On Saturday, the contentious race for DNC Chair came to an end. In an unsurprising development, in line with the selection of 76-year-old Rep. Nancy Pelosi and 66-year-old Sen. Chuck Schumer to lead the party in the House and Senate, Democratic insiders opted to go with the establishment favorite and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez over progressive choices Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Samuel Ronan.
To progressives, this latest move begs certain questions like why the party, in the face of massive left-wing mobilization, would continue to ignore the demands of progressive voters by selecting someone like Perez, whose soft stance on Wall Street and lobbyists, as well as the fact he was one of the architects of Hillary Clinton’s primary strategy to cast Sen. Bernie Sanders as the white man’s candidate, make him a divisive pick. Many felt as though President Trump and the GOP’s 2016 sweep didn’t teach them anything.
But the party establishment never intended on changing. Organizations like Third Way and people like former Communications Director for Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated presidential campaign Jennifer Palmieri still wield massive influence and are hellbent on ignoring the paradigm shift. This is why the focus has been entirely on Trump as opposed to the problems that elected him, and why there are so many calls for “unity.”
But if change isn’t their plan, what is?
In a recent interview on the Mark Reardon Show in St. Louis, an unnerved Senator Claire McCaskill made the surprisingly frank admission—like a cry for help—that, in all likelihood, she will face a primary challenger from her left in 2018. One of Hillary Clinton’s strongest and most vocal allies during the election, McCaskill had been in hot water in recent weeks for her votes with the GOP to greenlight many of President Trump’s appointees.
Prior to that, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), who had quickly emerged as a beacon of hope for disheartened neoliberals, had a similar experience over his vote against a largely symbolic amendment proposed by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to allow for the import of safe drugs from Canada to lower prices in the U.S.
The establishment knows that if things continue like this, their days are numbered. However, the establishment also firmly believes the GOP will implode during Donald Trump’s presidency. Citing the President’s historically low poll numbers in his first hundred days along with the burgeoning scandals already enveloping his administration, they’re banking on it. So too do they believe that they’ll be able to use Trump’s record to win over enough of the progressive base to catapult them back into power in a few years. After all,as Perez himself said during the campaign, the Democrats’ real problems are “messaging” and voter suppression.
And what of those who do not jump on board?
Well, it is certainly no secret that many who were mobilized by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ populist campaign, were not officially Democrats before 2016. For decades prior to the election, the progressive left had been fractured into various factions, contributing to its overall weakness. One of Sanders’ great achievements was bringing these people back into the party. However, strong contrarian undercurrents remain as evidenced by repeated calls for “#DemExit.”
It is this impulse to give up on the process that establishment Democrats are counting on when they ignore the populist outcries. They’re hoping that progressives leave their party because they want to avoid what just happened in California’s Democratic Assembly District Delegate Elections (progressives effectively took control of the largest state party in the country).
But with this strategy the establishment is playing with fire. As of today, with the 2020 Census around the corner, the GOP controls an overwhelming majority of the governorships and state legislatures. As it stands, the establishment has no path to victory, occupying a sort of political no man’s land ever since Hillary Clinton’s defeat. Voters on both the left and right despise them. The most the establishment can do is convince enough progressives to pursue a nonviable third party route, thus empowering the GOP for sweeps the next two elections, and allowing Republicans to redraw the Congressional districts in such a way as to guarantee them control of the House for the next decade.
Establishment types do not seem to understand the times we live in. They cannot wait out populism. Only change will ease calls for change. The worse things get under Trump, the worse Clinton’s allies will look for having put him in the White House, and the more the strength of the progressive movement will grow.
The election of Perez as DNC Chair does not mean the war is lost for the left. Rather than doing what the insiders want them to do and retreating into a third party that has no chance of capturing enough state seats to redistrict by 2020, progressives must fight back and get even more involved, following California’s example. They must resist calls for unity, and take over in 2018.