There is no Democratic civil war -- at least, not yet

If Democrats are indeed in the midst of a long "political revolution," then the current phase will be remembered as a...

Posted: Jul 27, 2018 12:36 PM
Updated: Jul 27, 2018 12:36 PM

If Democrats are indeed in the midst of a long "political revolution," then the current phase will be remembered as a mostly bloodless one.

For evidence, look no further than the primary season exertions of Sen. Bernie Sanders, de facto leader of the progressive insurgency inspired by his 2016 presidential campaign.

Last week, Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old democratic socialist who beat incumbent Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley in New York's 14th Congressional District, campaigned for a pair of progressive primary candidates in Kansas: James Thompson and Brent Welder. Both are running for a chance to unseat Republican incumbents. Ocasio-Cortez will be in Michigan this weekend to support Abdul El-Sayed, who was endorsed by Sanders on Wednesday, as he seeks an upset of his own in the state's Democratic gubernatorial primary. The winner will take on the Republican would-be successor to GOP Gov. Rick Snyder.

Earlier this month, Sanders stumped alongside Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, who is now vying for the Democratic nomination in the state attorney general race, on a trip that also took him to Wisconsin, where he appeared at events with incumbent Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Democratic congressional hopeful Randy Bryce. After that: Pennsylvania, for a rally with Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. Fetterman defeated the current lieutenant governor in his primary and is likely to replace him, blue for blue -- if a different hue -- in November.

All of the candidates described here have at least a few things in common. To start, they mostly share -- to varying degrees -- Sanders' politics and support all or some combination of his policy priorities. But just as importantly, and perhaps more to the point given the current balance of power in Washington, none of them pose a clear risk to Democratic hopes of reclaiming House and/or Senate majorities or growing party power in the states.

In fact, a look across the congressional map ahead of the 2018 midterms finds perhaps one candidate who, in scoring a primary upset, has endangered what prognosticators viewed as a prime pick-up opportunity for Democrats in November. But even then, Kara Eastman, the Democratic House nominee in Nebraska's 2nd District, is hardly the kind of doomed ideologue that tea party Republicans watched fumble away eminently winnable Senate seats back in 2010 and 2012.

Of the red-state Democrats running for reelection in the Senate, only Joe Manchin in West Virginia has faced a notable progressive challenge -- from Paula Jean Swearengin, who ultimately lost to the incumbent in a May primary by about 40 percentage points.

It's a distinction that can be difficult to apprehend in the heat of an election season, especially the first of the Trump era, but for all the yelling, ferocious online bickering and increasingly competitive blue district and state primary contests, Democrats this year have mostly maintained a functioning, if increasingly ideologically diverse political coalition.

There is credit to go around. The progressive left, with Sanders as an example, has mostly steered clear of fights that could damage party unity (and prospects) in November. The Democratic establishment, meanwhile, has taken steps to embrace more grassroots politics. And where those tactics haven't been tried or taken, there is always the specter of Trump.

The political left, in the broadest of terms, is uniform in its disgust with him, his administration, and its policies. While a democratic socialist, like Ocasio-Cortez, and a liberal moderate, like her fellow New Yorker and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, would surely differ in their analyses of how and why Trump came to power, their most pressing, immediate goal is the same: help elect Democrats to the House, Senate, state legislatures and governors' mansions.

This era of good feelings, of course, comes with a pretty well fixed expiration date.

Come November 7, or perhaps sometime late the night before, Democrats will enter a less peaceful phase. With the midterms done, factions within the party will begin drawing up instant 2018 post-morterms with an eye on "what it means" for 2020.

The presidential primary that follows figures to be a few million degrees hotter and more fraught. Only a decade of Democratic policy hangs in the balance, along with the potential - if things go wrong -- of four more years with Trump in the White House.

But all that's for later. For now, the ditches are empty and directive is clear. Democrats might want to enjoy it while they can.

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