The DNC seems quite sincere in their efforts to pull off a major sweep in 2018 and take back control of not only the Senate, but possibly even the House as well. But in order to do that, they’ve really got to broaden their appeal outside of the coastal, urban fortresses where they traditionally overperform. So how do they manage that? For one thing, they need to get rid of some litmus tests which traditionally define whether or not a given candidate will receive the blessing of the national party, along with all of the money and other resources that entails.
Laura Barrón-López at the Washington Examiner has a helpful history of the Omaha, Nebraska mayoral election held this past May which exemplifies this problem. For those who missed it, Republican Mayor Jean Stothert looked like she was in trouble there for a while. While the state is very red, most of the actual city of Omaha bleeds blue and the Democrats had a very promising candidate named Heath Mello on the ballot, quickly drawing within striking distance of Stothert. That’s when word of Mello’s pro-life position on the abortion question came to light and DNC chair Tom Perez shoved his foot in his mouth by throwing Mello under the bus, declaring that the hadn’t passed the litmus test on abortion. Mello went on to lose by five points.
As Barrón-López points out, this is a symptom of an ailment which spreads far, far beyond the confines of a single mayoral race.
There is a bitter fight now raging for the soul and future direction of the Democratic Party, and, not surprisingly, it is a serious impediment to winning elections. A senior adviser on Mello’s campaign said having “a candidate that was seen as part of the civil war in the Democratic Party was not helpful to engage new people and turn out voters.” What does Omaha say to the party’s more conservative politicians, the Joe Manchins, Bob Caseys, and Heidi Heitkamps, the adviser said, pointing to vulnerable pro-life Democrats facing re-election in 2018 in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and North Dakota. “It’s a scary thing.”
Kleeb lamented that everything that happened in Omaha may have had little to do with Mello himself. She speculated that outrage on the Left is linked to establishment distaste for Sanders, who endorsed Mello.
“At the national level, there are some more establishment folks that can’t get over the fact that Bernie is still beloved at the grassroots level, and they continually attack him,” Kleeb said.
The absence of coordination and loyalty to the party in Omaha is a clear example of what can go wrong for Democrats in 2018. It encapsulates the near impossibility of a consistent and unifying message from Democrats. These competing ideological forces could prevent the party from securing one of their greatest congressional victories since 2006, when they seized control of both houses of Congress.
I’ll definitely agree that there’s a civil war going on inside the Democratic Party, but let’s be honest… both parties have that sort of split running most of the time. Even on the subject of abortion, I would remind everyone that the Republicans still maintain a stable of pro-abortion members, particularly in the northeast. The last time New York Republicans got really hardcore about chasing out the congressional RINOs in the 2008-2010 era we dropped down to having three seats out of 27. (We’re finally back up to nine now.) As you can see, neither side is immune.
So the Democrats are fighting that war as well, but also dealing with a second internecine battle right now which has little or nothing to do with abortion, pipelines or any other traditional hot-button issues. As noted in the linked article, much of the fight over the Omaha mayoral battle had to do with the fact that Bernie Sanders endorsed Mello while Perez attacked him. Sanders wanted a bigger tent and more seats while pushing as progressive of a platform as could be elected in each race. The old school, Clinton supporters were already mad enough at Bernie and pushed for a litmus test.
We all saw how that worked out. If the Democrats want to continue down this path, by all means, let them do it. It’s going to be a rocky battle next year and the GOP could use all the help they can get. But we should also take this as an object lesson and remember that the same thing can happen to the Republicans. While the DNC fights over abortion rights, we’ll still be tied up in the pro-Trump vs anti-Trump battle. And if we get bogged down too much in that one the Democrats will be ready and waiting to take advantage of it.
The DNC isn’t so much dealing with a Sanders vs Clinton battle right now. The Clinton machine seems to be sputtering to a halt and nobody knows if Sanders will want to make another grab for the brass ring in 2020 at his age. But there are still two very pronounced camps inside the party who are fighting to hang on to what those two candidates stood for and the segments of the base they most appealed to. That’s not going to magically end by next year. And, I’m sorry to say, the Trump vs NeverTrump fight isn’t going to cool down any time soon either.