For Democrats it should be about votes, not megaphones

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) speaks to supporters outside the House Chamber on Saturday, July 31, 2021 as progressive House Democrats are demanding the House return to work on the expiring federal eviction moratorium which ends Aug 1.
Greg Nash

Reps. Mikie Sherill (D-N.J.), Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), three influential young House Democrats, have been cited in 45,000 stories this year, according to a media monitoring firm. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), three young members of the left-wing “squad” that gives House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) fits, have been cited in 440,000 stories.

These numbers, from conducting a news search on Cision, include mentions in national and major local newspapers, broadcast and cable outlets, the internet and magazines. Precision is not possible, but there is no doubt of the scope. On social media, AOC is a dominant figure.

Sherill, Underwood and Slotkin all won their seats in Republican districts in the 2018 election that put Democrats in the majority. They are among the 97 percent of House Democrats who voted for the big infrastructure bill this month. The communications-savvy AOC and her allies were among the six Democrats who voted against it.

There may be bigger problems for Democrats — Joe Biden’s plunging approval, inflation — but this is important: A distinct minority in the party has a far larger megaphone, attracting considerable media attention from the left and the right, at times shaping the Democrats’ identity.

The reality is the hard left attracts more media attention than votes — both in Congress and with the electorate. Just this year they lost in New York City and Buffalo mayoral races, a congressional primary in Cleveland, and a police funding referendum in Minneapolis, among others.

There is an intense intraparty battle between — to use oversimplified shorthand — the mainstream Pelosi Democrats and the left-wing AOC Democrats over so-called “woke” issues. It often is mischaracterized and takes on an unfortunate racial connotation.

Most Pelosi Democrats favor affirmative action, major reforms to hold police accountable, a lot more spending on social welfare, child care, health and education, and climate change. They believe that while there has been great progress on racial injustice, there is much more to do and forcefully oppose the current wave of voter suppression actions.

Where to them the left becomes a problem is on defunding the police, open borders, extolling socialism, turning our military swords into ploughshares, or limiting politically incorrect speech and views, especially at elite universities.

With that megaphone, those on the ultra-left sometimes come across representing the party’s positions.

The House serves as a useful benchmark. Of the 221 Democrats, there are almost 100 members of the Progressive Caucus, more of whom are Pelosi Democrats than AOC Democrats.

It’s the same with the rank-and-file voters. The recent Pew Research Center survey of 10,221 Americans found that mainstream/establishment progressives — Pelosi Democrats — far outnumber the others. The most liberal “Progressive Left,” the survey reports, is only 12 percent of the party members and is the only majority white, non-Hispanic group.

New York’s AOC is a self-identified democratic socialist … and one of the most effective communicators in American politics; she espouses a single-payer, government-run health care system and raising the top marginal tax rate to as high as 70 percent. Michigan’s Tlaib pulls no punches: The shortly after being sworn in after her 2018 election win, she hurled a profanity-laced threat that Democrats would impeach Trump. Missouri’s Bush played a major role during the pandemic in extending a moratorium on rental evictions; she gets attention chiefly through fiery rhetoric. A few weeks ago, she accused Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) of being “anti-black, anti-child, anti-woman, and anti-immigrant.” Not only is that unfair, it also fails to appreciate the fact the moderate West Virginia Democrat represents a deep red, pro-Trump state. The alternative to Manchin would be someone who votes like Missouri’s junior Senator, Republican Josh Hawley.

To be sure, the House Democrats ultra-left caucus isn’t as large or as vitriolic as the Republican right wing with its threats of violence and racist rants. And the left can bring energy to politics, particularly younger voters, and even play a constructive role pressuring party leaders.

But questioning other Democrats’ motives, and positions like defunding the police, are self-defeating. (Congressional Democrats, led by California Rep. Karen Bass tried to enact a major police reform that would have held cops accountable; Republicans wouldn’t go along and then falsely accused Democrats of wanting to defund the police.)

AOC, Tlaib and Bush represent districts that vote 70 percent to 80 percent Democratic.

Sherill, Underwood and Slotkin represent highly competitive districts.

This is where the balance of power lies for the House — and for Americans politics. It’s about votes not megaphones.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for The Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez congressional democrats Cori Bush Counting votes Democratic majority Democratic Party divided Congress divided Democrats Elissa Slotkin Far-left politics House Democrats Joe Biden Joe Manchin Josh Hawley Karen Bass Lauren Underwood moderate Democrats Nancy Pelosi Progressive wing Rashida Tlaib the squad

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