The Democratic Party is redefining incompetence. Georgia’s sixth district wasn’t supposed to be competitive, but the mutant Dorito currently inhabiting the White House is dragging down Republicans nationwide. GA-06 has been held by a Republican since 1979, and so, under normal circumstances, what Jon Ossoff accomplished last night in a close loss should be cause for jubilation. Under a Donald Trump presidency, the Democrats have been competitive in districts from Kansas, Montana, South Carolina and Georgia that all produced members of the Trump administration. On its face, the future looks bright for progressives.
However, that future is not being supported by the only party in America that claims to be progressive.
Here is a standard line of defense out of the Democrats this morning.
So first off, Trump won that district by 1.5 points, not 20. Tom Price won this Republican seat by 23 points in 2016 (against a ghost opponent, and yes, I mean that seriously), so simply saying “this was a great opportunity cuz Trump” is hopelessly naïve and reflective of the larger Democratic mindset that local politics are for schlubs. Secondly, this is not the only district holding a special election in the Trump Era that was there for the taking.
Kansas' fourth district has had one democratic representative since 1937. Mike Pompeo defeated his Democratic challenger there by 30 points in 2016. Yet in the special election to replace him, Republican Ron Estes only won by seven points. Montana's at large congressional district has had a Republican representative every year since 1997, and Ryan Zinke defeated his Democratic challenger by 16 points in 2016. However, in the special election to succeed him, Republican Greg Gianforte only won by six points. Both candidates also performed better than Hillary Clinton within their districts, which cannot be said for Ossoff.
The common denominator between Montana and Kansas' special elections is a progressive candidate. Rob Quist and James Thompson ran honest to goodness progressive campaigns in some of the reddest parts of America, and the DCCC refused to provide them with much help. They didn't even list Thompson on their website as a candidate, and the Kansas Democratic Party declined a request for $20,000 from Thompson's campaign early on. The reason why the Dems stayed out of Kansas' 4th? According to a DCCC official:
“the party's involvement would have been 'extremely damaging' to Thompson because it would have been used against him by Republicans, who have poured significant money into the race.”
The Democrats have such a toxic brand that they concluded that expressing support for an organically popular candidate would hurt his chances. That's completely insane. Despite the GOP being frightened enough to spend $2.2 million to try to bury Rob Quist in Montana, the Democratic Party did not come close to matching their level of enthusiasm, and instead claimed that they could not win that race. If that truly was the case, why did the Republicans spend so much money on a race that they supposedly had in the bag?
The Democrats pinched pennies in two long-time GOP districts where real progressives were running, and instead went all-in in a similarly historically hopeless district with a centrist who opposed raising taxes on the rich and pooh-poohed universal health care. That's really all you need to know about the DCCC's priorities. They would rather invest in and lose with centrists forced down our throats, than invest in and lose with organically popular progressives. A leaked DCCC memo from October 2016 reveals the true objectives of the Democratic Party.
Despite Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and now Jeremy Corbyn providing painfully obvious examples that campaigning on economic populism works, the DCCC seems to be more focused on improving Wall Street's image amongst Dems than acceding to popular will, and reining in the masters of our 2008 economic destruction. The Democrats will tell you that Georgia's sixth district was a unique opportunity for a Democrat to win in a red district, and they had to go all in at the expense of all other special elections, but the other contest last night proved this logic wrong.
By all objective measures, the special election for South Carolina's fifth district was at least a similar opportunity for Dems to Georgia's sixth. Democrats controlled this district from 1883 to 2011, and the Democrat wound up losing by less than 1% last night, while Jon Ossoff lost Georgia's sixth district by nearly 4%. Donald Trump did win by a larger margin in SC-05 than GA-06, but solely judging a local election by a national politician's popularity is following the same garbage line of thinking that got the Dems in this mess in the first place. All politics is local.
The lesson we have learned from Donald Trump, Kansas, Montana, and South Carolina is that a candidate with an economically populist message can be competitive almost anywhere, regardless of their party. What Georgia's sixth taught us is that the instant that the national Democratic Party gets involved, the enthusiasm to defeat them ratchets up tenfold. It's not a good thing when your best argument for why you won't fund progressives is “they would lose if we helped them!” It's even worse when you're right.
The Democrats are trying to win elections with a voter base that isn't theirs, as Shane Ryan wrote this morning at Paste:
You cannot out-flank these people from the right. If there's a mantra the left should internalize, it's this: Republicans beat centrist Democrats. Always. And the crazy thing is, moderation never saves the Democratic candidate from being portrayed as America's answer to Che Guevara. Ossoff is basically a Republican, but look at the ads they rain against him! They either paint him as Nancy Pelosi's no. 1 San Francisco latte butler or imply that he's Osama bin Laden's second-in-command.
The Democratic party is a dying institution. They just lost an election to Donald fucking Trump after burying an insurgent within their own party who tried to build on their twice-elected former president's message of economic fairness. The path to victory is clear for Democrats—crystal clear after the UK just elected an honest to goodness socialist—yet they refuse to accept reality, as that leaked DCCC memo proves.
We live in a modern robber baron era. At least 85% of all new income generated since 2008 has gone to the top 1%. From 1948 to 1973, economic productivity chugged ahead at 96.7%, while hourly compensation for the workers driving that productivity maintained pace at 91.3%. However, from 1973 to 2015, productivity increased by 73.4%, while hourly compensation cratered to 11.1%. This is the story of the American economy, and the Democrats refuse to institute policies that reverse this trend. Sure, they'll exploit it for messaging purposes, but the moment they get into office, this priority flies out the window. People like Elizabeth Warren have come along to create valuable populist policies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but leaders like Nancy Pelosi go out of their way to say that Warren does not speak for the party.
The writing is on the wall for the Democrats. 61% of Americans believe that upper-income individuals pay too little in taxes. 73% favor increasing the federal minimum wage. 54% of Democrats, 42% of Independents, and 35% of Republicans support single-payer health care—the national ratio is 44% in favor, 36% oppose and 19% don't know. The country may not say that they support progressivism, but when you drill down to the policies that Americans do endorse, a progressive economic agenda is clearly a winning message. The Democrats are actively avoiding these facts in favor of perpetuating a neoliberal fantasy that has long since proven to not exist, and is so toxic that Americans chose Donald fucking Trump over it.
Of all the data coming out of these special elections, this is the most obvious for Democrats.
Three progressive candidates whom the DCCC largely left to fend for themselves over-performed expectations, while the centrist that the Dems went all in on under-performed. To be honest, I was rooting for Jon Ossoff to lose. In the wake of the most embarrassing loss in the history of politics, the Democrats have refused to accept reality, and we need another high-profile loss to help cement the narrative that the imagined centrist Dem coalition is never coming. This race was only a big deal because the Democrats made it one. Talking points like this need to die.
The entire point behind Hillary Clinton’s candidacy was her supposed appeal to the fabled centrists of Democratic lore. Selecting Tim Kaine as VP—as opposed to a progressive who would keep the Bernie wing engaged—proved that the Democratic Party takes their left flank for granted, and they believe that their future lies in becoming more Republican, despite all evidence to the contrary. While I am not a Bernie Sanders supporter, I wrote a column begging him to run for president in 2020 as an Independent in order to crush the Democratic Party. In the wake of last night’s losses and the establishment Democrat responses to it, I am more certain than ever that the only cure for the Democratic Party’s incompetence is a complete and utter destruction of the status quo.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.