Time for today’s civil war update. A weird but true fact about the barroom brawl Democrats have been having for the past 72 hours is that Saikat Chakrabarti, AOC’s chief of staff, is in the middle of it despite the fact that he hasn’t said or tweeted anything particularly incendiary since his tweet a few weeks ago comparing centrist Dems to segregationists for backing the Senate border bill. He did breach protocol last weekend by jabbing at Nancy Pelosi but it wasn’t that tweet that made the Democrats’ bickering toxic. It was Pelosi herself sneering that AOC and her “Squad” have no national constituency (“They’re four people, and that’s how many votes they got”) and it was AOC sneering back that it’s odd how Pelosi seems to single out the young women of color in the freshman class for special derision. Yet it was Chakrabarti whom the House Dems’ leadership targeted on Twitter Friday night when they warned him to keep the names of moderate Dems out of his mouth; it was Chakrabarti who got dogged by another House Dem source in the papers yesterday as a trust-fund baby playing politics; and it was Chakrabarti who earned the zestiest quote in today’s Maureen Dowd column about the Pelosi/AOC fracas.
How come? Why is he the lightning rod rather than Ocasio-Cortez herself?
Here’s Rahm Emanuel, whom the left detests and who palpably hates them right back, teeing off on Chakrabarti with another roundhouse in Dowd’s piece:
Rahm Emanuel told me Chakrabarti is “a snot-nosed punk” who has no idea about the battle scars Pelosi bears from the liberal fights she has led.
“What votes did you get?” Emanuel said, rhetorically challenging A.O.C.’s chief of staff. “You should only be so lucky to learn from somebody like Nancy who has shown incredible courage and who has twice returned the Democratic Party to power.
“We fought for years to create the majorities to get a Democratic president elected and re-elected, and they’re going to dither it away. They have not decided what’s more important: Do they want to beat Trump or do they want to clear the moderate and centrists out of the party? You really think weakening the speaker is the right strategy to try to get rid of Donald Trump and everything he stands for?”
Chakrabarti is “the real instigator,” sniffs Dowd at one point, echoing a claim that’s been made before that somehow AOC’s chief of staff is the real brains behind her operation. (He’s even been accused of writing her tweets, but denies it.) The fact that his progressive cred is as robust as hers, if not more so, lends itself to that perception. He co-founded the Justice Democrats PAC, remember, which I think is half of what this brawl is about. Justice Democrats is eyeing establishmentarians in safe blue seats for primary challengers and the House Dems who hold those seats resent it ferociously. Even the centrist Dems in purple districts who aren’t being primaried need to worry about AOC and Chakrabarti trying to drag the party so far to the left that they become unelectable back home. They’re all using this Pelosi/AOC thing as an excuse to give him a beating, hoping to make things sufficiently uncomfortable for him and Ocasio-Cortez in the Capitol that the PAC will pull back on those primary plans and play nice.
The other half of what this is about is Dem leaders wanting to come after AOC herself but having to hold back, partly because Ocasio-Cortez is a member of Congress and partly because you don’t lightly antagonize one of the biggest names in your party, a person with nearly five millions followers online. AOC is a “made man” at this point whereas Chakrabarti’s just a henchman, so he’s the one who gets a limb broken to send a message to her — especially since Chakrabarti has thus far enjoyed unusual latitude from his boss in attacking her colleagues in the House. Every article I’ve read about him this weekend makes a point of noting how rare and taboo it is for a staffer to criticize members of Congress publicly by name; the fact that Chakrabarti continues to do it, even with Nancy Pelosi as an occasional target, surely has led some Dems to believe that AOC is using him as a mouthpiece to attack her enemies while she (mostly) stays above the fray. I think she and he are roughly analogous to Trump and Steve Bannon circa 2016: Bannon was at least as much of an ideologue as his boss, Bannon had the big plans to primary heretics, Bannon would happily rip into the enemies of the movement he was trying to lead (although usually on background). And Bannon, like Chakrabarti, understood how media works:
One Democratic DC source said the “incredibly polarizing” Harvard grad [Chakrabarti] is “pushing this conflict between Pelosi and AOC.
“He and AOC are looking for enemies, they are looking for fight, they are looking to create controversy,” he said.
“And it’s working. It’s raising money, getting more media, raising stature, increasing email lists, increasing profile.”
It looks like the barroom brawl might be winding down, for now, as of 1:30 p.m. ET. Today has been quiet thus far, and Justice Democrats and a bunch of other progressive groups have issued a statement insisting that they’ll be focused on immigration going forward, not a trash-talking contest with the Democratic establishment. Not all lefties seem ready to MoveOn yet, though: Pelosi got booed yesterday at the Netroots Nation convention with Markos “Daily Kos” Moulitsas complaining, “She doesn’t act this way when Blue Dogs say stupid sh*t about other Democrats and about the party and constantly criticize the party… For some reason, she’s singling out these four for a special brand of conflict. It doesn’t make any sense.” Here’s Bernie Sanders this morning on “Meet the Press” adding a little more fuel to the fire — tactfully. Exit quotation from Dowd: “A.O.C. should consider the possibility that people who disagree with her do not disagree with her color.”
WATCH: Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders says Speaker Pelosi is being a "little bit" too tough on AOC #MTP #IfItsSunday@BernieSanders: "You cannot ignore the young people of this country. … You gotta bring them in, not alienate them." pic.twitter.com/gl27XmRxpI
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) July 14, 2019