Who is Progressive? The Fight for Control of the Donkey

As America faces a stark political war between its two major political parties, the Democratic party is staring down another opponent: themselves. For years, the party has faced intense scrutiny from those whose views skew further left. More moderate party leaders like Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and President-Elect Joe Biden have a long history of struggling with far-left activists and politicians such as Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ilhan Omar. Just within the past couple weeks, President Barack Obama voiced his displeasure with the “Defund the Police” movement, much to the chagrin of newly elected congresswoman Cori Bush. Soon after, leaked audio came out that saw President-Elect Biden engage in a heated argument with a member of the NAACP, making the statement that no progressive politicians spoke out about the clash between attendees of the Unite the Right rally and counter protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. This is easily disproved by a cursory glance at statements from progressive politicians like Bernie Sanders. All of this tension has come together to make the current political battleground much more nuanced than merely Republicans vs. Democrats. While that front of the war is still raging, infighting is quickly becoming an equally important battle.

One of the most important factors in this debate is age. In the 2020 Democratic primary, Joe Biden carried many key demographics, but one problem that arose was his lack of youth support. According to Washington Post exit polls, Biden was crushed by Bernie Sanders in the 18-44 voter age bloc. Even in Florida, where Biden had one of his best performances among young voters, he failed to gain 50% of young voters. The fact that Biden won the primary in spite of this lack of youth support may indicate that it is more important for candidates to woo older voters at this point in time. However, it should concern the Democratic establishment that the candidate whom they seemed to favor wasn’t able to land his message with young voters who will determine the future of the party.

The conflict between the two factions of the Democratic party has raged beyond picking candidates and policies. With the focus of this election season shifting to the general elections (especially the presidential race and the Georgia runoffs), there has been a serious conflict over how best to win these key races. There seem to have been 3 main ways of getting the vote out from America’s blue party. One of these is relying on staple party figures and celebrities to garner party support. This was seen in the involvement of figures like President Obama and the plethora of events hosted by musicians and actors to push the defeat of President Donald Trump. A second strategy is using prominent stars of prior Republican administrations to bring in conservative voters. This tactic has been employed by groups like the Lincoln Project to swing Republicans who have become disillusioned by the rhetoric and tact of the Trump administration. Many members of the Bush administration, supporters of John McCain, and moderate officials within the current party used this strategy to try and swing support from Republicans who aren’t fully on board with what their party has stood for in the era of Trump. A third tactic is the grassroots movement of people like Stacy Abrams. Rather than using established figures to sway or secure votes, the party galvanizes voters who feel voiceless, disenfranchised, or otherwise discouraged by voter suppression and gerrymandering. The purpose of this strategy is to educate and turn out potential voters who have typically been underrepresented at the polls.

These devices have led to a heated online debate between advocates for each turnout tactic. Those who favor the grassroots campaigns have focused in large part on an increased turnout for Trump compared to 2016 and important losses in swing states like Ohio and North Carolina. Meanwhile, more moderate groups have pointed to the success of young conservative firebrands like North Carolina’s Madison Cawthorne as proof that voters in middle-of-the-road swing states won’t be receptive to any kind of left-leaning messaging. This debate has caused further rifts after the Democrats managed to capture all three elected chambers of the government. Rather than uniting over the success, the fight to determine who’s done the most for the cause has become even more severe. Though it’s hard to definitively say what campaign method is best, the Stacy Abrams-led charge in the Georgia Senate race has given fresh momentum to the grassroots movement.

This divide in the party was particularly significant in the vote to determine the Speaker of the House. With the Democratic House majority narrowing after the general election, Nancy Pelosi could only afford to lose a sparse few votes from her own party. With Pelosi’s vocal disdain for many left-leaning policies, she faced a distinct threat of losing votes from progressive Representatives like Cori Bush and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. While both ended up casting their vote for the sitting Speaker, the margin was closed by dissenting Democrats who chose to break off from the pack and be counted as present or vote for people who weren’t running. 

Even though these results mark another term with little change among the party leadership, it does seem as if the walls are closing in on the old guard of leadership for the Democratic Party. The conflicting tactics and ideologies of the moderates and the further left-leaning members of the party seem to be coming to a head. People like Diane Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer are nearing an age when replacements will be necessary. Young liberals like Pete Buttigieg seem to be lined up to take the reins of the moderate charge—but can that capture the momentum of young voters away from the progressives? Currently, it seems as if the Democratic party faces an ultimatum from its youth: move left, or face an exodus of young voters. With the party already struggling to present a unified front, it’s hard to see much success for the Democrats in the future—unless they somehow find some common ground to compromise on.


Solomon Reaves
Contributor at The Commoner | + posts

Solomon Reaves is a journalism student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. When he’s not writing or making deliveries, he enjoys the finer things in life like cricket, MMA, and ranting about social issues

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