Civil war on the Left: Centrist Dems about to take on Warren wing?

So far, no Democrat seems willing to take on Hillary Clinton for the 2016 presidential nomination, including the populist-progressive favorite Elizabeth Warren. Some Democrats want to make sure that a progressive-populist challenge never arises. According to The Hill’s Kevin Cirilli, centrists within the party have prepared a vigorous assault on their left wing to prevent progressives from ruining Democratic chances in 2016 — and not just for the White House:


For months, moderate Democrats have kept silent as Sen. Warren’s (D-Mass.) barbed attacks against Wall Street, income inequality and the “rigged economy” thrilled the base and stirred desire for a more populist approach.

But with the race for the White House set to begin, centrists are moving to seize back the agenda.

The New Democrat Coalition (NDC), a caucus of moderate Democrats in the House, plans to unveil an economic policy platform as soon as this week in an attempt to chart a different course.

“I have great respect for Sen. Warren — she’s a tremendous leader,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), one of the members working on the policy proposal. “My own preference is to create a message without bashing businesses or workers, [the latter of which] happens on the other side.”

Peters said that if Democrats are going to win back the House and Senate, “it’s going to be through the work of the New Democrat Coalition.”

Cirilli points out that Bill Clinton won the presidency through the efforts of the Democratic Leadership Council, which tried to push the party more to the center after Michael Dukakis’ poor showing in 1988 … or at least give the appearance of having done so. Barack Obama’s rise was predicated in part on moving past the old Left/Right paradigm, but Obama went full tilt toward the Left in his policies, and has spent the last three-plus years cheering on the Occupy movement while doing little to address the center other than claim it in rhetoric.


The NDC obviously saw what happened in the last two midterms and are panicked at the prospect of the Congressional elections in the next cycle. That’s also going to be a problem for the presidential cycle, too. Obama cobbled together a unique coalition of voters in part by going to the entertainment media and finding low-information voters and charming them into getting involved. That may have been something Bill Clinton could have done 20 years ago — or more accurately, did. Remember where “boxers or briefs” was asked? In an MTV forum. But Clinton’s well past his charmer stage with younger voters, and Hillary’s probably never had that ability at any time of her life. A Hillary nomination gives Democrats a pre-Obama Democratic coalition, and the Obama agenda limits the electorate to the Left even further. Small wonder the dwindling number of Democrats in Congress, and in state legislators, have formed for an attack on the progressive wing of the party.

In fact, Obama and Hillary may be making the problem worse for the NDC:

While White House aides dismiss the suggestion that Obama’s growing focus on wage inequality has 2016 undertones, the president clearly wants to lay the populist foundation for a platform that Clinton can embrace when she likely jumps into the 2016 contest this summer.

Republicans say Clinton might not be the ideal surrogate for such a message.

“The bigger problem is that President Obama and the Democratic Party are in a different place than Hillary Clinton is,” argued Republican strategist Patrick Griffin. “Obama is the populist left of the party and Hillary is more of a centrist Democrat. Is this Obama’s party or Hillary’s party or Elizabeth Warren’s party?”

On Hillary, Griffin added, “This is the case of a movie that gets so much advance box office, then the premiere happens — and everybody says, ‘hmm, not so good.'”


After hearing about the supposed split on the Right all weekend at CPAC, it’s at least refreshing to see someone in the media pay attention to the civil war that’s about to erupt on the Left.

Update: Bill Scher reported in December that the Warren wing was thinking about launching its own version of the Tea Party:

The extreme right has power, and that’s something the left hasn’t had much of for a long time. But in the aftermath of the party’s disastrous midterm performance, it’s very possible that the Democratic Party leadership will be facing its own Tea Party-style insurgency from the other side of the spectrum. “You’re going to get a fight within the Democratic Party. There is a substantial disagreement coming up,” Rep. Jerry Nadler, an outspoken Congressional Progressive Caucus member, recently told the Wall Street Journal.

The only question is, how serious a fight will it be? Will it be a polite spat that results in what has happened most often before—the fast marginalization of the left, with the best elements of the various critiques being stitched together by a centrist Hillary Clinton, or whoever is the nominee in 2016? Or are the populists ready to stage their own grass-roots rebellion, setting their sights on eradicating all corporate influence from the Democrats and undermining any attempt by President Barack Obama to compromise with Republicans by any means necessary?

Progressive activists such as the feisty Progressive Change Campaign Committee would love to be able to instill some of their own intraparty fear, sharpen their populist pitchforks and prod Democratic leaders leftward. And there is reason to believe this could be their moment.


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