan) July 10, 2018
At the end of his tirade, Sanders declared, “We have the American people on our side!” That’s really the question at the heart of this November’s midterms. A growing number of left-wing Democrats are convinced that they do, that average Americans across the country are open to socialist policies like universal health care, nationalized college tuition, and a federal jobs guarantee (whatever that means). They also think they have the numbers to crush their opponents, which is why they’re not bothering to persuade those who might disagree with them.
That’s why Democrats are increasingly placing bets on candidates like Ocasio-Cortez and calling for purges within their own ranks. Maybe it’s a brilliant strategy that will work out for them, but right now it looks like self-destruction.