Biden cuts bait on progressives dragging the Democratic Party | Politics
Presidents typically use the State of the Union platform to let the opposing side know where the policy lines lie and what issues aren’t on the agenda during their time in the Oval Office.
Unusually, President Joe Biden had to draw those lines with his fellow Democrats.
Fund the police? Forget it, Biden said Tuesday night. With crime rising across the country — creating a jittery midterm electorate — the answer is to defund the police, Biden said. He has also made it very clear that he is a capitalist, even though he thinks big business should “pay their fair share” of taxes.
On immigration, Biden called for reform – while saying those who “are not rightfully here can be sent back” to their home countries. He was also keen to point to the law enforcement credentials of his Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson.
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It’s about solving one of the biggest problems for Democrats as they head into a very tough midterm election season: keeping moderate Democrats from being labeled as too progressive for their districts or the country.
“There is no doubt that we lost seats (in 2020) because of this,” says Matt Bennett, executive vice-president of the centrist Democratic group Third Way. “We know these attacks landed, and they landed hard,” and similar characterizations of Democratic incumbents as “socialist” or pro-defunding the police could cost the party even more seats this fall, he says.
Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, one of the progressive “squad” in the House, delivered a fiery response to Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday night on behalf of the Working Families Party. The move has angered mainstream Democrats who don’t want to have to battle both Republicans and a wing of their own party when defending their narrow and imperiled majorities this fall.
“It’s like grabbing your own car and slashing your own tires,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey, told Axios before Tlaib spoke.
Progressives point to their successes — like the upset victory in the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez primary in New York in 2018 and the Tuesday night primaries in Texas, where leftist Greg Casar won his Democratic primary for the House and progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros reached a runoff with incumbent Rep. Henry Cuellar, one of the more conservative members of the Democratic caucus.
The party’s progressive wing also provides the energy and organizing skills needed to keep key elements of the Democratic base — such as black voters — engaged and showing up at the polls, experts say.
But the leftist message isn’t working everywhere, critics say, and could end up getting more Republicans elected.
In San Francisco last month, three progressive school board members were ousted amid complaints they were spending more time renaming schools, including Abraham Lincoln High School, than ensuring they were open and operating safely during the pandemic era. The three have also been criticized for pushing to end merit-based admissions at the prestigious Lowell High School.
In liberal New York City, it was former police captain Eric Adams who beat several far more progressive candidates to win the Democratic mayoral nomination and ultimately mayoralty itself last fall.
The Progressives “did very well at winning smaller district races” but lacked the mainstream appeal to win citywide, says Bill Cunningham, a New York-based communications consultant who has worked for the former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
And mainstream Democrats worry that progressive candidates, while promoting an agenda aimed at working-class voters and people of color, are still failing to bring those groups of voters together.
The branding of Hispanics as “Latinx” has fallen flat with true Latinos, who reject the gender-neutral moniker as something white liberals have come up with to appear egalitarian, policy pundits say. Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation Poll found that just over a fifth (21.5%) of Hispanics like the term.
Progressive mayoral candidates mostly got their votes from white liberals, Cunningham says. Likewise, Ocasio-Cortez won over younger voters but lost the black and Hispanic vote to the incumbent she defeated, former Rep. Joe Crowley.
In Buffalo, Democratic socialist India Walton won the Democratic primary last year but lost the general election to Democratic incumbent Mayor Byron Brown, who ran as a write-in candidate. Walton lost working-class South Buffalo by a 5-to-1 margin, according to election tallies.
When Progressives win (or lose) in comfortably Democratic districts, it’s a no-fault outcome for Democrats. Casar, for example, is expected to win a Texas congressional seat by a large margin this fall, boosting the number of progressives in the House.
But the situation becomes more worrisome for Democratic campaign officials when districts are more conservative. Cuellar, for example, represents a district with about a 10 percentage point advantage to Democrats and would be heavily favored to win this fall, should he beat Cisneros in the runoff, says science professor Mark P. Jones. policies at Rice University.
But “Jessica Cisneros is decidedly left-wing on many high-profile issues” in the district, Jones says, meaning the GOP could overturn the seat if she wins the May runoff.
Justice Democrats are a lot like Tea Party Republicans 10 years ago,” Jones says, referring to the group that fields progressive candidates against more traditional Democratic incumbents. “They tend to value purity over pragmatism.
Other Democratic incumbents who don’t subscribe to the progressives’ agenda are vulnerable to GOP campaigns to tie them to the party’s left wing, Bennett says.
Florida Democrats Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala both lost their House seats in 2020, accused of being part of the “socialist” Democratic Party – even though Mucarsel-Powell’s family fled a socialist regime in Latin America , says Bennett. Former Representative Anthony Brindisi of upstate New York lost his House seat after unfounded accusations that Democrats like him wanted to “defund” the police, Bennett adds.
This year, Third Way is fighting back with a super PAC called “Shield PAC,” Bennett says, to defend moderates against accusations that they “are in cahoots with the far left.”
He said the Super PAC is focused on a dozen incumbents — all women — whom they expect to be targeted by the GOP.
“We don’t know if it will be crime or schools,” but the group will be prepared to counter claims that lawmakers are aligned with the progressive wing of the party, Bennett adds. It’s an unexpected challenge, experts say, that’s due to divisions within the Democratic Party itself.