Despite Some Losses for Progressives, 'Fantastic Night for Centrists' Framing Misses the Point of What's Happening Inside Democratic Party
While progressives hoping for tide-shifting victories by progressive insurgents such as Dr. Abdul El-Sayed in Michigan and Cori Bush in Missouri were forced to watch their hopes dashed late Tuesday as their candidates came up short against more moderate rivals, is the real takeaway from the series of Midwestern primaries that it was a “fantastic night for centrist Democrats” or that progressives cannot win running on bold, visionary platforms?
“Wins in the short-term are important milemarkers and necessary to building power. But you can’t be afraid of loss. Fear keeps people from accomplishing great things.”
Because while El-Sayed and Bush did not find pathways to victory against their rivals—the former losing to state Senate leader Gretchen Whitmer (endorsed by both the powerful United Auto Workers union and Emily’s List) in Michigan’s gubernatorial primary and the latter to Congressman Lacy Clay (a 7-term incumbent who inherited the seat from his father) in Missouri’s 1st Congressional District—progressive groups like the Bernie Sanders-inspired Our Revolution and unabashedly progressive Justice Democrats still had numerous other victories of their endorsed candidates to celebrate on Tuesday.
In addition to numerous down-ballot wins, both groups applauded James Thompson in Kansas’ 4th District and Rashida Tlaib in Michigan’s 13th:
“What we saw last night is that progressive, non-traditional, and first-time candidates like Rashida Tlaib and James Thompson can win at the statewide and federal levels by talking about the issues that matter most to voters–Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage and reducing income and wealth inequality,” said Larry Cohen, Board Chair of Our Revolution. “Like so many of our other endorsed candidates, Rashida and James chose to embrace progressive values rather than play it safe. Their victories and the success of many of our other endorsed candidates shows that when we double down on progressive issues and talk to voters of all races and backgrounds, we can win change for the people.”
In the city of St. Louis, progressive reform candidate for Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell shocked the establishment by ousting longtime Democratic incumbent Bob McCulloch, the man who infamously refused to prosecute the police officer who shot and killed unarmed Michael Brown in 2014:
So while some were pushing the idea that endorsements and energy provided by Sanders, or the recent visits to Kansas and Michigan by New York congressional candidate and democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proved fruitless, that simply is not accurate:
And even for those progressive insurgents who came up short, it remains clear to many that the energy within the Democratic Party and among prospective voters is squarely with those who—in addition to opposing President Donald Trump and his Republican Party—are shifting their policy agendas to more forcefully address the needs and concerns of working people, the planet, and under-served communities.
In a pair of tweets on Wednesday, Ocasio-Cortez said that political defeats are also part of political progress, but that “you can’t be afraid of loss,” because “[f]ear keeps people from accomplishing great things.”
Responding to El-Sayed’s defeat, Lisa Changadveja, the state and local director for MoveOn.org, which had endorsed his candidacy, argued that his loss did nothing to diminish the accomplishments and importance of his campaign.
“The strength of Abdul El-Sayed’s campaign in Michigan has shown the nation what kind of politics is possible when we put the challenges facing students, working people, and people of color front and center in our dialogue,” she said in a statement. “Abdul has activated an entirely new coalition of voters, and brought new people into the political process, both enormous achievements worth celebrating.”
Despite others framing his loss as proof that a less progressive and visionary candidate is the key to future victories, Changadveja emphasized the importance of Democrats and other voters sick and tired of the regressive, hateful, and destructive policies of the Republican Party coming together to regain control of Congress and the nation’s other democratic institutions.
“While Michigan MoveOn members voted to endorse Abdul,” Changadveja concluded, “they also understand the importance of wrestling governors’ mansions across the country away from the grip of reactionary politicians. That’s why we will do everything in our power to elect Gretchen Whitmer as Michigan’s next governor, and end the Republican-led assaults on communities across the state.”
And so while it was a night of ups and downs for those championing the progressive insurgency within the Democratic Party, The Intercept‘s Ryan Grim, David Dayen, and Zaid Jilani note in their detailed accounting of Tuesday’s results that regardless of every victory and loss, it is clear that the “progressive organizing still paid dividends.”
And as many others noted online, these races signify just the start—not the end—of a new progressive movement that is being carried by momentum that is “undeniable.”