Rift Between Establishment and Activists Threatens to Sink Democrats

Democrats sit at an uncomfortable political crossroads. Does the party meddle from the top-down in winnable races in which they are threatening to field a losing candidate? Or do they back off and let the activist left learn the hard way what voters will and won’t support?

As of now it appears they haven’t made a decision.

In Texas, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee unleashed a vicious attack on Laura Moser, a darling of the progressive left, who also happens to have publicly insulted her state. While living in Washington DC she wrote an article on housing costs titled, “Yeah DC is Pricey – Get Over it Already!”

“On my pathetic writer’s salary, I could live large in Paris, Texas, where my grandparents’ plantation-style house recently sold for $129,000. Oh, but wait — my income would be a fraction of what it is here and I’d have very few opportunities to increase it. (Plus I’d sooner have my teeth pulled out without anesthesia, but that’s a story for another day.)“

Such sentiments disqualify her in the eyes of the DCCC, and yet they are worried she has the money and backing to win the primary, thereby dooming them in the general election. The result was a stinging opposition research memo that they issues against their own candidate.

“Democratic voters need to hear that Laura Moser is not going to change Washington,” the memo stated. “She is a Washington insider, who begrudgingly moved to Houston to run for Congress. In fact, she wrote in the Washingtonian magazine, ‘I’d rather have my teeth pulled out without anesthesia’ than live in Texas.”

But in Illinois it is the opposite story. There, seven-term representative Dan Lipinski appears to be in the DCCC’s crosshairs for not being insufficiently far to the left. The Chicago Tribune reports:

Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski says his party is risking creating a “tea party” faction as it drifts leftward and fails to support a “big tent” of contrasting ideas.

Lipinski is a social conservative who opposes abortion, and he’s facing a serious primary challenge from the left via political newcomer Marie Newman. She has the backing of abortion rights advocacy groups, as well as Lipinski’s colleagues U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston and Luis Gutierrez of Chicago.

“Right now there is a battle for what the Democratic Party is going to be, going forward,” Lipinski, who has represented the Southwest Side and suburban 3rd Congressional District for seven terms, said Sunday on WGN-AM 720.

“Four years ago we were at our lowest point in (Democratic seats in) the U.S. House since Herbert Hoover was president. We’ve come up slightly since then, but we’re still in a big hole, and there are those who want to have a ‘tea party of the left’ in the Democratic Party to match, unfortunately, what’s happened to the Republicans,” he said.

Lipinski is not alone. As Politico’s Lauren Dezenski reports, progressive candidate are launching challenges to Democrat incumbents in some of the bluest districts in the country.

“Here’s the problem. We’ve been asked across this country to enter politics, and yet when someone like me steps up and runs for office, you’re being told, ‘No, wait your turn,’” entrepreneur Suresh Patel, who is taking on Rep. Carolyn Maloney in New York told Politico. “I refuse to wait my turn in an establishment that doesn’t make sure that people are competing. That’s one of the things the Democrats need to grapple with.”

That sentiment even threatens to throw some Democratic icons, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, out on her ear. Even though Feinstein has been one of the loudest voices in support of gun control, progressives still hold her support of the Iraq War over her head. “Time’s up,” a crowd chanted recently after fellow Democrats denied her the endorsement during the recent state convention.

So which is it? Are Democrats so laser focused on winning that they’ll happily throw the progressive choice under the bus if they don’t appear electable? Or are they so anxious about maintaining the momentum of the activist left that they’ll happily bow to the will of the #resistance, even if it means tossing long-time incumbents out on their ear?

As of now, there isn’t an answer to that question. And as a result the DCCC is succeeding in making neither the establishment nor the activists happy. More importantly, the lack of a strategy is preventing Democrats from unifying around a positive agenda that voters can latch onto.