The Democratic Party Establishment Should Stay Out Of The Primaries…Let The People Decide

Recently, I came across an article in The Washington Post, entitled “Emerging Democratic Party united on liberal policies but divided on how to win.” I couldn’t help but wonder how wrong the writers of this piece were. The crux of their reporting suggests that “A new Democratic Party is emerging in congressional primaries across the country, united over the most liberal policies in decades but sharply divided over which candidates to run against President Trump and Republicans in the midterms.” On the one hand, the division they assert is between the those who have been energized for change and taken the next step and declared their candidacies. On the other hand, are what could be called the Democratic establishment, the Democratic National Congressional Committee, Democrat political insiders, and elected state and local party officials. As a former Democrat state vice-chair and chair, I can assure you those new kids on the block are more tuned into the political environment in the country than the Democratic establishment. Their campaigns are filled with motivated supporters, activists, and volunteers that far outnumber any one congressional race that the Democrat establishment can influence. All of which brings me to several relevant points.

When I was cutting my teeth in the Democratic Party, years ago, one of my mentors made a comment when I groused about somebody who had announced her candidacy for a state legislative seat that had been held by an old farmer who had been in the legislature for a couple of decades. Being in a red state, I thought why should we have primary when it was so hard to elect Democrats in the first place? It was probably a safe seat, why split the Democrats with a primary? My mentor’s wisdom has stuck with me all these years. “We should never be afraid of or try to obstruct a primary. You have to let the people decide the final candidate. Primaries are good for the Party.” Sure enough. The woman who was a newcomer organized a great campaign, hit the right issues, and simply outworked her opponent. It was a lesson well learned. Primaries never hurt the Democratic Party. They only make their candidates better and stronger. And by the way, that woman went on to serve four terms in the legislature.

Another point I think should be considered is a simple question. Why should we be concerned so much about what the Democratic establishment thinks? To be fair there are some very good strategists and tacticians in the Democratic party. However, what kind of results has the Democratic establishment delivered recently. Over the last 10-15 years we have lost a number of governorships, lost complete control of Congress, elected an incompetent president, and countless state, county, and local seats. Thank you very much, but perhaps it is time to adopt a new way of recruiting, supporting and electing Democrats. That should be the mission of the Democratic establishment.

The idea that the Democratic Party made a wise move to a centrist political position following the defeat of Senator George McGovern in his quest for the presidency and branding him a liberal pariah is sheer nonsense. The Democrat Party couldn’t move fast enough to the center. Without writing another book on why the Democratic Party moved to the center and left many of the constituencies they had long championed behind, I would refer to Bruce Miroff’s book The Liberals’ Moment. It is a heavy read but one which any serious newcomer to the Democratic Party should read. If you don’t wish to read the book, this article by Joshua Mound in The New Republic makes a valid argument for why the Democratic Party’s move to the center was a grave mistake.

There is a blue wave coming in the mid-term elections in 2018. It is a legion of resistance movements that are politically liberal, progressive, and fed up with the status quo in Washington. Women, Millennials, African-Americans, Latinos and other minorities, LGBTQ groups, Organized Labor, Environmentalists, Peace and Justice advocates, Common Sense Gun Control proponents and many others are coming to make their voices heard. The Democratic Party should welcome all of the people from these groups who seek an elected public office. The Democratic establishment should stay neutral in the primary contests. The days of selecting old white guys as candidates is over. Which is not to say that there aren’t qualified white men to be elected. The difference is that now it should not be a right of some sort of entitlement just because you are white and are wealthy. Everyone should have to earn the right to be nominated and the ticket needs to reflect the diversity of the Democratic Party and more importantly the diversity of the nation. The old adage, “the cream will rise to the top”, is still valid.

George McGovern proved over forty years ago that grass-roots organizing, a voter identification project, and a coordinated get-out-the-vote effort can win a campaign. That kind of campaign requires a lot of demanding work. I will give Tom Perez, the national Democratic Chair and Keith Ellison, Co-Chair credit for understanding this and putting it into practice.

Finally, upon reflection as I proof this post, I may have been too hard on the four Washington Post reporters who contributed to the article “Emerging Democratic Party united on liberal policies but divided on how to win.” One of benefits of all these white hairs on the top of my head (what few are left) is that an old guy like me has lived through a significant period of American political history. As a Democrat and a political operative, I have seen where all the bones are buried. I agree with these reporters that there is a new emerging Democratic Party. However, I do believe that the Democratic establishment should stay clear of meddling in the primaries. Let whoever wants to run do so and then let the people decide. After all, at its best, the Democratic Party has always been the party of the people.