For Democrats, it may be a case of be careful what you wish for. There appears to be a steadily growing apprehension that their new superstar might turn on them.
Democrats finally received an infusion of fresh blood when the young and telegenic Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shocked the nation with her monumental upset win on June 26, in the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th congressional district.
But there was a catch: she won by defeating ten-term incumbent Rep. Joseph Crowley, the number four Democrat in the House.
Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, has already backed another leftist insurgent targeting a member of the party establishment.
She has endorsed congressional candidate Cori Bush, running against nine-term Democrat Rep. Lacy Clay in Missouri’s August 7 primary. Both Ocasio-Cortez and Bush are backed by the progressive PAC Justice Democrats.
Now, Democrats may be showing a whiff of panic.
On Wednesday, The Hill quoted NY Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks as saying, “We’re trying to take back the House, but it seems like they’re just trying to go after Democrats. It makes no sense.” He added, “I would hope that the new member coming in would … keep the eye on the prize.”
But it’s not just Meeks who may be afraid of a leftist insurgency against the Democratic establishment — and that concern has been growing since her victory.
Liberal political analyst Peter Beinart wrote a piece in The Atlantic headlined, “Crowley’s Defeat Should Scare Joe Biden,” the day after Ocasio-Cortez won her election. It was subtitled, “The Democratic Party’s shift to the left will leave centrist politicians hard-pressed to defend their records.”
Beinart mused that if former Vice President Joe Biden is mulling a presidential bid in 2020, he should be worried because Ocasio-Cortez is “part of a broader pattern that has been playing itself out in Democratic primaries for more than a decade.”
Similarly, The Washington Post’s national political correspondent James Hohmann wrote the day after the New York primary that Governor “Andrew Cuomo should be scared.”
Hohmann called the Ocasio-Cortez victory part of a “Democratic civil war, which has been raging in proxy battles across the country since Hillary Clinton struggled to fend off Bernie Sanders two years ago.”
Two-term New York Governor Cuomo is facing a primary challenge from actress Cynthia Nixon, who is endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez. And according to Hohmann, Cuomo has “moved left on almost every issue to fend off Nixon. Watch for that to accelerate even more after Crowley’s defeat.”
Perhaps sensing leftward momentum, Nixon declared on Tuesday that, like Ocasio-Cortez, she is a democratic socialist.
Cuomo is indeed the next target of progressive activists, according to an article in The Atlantic published on Monday. It said “his brand of old-school politics embodies the establishment like no other Democrat in the state.”
The article quoted New York State Senator Kevin Parker as saying, “We’re now in a danger-filled time for all incumbents.” A “leading Democrat backing Cuomo” also weighed in, saying that the governor and other incumbents should “run scared, as if you’re down.”
Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth also recently expressed concern about the effect of Ocasio-Cortez on the party. “I think that you can’t win the White House without the Midwest and I don’t think you can go too far to the left and still win the Midwest,” Duckworth told CNN on July 1. She also denied the socialist represented the future of the Democratic Party, telling Jake Tapper: “I think it’s the future of the party in the Bronx, where she is.”
That echoed Nancy Pelosi, who sought to play down the impact of the New Yorker’s win on the day after the primary, saying, “They made a choice in one district.” She added, “So let’s not get yourself carried away as an expert on demographics and the rest of that within the caucus or outside the caucus.”
But one liberal columnist suggested the best way to quell what Hohmann called the Democratic civil war was to embrace Ocasio-Cortez’s leftism. In an opinion piece in the Washington Post on July 2, Eugene Robinson warned Democrats not to “defeat themselves” or “squander political advantage” by shunning her.
He wrote: “[S]ome Democratic hand-wringers are warning darkly that the very existence of left-of-center candidates such as Ocasio-Cortez … will limit the party’s potential gains in the House and imperil some Democrats in the Senate.” Robinson also warned against having “all candidates stick to bland centrist nostrums.”
That may be more easily said than done, as exemplified by the difficulties encountered this week by 10-term incumbent Rep. Michael E. Capuano, a Massachusetts Democrat. He is challenged by Ayanna Pressley, a candidate endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez.
“The people closest to the pain should be closest to the power.”
Vote her in next, Massachusetts.
We need to elect a corporate PAC-free caucus if we’re going to get things done. https://t.co/M2tF5cedTs
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) June 27, 2018
Capuano expressed frustration and “got a little testy,” according to the Boston Globe, when grilled by reporters on Monday and asked to compare his race with the New York primary. “We’ve provided you guys with as much information as you need on the differences between these races,” retorted Capuano.
The incumbent also refused to say if he favors abolishing the department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as does his opponent. “I’ve already given you positions on this, guys,” Capuano said. “If you guys want to rehash the whole thing, you can go ahead and do it.”
On the night of her victory, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted support for three other Democratic candidates in primary races: the above mentioned Pressley and Bush, as well as Chardo Richardson, who is challenging Democrat Rep. Stephanie Murphy in Florida. And Ocasio-Cortez indicated there were others she would support.
For incumbent Democrats, a crucial question now, and perhaps for years to come, may be: who will she endorse?
And at whose expense?