Dem election committee warns consultants: If you help primary one of our House incumbents, you're dead to us

Luckily for the DCCC, there are no extremely prominent members of the new Dem House majority whom we might point to and say “Why, she might not be in Congress if the Dem establishment had made it hard to primary incumbents last year.”

AOC’s fans would respond to that, I assume, by noting that she didn’t rely heavily on consultants. She was grassroots-powered. Fair enough, but doubtless there are other AOC-style progressives eyeing a 2020 primary to their local centrist Democratic congressman for whom having a skilled consultant on their side might be the difference between victory and defeat. How does Ocasio-Cortez feel about her party trying to snuff out the sort of progressive primary challenge that brought her to Washington? How is socialism going to make inroads legislatively if all of the socialist insurgents are being handicapped in their attempts to win office?

Of course, it’s not just centrist members of the House who’ll benefit from this new pro-incumbent stance. AOC’s seat is probably — probably — safe for her no matter what, but a few of her buddies in the “Squad” are at risk. Scaring consultants away from primary challengers in their backyards might keep the Squad together longer than otherwise might have been the case.

The campaign arm on Friday sent out a list of hiring standards to more than 100 political firms, including one provision that made clear it will neither contract with nor recommend to House candidates any political vendors that work to oust sitting members of Congress. That offers key protection to the caucus’s moderate members in battleground seats, where House control will be won or lost.

It is intended to help stymie attempts by insurgent progressive groups who plan to primary incumbents deemed insufficiently liberal on key issues, but also to shield members of the party’s ascendant liberal wing who represent safe Democratic territory and could face intraparty challenges of their own…

Regardless, the change is likely to spark backlash from the constellation of liberal groups that are plotting against incumbents. Their central argument is that primary challenges are healthy for the party and bring in crucial perspectives, particularly from young women of color.

“The DCCC can do anything it wants to try to prevent the next generation of Democrats from taking power. They will not succeed,” said Sean McElwee, co-founder of Data for Progress, which is helping recruit primary challengers.

The DCCC’s logic is clear. They spent eight years watching Republicans fumble away gimme seats in the Senate by nominating ideologues in purple states. Now they have the left-wing equivalent of a tea-party insurgency on their own hands, embodied and promoted by the AOC phenomenon and potentially inspired by a successful run for the nomination by Bernie Sanders. They also have long memories from 2010 about how difficult it is for Democrats to hold onto House seats in purple districts when Republican voters are fired up about something. The more the progressive wing of the caucus dominates the party’s messaging over the next 18 months, the more fired up Republicans will be. Democrats are just trying to ensure they get to play their strongest hand — centrist incumbents — against the GOP next fall.

They’re also doing what they can to give those centrist incumbents cover on tough votes to come. If progressives pressure Pelosi into forcing a vote on the Green New Deal, say, purple-district Dems like Abigail Spanberger and Katie Hill will face an agonizing choice of whether to alienate the left by voting no or to alienate Republican voters by voting yes. The DCCC’s move here makes it easier for them to shore up their right flank by voting no, knowing that the GND is going nowhere legislatively so long as Trump’s in the White House and McConnell’s in the Senate. It’s one thing to see your centrist members culled in a Republican backlash after they’ve enacted groundbreaking legislation like ObamaCare. It’s another thing to see them culled by the left or the right because they voted the wrong way on a bill like the GND that’s headed straight down the toilet. If you’re going to squander your majority, at least get something in return.

You will, perhaps, not be surprised to learn that AOC is not a fan of discouraging primary challenges. Of necessity: If she knifes progressives in the back by siding with the DCCC on this, half of her cred with her base will be gone in a flash.

A simple point from Ocasio-Cortez: Why protect even blue-district Dems from a primary? That’s what her district was last year, a safe seat where the winner of the race between her and Joe Crowley would surely go on to win the general election. Righties take the same view of their own strongholds. There’s no reason to have a RINO in a seat that’ll go to a Republican either way. Might as well go with the most ideological candidate you can find. Sometimes that pays off and you nominate a Mike Lee.

And sometimes you nominate a Roy Moore and it doesn’t.

The DCCC’s counting on the fact that its new rule will also protect progressive incumbents in Congress to placate lefties who’ll otherwise bristle at it. One obvious beneficiary is Ilhan Omar, who’s already attracted some interest as a potential primary target due to her comments about Israel. Given the establishment annoyance at her, a primary challenger might have found some real consultant muscle willing to help out in the effort to unseat her. That’ll be harder now. Another beneficiary is Rashida Tlaib, who barely won a multi-candidate primary in 2018 before winning the general election. She’s potentially ripe for the picking by the Dem candidates she beat last year but now those candidates will have to do it without help from major Dem consultants, in all likelihood.

I’m wondering if this won’t end up backfiring, though. The DCCC may succeed in scaring off establishment consultants, who rely on the committee’s good favor, from helping to knock off progressive troublemakers like Omar and Tlaib. But progressive consultants might not care, as McElwee’s comment in the excerpt above makes clear. They may, in fact, view it as a badge of honor to defy the dreaded establishment to try to advance the cause, reasoning that the more successful they are, the more the DCCC will have to welcome them back into the fold. Stay tuned.