This new progressive project, called “We Will Replace You,” could just as easily be called “Operation Cutting Off Our Noses to Spite Our Faces.” According to The Hill, the frustration from the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party will take aim at Senate Democrats they deem to be too cooperative with the Donald Trump administration. They plan to challenge those Democratic incumbents in primaries next year as punishment for straying from “the resistance”:
“We fundamentally reject the assumption that Democrats can only win in red states by pandering to racists and big bankers,” said Claire Sandberg, a co-founder of the progressive political action committee We Will Replace You.
“The way we beat Trumpism and take back Congress and statehouses is offering a coherent vision of our own to put people back to work. … We don’t need to completely compromise our own values and principles.”
We Will Replace You is the most visible effort gearing up to back primary challenges from the left. Spearheaded by a group of progressives, including two former senior staffers on Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign, the group’s website includes a warning for Democrats looking to avoid a competitive primary race.
“Do everything you can to Resist Trump, or we will replace you with someone who will,” the group’s statement reads.
Well, that’s quite a choice — either lose a general election or lose a primary. The progressives at WWRY argue that Democrats can retain these seats through a purity campaign that will turn out like-minded voters enough to beat Republicans in these states. Progressives tried that strategy in at least one winnable state in 2016, the Senate election in Wisconsin, with disastrous results. Rather than look for a fresh face that might appeal to a changing electorate, they hauled Russ Feingold out of mothballs to run as a true progressive against incumbent Republican Ron Johnson. As they now argue, progressives figured that a presidential-turnout model and a “pure” candidate would provide more than enough turnout lift to win the seat back. Not only did they miscalculate on the turnout model, they also miscalculated on the attractiveness of progressivism in Wisconsin — a state that had been turning red ever since Johnson and Scott Walker first won in 2010.
This project takes aim at Joe Manchin (WV) and Heidi Heitkamp (ND) most, but probably will attempt to put pressure on Claire McCaskill (MO), Jon Tester (MO), and Joe Donnelly (IN) too, among others. Manchin could just decide to switch parties if progressives attempt to primary him, as he remains very popular at home, leaving Democrats with a huge hole and a thin bench in West Virginia to fill it. Donnelly and McCaskill are on thin ice in very red states, and a progressive primary challenge might force them to abandon moderate Republican support in the general election. McCaskill only won her last election by hand-picking Todd Akin as her opponent, and Donnelly only won his first Senate election because of a purity campaign against then-incumbent Richard Lugar. With Ryan Zinke out of the way, Tester has the best chance of escaping a tough challenge … unless progressives force Tester to go left, in which case Republicans might be able to grab that seat with a lesser-known candidate. Pushing any of these to the Left would be suicidal, and in Donnelly’s case deliciously ironic.
How serious is this effort, though? The inclusion of former Sanders staffers makes it look at least potentially significant. That also provides another point of irony, however. WWRY explains their threshold for action on the home page of their website:
Three Democratic Senators voted “yes” to confirm Rex Tillerson, a Big Oil baron with close ties to Putin who conspired to destroy our climate by suppressing evidence about global warming. Fourteen Senate Democrats joined with Republicans to confirm Rep. Mike Pompeo to be our new CIA director, despite Pompeo’s past Islamophobic remarks and ties to far-right conspiracy theorists, his position in favor of unconstitutional surveillance on Americans, and his enthusiastic support for torture and secret detention. And Senate Democrats like Dick Durbin, Claire McCaskill, and Jon Tester have all voiced the opinion that Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch deserves “a fair shake”—after Republicans refused to even meet with President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland for almost a year and effectively stole a Supreme Court nomination.
This cannot stand. We will only defeat Republicans on the local, state, and federal level if we go on the offensive.
The irony? Bernie Sanders himself doesn’t meet this standard, having voted to confirm three of Trump’s Cabinet picks so far. If Sanders doesn’t pass a progressive purity standard, it’s probably not worth imposing.