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MATTHEW BOOSE: The Democratic Party’s biggest problem isn’t the GOP — it’s the radical left
The last couple weeks have been full of ominous signs of the Democratic Party’s future.
Last week, a 28-year-old socialist shocked the Democratic establishment when she won a primary election against one of the most powerful Democrats in the House. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has quickly become the face of an insurgent, radical wing of the Democratic party that embraces socialism and single-payer health care as basic principles.
While conservatives often complain about liberals and their “socialist” policies, Ocasio-Cortez is the authentic article; she’s not just a liberal who wants more redistribution of wealth, but a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.
But it’s not just the young upstarts who are pushing the party to the fringe. Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking upset came just days after Californa Rep. Maxine Waters called on left-wing activists to oppose Trump’s border policy by harassing his staff wherever they may be found, setting off an intense debate on civility.
Meanwhile, the party’s gatekeepers are struggling to hold the center together. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have distanced themselves from Waters and her extreme rhetoric, but she has received plenty of support from progressives, and even Hillary Clinton.
Something is happening to the Democratic Party. A resurgent radicalism is fracturing the unity that they ought to have just weeks ahead of the midterms.
And yet, this radicalism isn’t new. The signs were there in 2016, when Bernie Sanders lost a rigged nomination to the party establishment.
Under Trump, the radicals have only grown more extreme. Anthony Kennedy’s retirement will embolden them even more.
These radicals are pushing the party line far to the left. A number of leading Democrats, including Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren, have joined Ocasio-Cortez in calling to abolish ICE.
Not all Democrats are on board with this position, and in fact, most still reject it. But that it has received mainstream support at all is telling.
Against this growing radicalism, the party moderators have been left in a difficult position. What Schumer has suggested for ICE — “reform” — rings with desperation.
Pelosi has tried to downplay the significance of Ocasio-Cortez’s primary win, saying it is not indicative of any broader wave within the party. But a recent Reuters poll suggests that she may hold the keys to her party’s future.
The poll also had some disconcerting news for the Democratic establishment: the party of young people and change is losing the support of millennials. In two years, Democrats have dropped from 55 percent to 46 percent support among millennials.
That drop has been more pronounced among whites and white males. Two years ago, Democrats had a fourteen point advantage with white millennials. That gap has vanished.
Their losses have been particularly pronounced with white millennial males, who now prefer the Republicans by 11 percent. Two years ago, they preferred Democrats by 12 percent.
The Democratic Party of Pelosi and Schumer is not resonating with millennials, who are stereotypically poor, progressive, and rosy on socialism. A young, socialist person of color may be more appealing to some millennial voters who are keen on diversity and economic equality.
But the poll also shows clear demographic shifts which, over time, could polarize the millennial electorate along race and gender lines. If the radicals take over the party, they will alienate those voters and many more with their extreme ideas, methods, and rhetoric.
Radicalism may bring some disaffected young people back to the party, but it will repel others who aren’t so sanguine about socialism, open borders, or violence and harassment to bring about either.
If the Democrats go with “Abolish ICE” this November, they’ll be in trouble. A Harvard/Ipsos poll found 75 percent of swing voters against it. And while some have tried to distinguish “abolish ICE” from “open borders,” to those outside the radical left, the difference is moot.
The socialism of the insurgent radicals is, unsurprisingly, broadly unpopular. It’s improbable, too, that swing voters will be convinced that there is any similarity between the increasingly unhinged, borderline terrorist rhetoric on the left and the civilly disobedient martyrdom of the Civil Rights movement.
Refusing to leave a seat and chasing somebody else out of theirs are two different things.
Most people are not radicals. Most people do not want to live in a state of perpetual social unrest and anger.
Incivility is scary. The further the Democratic party descends into extremism, the better “law and order” starts to sound to Americans in the middle.
And as the Democrats stumble, Trump has gone on the offensive by boxing the Democrats into the corner they are backing themselves into, calling Waters the face of the new party and pouncing on “abolish ICE” to label them the party of open borders.
If Trump can successfully brand the Democrats — using their own words and actions — as the party of lawlessness, it could cost them in November.
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