The Democratic Party is searching for its identity. Since Reagan slaughtered Mondale in 1984, Democrats have begun a slow march to the center, and in some policies, into conservatism. There has been a lot of open space created by the rightward march of the Republican Party, and Democrats now occupy an incredibly broad swath of ideological territory. In many ways, it’s hard to believe that Sen. Manchin and Sen. Warren belong to the same party.
However, Manchin and Warren are examples of where the party used to be, and where the party may be going forward, respectively. Manchin is one of the last of the ‘blue dog’ Democrats, a group that is pro-gun, pro-life, but align with the left on issues that relate to workers and big business. Warren on the other hand is one of the main leaders of the new progressive movement within the Democratic Party, which aims to bring the Democratic Party away from the center and into the left.
The strength of the movement is personified in the primary challenge led by Sen. Sanders. A little known, previously Independent, Senator from Vermont presented a formidable challenge to the stalwart of the Democratic establishment. The 2008 election showed the beginning of this movement, as then Sen. Obama ended up beating then Sen. Clinton, largely by attacking her from the left.
The strength, however, began to build as Democrats continued to lose seats all over the country, and at all levels of government. The level of loss has been, quite frankly, astounding. The approval rating of the Democratic leadership fell concurrently. The approval ratings of Pelosi and Schumer stand at similar levels as President Trump. How are they supposed to lead an opposition and develop a strategy to take back Congress when the American public aren’t fans of them?
This is where progressives are shining. Their policies: single payer health care, college affordability, anti-trust legislation, and higher taxes on big businesses and the rich are supported by the majority of Americans. They also have fire. Elizabeth Warren’s passionate speeches on the Senate Floor and Bernie Sanders’ speeches and debates immediately come to mind, but there are plenty more examples.
One only has to look at Randy Bryce, better known as ‘Iron Stache’, who has the gall to challenge the sitting Speaker of the House. Or at Boyd Melson, a retired Army boxer who is gunning for the NY-11, a strongly Republican District. His ad shows that he thinks he can win it too. In these two districts, Republicans should be more worried than their Democratic counterparts.
However, Democrats will soon be facing the same problem Republicans have been since the Tea Party Movement. How do you incorporate this group into your party without them taking it over? For the most part, these challengers are younger, fiercer, and more inclined to vote for ideology rather than party. If these progressives pick up gains in this election, which looks likely, how will the Democratic establishment respond? Will there be a shift in Democratic leadership as the party tries to incorporate Progressives into the platform?
There are only two realistic choices. They can incorporate these forces into the party and give them positions where they can influence national policy. Or, they can sideline them and risk revolt. The leadership is currently choosing the second, and it’s a risky ploy, considering the strength of the movement, frustration of the base, and a string of defeats during the Obama years. There were some major democratic wins yesterday, but the progressive wing had a sizeable hand in them. Murphy ran on a progressive platform, and most of the grassroots challengers in Virginia ran on progressive ideas. The looming 2018 elections will determine what the future of the Democratic party looks like.