The exciting sequel to yesterday’s post about Ocasio-Cortez butting heads with centrist Democrats over a GOP amendment to the new House gun-control bill. That amendment required ICE to be informed whenever an illegal alien tries to buy a gun, something you would think America’s anti-gun party would have no trouble supporting. If you want fewer guns floating around, putting a population of 11 million people on notice that they’ll be deported if they try to buy one will help that effort marginally.
But the anti-gun party is also the open-borders party and there’s no doubt which of those two priorities takes precedence over the other. So when 26 Democrats joined with Republicans to pass the amendment, it was a surprise betrayal — of Pelosi, by signaling that centrists won’t necessarily follow her lead, and of the left’s agenda, embodied as usual in the person of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. What exactly was said at the caucus meeting afterward remains in dispute, with AOC insisting that the topic of primary challenges was never raised. Which is probably true in a narrow sense: The words “primary” and “challenge” were likely never uttered. But when her spokesman said that activists are “going to want a list of names” when she’s asked to explain who tacked on this amendment to a bill she supported before adding that “she’s going to give it to them,” it’s clear enough what’s being implied.
Go figure, then, that centrists at the meeting seem to have come away with the distinct impression that primary challenges are being threatened. Yesterday WaPo reported on a “sharp” exchange between Xochitl Torres Small and Ocasio-Cortez about the difficulty of running in a purple district. Today other Dems are chiming in:
Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), a co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, said he has confronted party leaders about such threats, which have also come from the Justice Democrats, a liberal group that backed Ocasio-Cortez’s primary campaign.
“Being unified means ensuring that Democrats aren’t primary-ing other sitting Democrats,” Gottheimer said. “Since when is it okay to put you on a Nixonian list? We need to have a big tent in our party or we won’t keep the House or win the White House.”…
The eruption followed weeks of growing tension between wings of the party. Freshmen who were elected on platforms of cleaning up big-money politics and fixing the heath-care system have found themselves voting on, and answering for, a different set of issues, and some are feeling the heat from their constituents.
“A lot of people are complaining and expressing concerns about the Democratic Party being portrayed as socialist, or certain voices being louder than others,” said Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), who unseated a GOP incumbent in a suburban Minneapolis district.
Certain voices, huh. “There are a lot of people that suck up a lot of oxygen,” said Dem Rep. Kurt Schrader to WaPo, “and then there’s the people that do the work,” not specifying who those mysterious oxygen-suckers might be.
The punchline of this mess is that the gun-control bill that ended up passing the House has no hope of becoming law, of course, even with the new GOP-friendly amendment attached. McConnell won’t bring it to a vote in the Senate. If he did and it somehow passed, Trump would veto it. I can understand Pelosi being annoyed that part of the caucus isn’t respecting her authority as Speaker, even on a show vote, but there’s no reason for Ocasio-Cortez to make enemies and risk a split within the caucus by issuing threats over something that hasn’t a prayer of becoming legislation. It’s not like her decision to vote yes on the final bill after voting no on the amendment will convince her progressive fans that she’s suddenly pro-ICE. She has the greatest social media reach of anyone in Congress, right? Well, then, she can always hop on Instagram and clarify that she voted for the final bill unhappily, for the greater good of advancing gun control.
In fact, she did use social media to clarify in this case. So what’s the problem?
If you’re mad that I think people SHOULD KNOW when Dems vote to expand ICE powers, then be mad.
ICE is a dangerous agency with 0 accountability, widespread reporting of rape, abuse of power, + children dying in DHS custody.
Having a D next to your name doesn’t make that right.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) March 2, 2019
We can have ideological differences and that’s fine. But these tactics allow a small group to force the other 200+ members into actions that the majority disagree with. I don’t think that’s right, and said as much in a closed door meeting.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) March 2, 2019
Those last two tweets don’t give me a strong sense that she really believes ideological differences are “fine.” In fact, not believing that ideological differences are fine is what makes AOC AOC. John Anzalone, a Democratic pollster, was quoted in the new WaPo story today reminding everyone that almost half of Democratic voters identify as moderate or conservative. (“There is, without a doubt, a myth that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez somehow represents the narrative of Democratic primary voters in the country.”) Another recent poll showed that, despite the party’s leftward drift, Democratic voters are much more interested in nominating someone who can defeat Trump than they are in nominating a progressive dream candidate. Anzalone chimed in with this thought on Twitter to try to sum up the Ocasio-Cortez phenomenon:
My main gripe about AOC is that while I respect her voice in the party, I don't think she respects mine or anyone else's who differs with her on policy or comes from a different political electoral reality. https://t.co/zzpvrNKKUe
— John Anzalone (@JohnAnzo) March 2, 2019
Absolutely. Her attitude towards ideological differences with the right is even more pronounced, as I’ve noted before. Ocasio-Cortez is a “conquest” politician. She doesn’t pay lip service to the idea that the country needs two healthy parties competing with each other or that we’re all part of one big American “family” or whatever hashing out our disputes. There’s Progress off in the distance and there are people standing in the way of it and those people need to be defeated. I think she believes progressives already have the numbers to squash their rivals at the polls, which may explain why she’s having difficulty grasping the electoral reality that faces purple-state Democrats and certainly explains the sense Anzalone is getting from her. She wouldn’t be as popular a figure if she didn’t think that way, frankly: One thing that makes her exciting to the left, I think, is that her youth combined with her seeming assuredness of victory lends her an aura that she’s the herald of some sort of coming progressive golden age. AOC isn’t supposed to believe that ideological differences are “fine,” she’s supposed to run the Pharisees out of politics, starting with the squishes like Anzalone in her own party. Much of this should be familiar from the tea-party era and its Trumpy aftermath.
The Green New Deal is a perfect summation of her attitude. It’s the most ambitious ideological wish-list legislation offered since at least the Great Society, entirely on-brand for a politician who aims to conquer and believes she has the electoral troops to do it. Why offer something more modest and appealing to centrists when you don’t have to? But it’s also representative of her approach in that it’s really not so much a “starting point” as an end point. Ocasio-Cortez has framed it as an invitation to other Dems to offer counter-proposals, ostensibly a starting point in the debate, but the parameters she’s set for acceptable alternatives assures that nothing will be equal to the task. We have only 12 years before climate catastrophe, right? And her plan is the most ambitious one out there, is it not? Well, then, what conceivable scaled-down alternative could the John Anzalones of the world offer that would lead her to compromise? I’d be surprised if she didn’t consider every item on her policy agenda a crisis that requires the most ambitious possible response and nothing less, under any circumstances, lest the heavens fall.
But in fairness to her, this is all more or less true of populist heroes on both sides. People like AOC don’t build a following because they have keen ideas for common ground with the other party, they build it because they channel the sense of a popular uprising against the Bad People who are preventing good things from happening. Someone like Anzalone isn’t to be engaged, he’s to be swept away.