The Democrats' generational battle

The Democrats' generational battle
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For all the kicking, screaming and eye gouging over “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal, you may not have noticed that there’s a generational as well as ideological battle brewing within the Democratic Party. The face-off started in the 2018 midterm elections and continues into the presidential race.

A battle rages between the baby boomers who run the party and the millennials who are the strongest Democratic partisans.

The first big reveal in the Democratic battle for generational supremacy came in 2018. In Democratic congressional primaries that year, two young progressive challengers, Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezLouisiana governor wins re-election White House backs Stephen Miller amid white nationalist allegations Ocasio-Cortez voices support for Taylor Swift in artist's battle to perform her songs MORE (then age-28) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyAyanna Pressley introduces extensive criminal justice reform resolution Ocasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field Justice Democrats official denies that progressives struggle with electability MORE (44), beat stalwart liberal incumbents, Joe CrowleyJoseph (Joe) CrowleyThe Democrats' generational battle Ocasio-Cortez apologizes for blocking ex-politician on Twitter, settles lawsuit Ocasio-Cortez on public life: 'Sometimes I just want to be a human being' MORE (56) and Mike Capuano (66) in Democratic primaries in New York City and Boston, respectively.


The insurgent primary victories were more generational than they were ideological. Both incumbents had very good liberal voting records that were no match for younger challengers.

This generational battle has since played out in the U.S. House of Representatives, where the Democratic leadership has seniority in more ways than one.

The big Democratic House majority has isolated the Republic minority so the real battle has been between the senior House leadership of Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiLouisiana governor wins re-election Dynamic scoring: Forward-thinking budgeting practices to grow our economy Pelosi: Trump tweets on Yovanovitch show his 'insecurity as an imposter' MORE (age 79) and Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Former Ukraine envoy offers dramatic testimony Hoyer calls GOP efforts to out whistleblower 'despicable' Live coverage: House holds first public impeachment hearing MORE (80) on one side and “The Squad,” Ocasio-Cortez (now 30) along with three other young women, Reps. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarOcasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field Krystal Ball: Billionaires panicking over Sanders candidacy Omar renews claim Stephen Miller is a 'white nationalist' amid calls for him to step down MORE (38) of Minnesota, Rashida Talib (43) of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley (45) of Massachusetts.

The squad and their progressive allies have battled with the Democratic leadership over Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and the pace of impeachment.

The battle between millennials and boomers has now reared its head in the Democratic race for president.


In Iowa and New Hampshire, the states that are the first and second to select delegates to the Democratic National Convention, there are only four candidates who are in or close to being in double digits in the RealClearPolitics polling averages.

Three of the frontrunners, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBudget official says he didn't know why military aid was delayed: report Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide READ: Foreign service officer Jennifer Williams' closed-door testimony from the House impeachment inquiry MORE and Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Bloomberg, Patrick take different approaches after late entries into primary race Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersSinger Neil Young says that America's presidents haven't done enough address climate change New poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide MORE (I-Vt.) are in their seventies. But the fourth candidate in the top tier, Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne MORE of South Bend, Indiana, is a baby at 38.

Early in the race, there were a few thirty-somethings in the Democratic presidential field. Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne Saagar Enjeti: Yang's plan to regulate big tech misses the mark MORE (D-Hawaii) is in the race but hasn’t made a dent on the leader board. Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellNew witness claims firsthand account of Trump's push for Ukraine probes Pelosi: Trump tweets on Yovanovitch show his 'insecurity as an imposter' Overnight Defense: Ex-Ukraine ambassador offers dramatic day of testimony | Talks of 'crisis' at State Department | Trump tweets criticism of envoy during hearing | Dems warn against 'witness intimidation' | Trump defends his 'freedom of speech' MORE (D-Calif.) is long gone.

Why has Mayor Pete survived while the others have faltered? He has a gold-plated resume for a guy who is so much younger than the other frontrunners.

Buttigieg had to start early in order to build such a long resume so quickly. As a high school senior, he won a JFK Profiles in Courage essay contest. Coincidentally, the subject of the essay was one of his competitors for the Democratic nod, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

The essay launched an impressive career. He went on to receive degrees from Harvard University and from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He served in Afghanistan in Naval Intelligence for seven months, and he received a Joint Services Commendation Medal for his counter terrorism duty in a combat zone. He was elected to the first of his two terms as Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, when he was only 29.

Democrats would prosper with a young candidate like Buttigieg. His youth is a vivid contrast to the age of the other Democratic frontrunners and the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives. Voters are in a nasty mood, which means they will want change. He is a change of pace for voters who are tired of the old political establishment, and his age makes him an effective contrast to the older frontrunners.

The age of the Democratic presidential frontrunners and the party’s congressional leadership does not reward the overwhelming support millennials gave the Democratic Party in 2018. Millennials were more supportive of Democratic candidates than voters in any other age group.

Much political turmoil and turnover is a function of a battle between an ascending generation, the millennials, who want political power, and a descending generation, the baby boomers, who have the power and don't want to give it up.

Generational political replacement is a recurring theme in American politics.

Until the 1970’s, members of the Greatest Generation ruled the roost in American politics. Then baby boomer candidates defeated older incumbents. Politicians who came of age during the Depression and World War II gave way to a new wave of upstarts who grew up in the wake of political assassinations, social turmoil, the Vietnam War and Watergate. Now the boomers are in the process of giving up power to young people who emerged in the shadow of 9/11, wars in the Middle East and the Wall Street economic collapse.

Demography is destiny. There are now more millennials than there are baby boomers. Millennials will soon take control from the boomers. It will be easier for Democrats to win the White House with a younger candidate who represents the future than with an older nominee who stands for the past.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Dateline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.