I think a thread is in order on the Congressional primaries so far this year. It’s been very interesting, including this week. A few thoughts.
Left-wing challengers to party functionaries in left-leaning districts are absolutely a good thing. Cori Bush defeating William Lacy Clay, Jr., ends a half-century of Clay and his father representing the same district. Sure, someone like Clay is a safe enough vote, but then it’s not only about how one votes, especially in the maelstrom of the House where partisanship will almost all determine these things anyway. In the contemporary context, part of what Congress does is set the public agenda through those with the big voices to speak out and be heard over their hundreds of other colleagues. And lots of voters on the left, seeing what the Tea Party did to the right, want something similar on the left, especially in largely Black and Latino districts. When AOC defeated Joe Crowley, it was a blow to the Pelosi insiders, but more importantly it brought someone to power that was ready to go public as a streefighter, joined by Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar. But none are as skilled as AOC. She changed Congress, both putting a target on her back from the racist misogynist Republicans like Ted Yoho but also being instantly catapulted into public leadership.
This is why I am supportive of Jamaal Bowman’s defeat of Eliot Engel. Nothing against Engel, who was a top Pelosi supporter and big player on foreign policy. But he wasn’t really representing what was the poorest district in the United States. He wasn’t really pushing forward the agenda of what voters in The Bronx wanted. Neither was Ford in St. Louis. Bush is a Black Lives Matter activist who will bring a much stronger agenda to Congress than Ford did. Carolyn Maloney nearly went down too and would probably be wise to retire after next term if she doesn’t want to lose her 2022 primary. Meanwhile, Ritchie Torres is likely to be a lot more aggressive than the retiring Jose Serrano was as well.
Rashida Tlaib surviving her primary against the Detroit political machine was also a big relief. In the elite Black political community at the urban machine level, when someone who is not one of them is able to win elections and represent the Black community more effectively, there’s an outrage an interloper is not representing Black people. Steve Cohen has dealt with this in Memphis for over a decade, with the Ford machine once determined to take him out before it became obviously pointless to do so. Voters may want someone who looks like them to represent them, but they also want someone who will fight for their values more. Both Tlaib and Cohen have proven they can be that person.
Moreover, while I have zero patience for those on Twitter who think the DNC/DSCC/DCCC is a big conspiracy against leftist candidates, there’s no question of course that the party establishment is going to push for candidates that they support, which is something that parties have done for basically ever. If the left ever really took over the Democratic Party, they’d do the same thing. But one facet of this is that if the Democratic establishment is going to openly push for pretty conservative candidates to win swing districts (not unreasonable), then it very much behooves the left to get rid of people such as Eliot Engel to balance the party between partisans of the left and the center.
Nothing against Engel per se here, or even Crowley or some of these others primaried members, but people have the right to be represented by the people they want to have represent them and if that means a rejection of the wing of the party that is reliably liberal on some issues but pro-Israel and pro-Wall Street in districts where voters don’t want that, well, that’s OK. And it’s where the party is going. Left-wing districts should have left-wing representatives. Conservative districts should have moderate Democrats. Our analysis of these things should be about electing the farthest left good candidate who can win in a given district/state, not just saying that the good white people of Harlan County are really dying to vote for a black socialist from Louisville over Mitch McConnell unlike that sellout pro-Trump Democrat Amy McGrath, which was the pablum people such as Krystal Ball were pushing on Twitter this week. If that means primarying where you can to achieve that farthest left good candidate, then good.
Another target for awhile of the left has been Richard Neal of Massachusetts and he is facing a strong primary opponent. But said opponent just got accused by the UMass College Democrats of sexual misconduct, so looks like Neal will be around another term at least.
As for Republicans, while a lot of people were rooting for Kris Kobach to win the Kansas Senate primary, I’m always extremely dubious of cheering on any fascist for higher office. It’s not that Roger Marshall is going to be functionally better of course, but Senator Kobach is something that is very dangerous to even consider and now we don’t have to. Plus early polling still holds that race reasonably close, as Kansas has become surprisingly competitive ever since Sam Brownback forced the state through his extra special brand of austerity.
Anyway, there’s lots of interesting things to say about the primaries and what they have meant for the parties, so this is a good thread for that.