The activist base of the Democratic party is lurching left fast enough that everyone should pay attention. Activists matter because their turnout in low-turnout primaries and caucuses almost propelled leftist Bernie Sanders to victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Last month, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unseated New York congressman Joe Crowley, the No. 4 ranking House Democrat in a low-turnout primary. She benefited from organizing support from the Democratic Socialists of America. Leftists have also upset establishment Democrats in statewide primaries for governor in Colorado and Maryland.
The power of left-wing activists showed up in California this past Saturday, as 65 percent of the state Democratic party’s 330-member executive committee voted to spurn moderate Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein. Instead, they endorsed her left-wing opponent, Kevin de León, a state senator. De Leon won a stunning 65 percent of party activists, and Feinstein got just 7 percent.
Just five weeks ago, Feinstein crushed de León in the June open primary, winning every county and finishing in first place with 44 percent of the overall vote. De León finished far behind, with 12 percent. But that was enough for a second-place showing under the state’s primary system, which sends the top two candidates regardless of party into the November election.
Feinstein is still the favorite in the November election because she can better appeal to Republican and independent voters than de León can. But de León now has the official endorsement of the state party even though he won less than 30 percent of the vote cast for Democrats in the primary. That endorsement gives him access to email lists of party voters, a spot on the slate cards endorsing a united Democratic ticket, and a share of the national Democratic party’s campaign cash that will flow into California.
The irony of being opposed by her own party must weigh on Feinstein. Now 85, she began her career in politics in 1969 by winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. She went on to calm the city as mayor after her predecessor George Moscone was assassinated. She won her Senate seat in 1992 and is known for having shepherded into law the first federal ban on so-called assault weapons.
But Feinstein didn’t keep up with the changes in California. Her opponent de León apparently has: He’s running on abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, promoting national health insurance, and impeaching President Trump.
Feinstein seemed a little stunned as she watched her party turn on her this past weekend.
Feinstein knew that she was vulnerable and shifted left by abandoning her support of the death penalty along with her opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana. But it wasn’t enough. Left-wing activists are demanding that she confront President Trump head-on and help shut down the Senate rather than allow Brett Kavanaugh to be confirmed for the Supreme Court.
For his part, the 51-year-old fe León is careful to say that his challenge is not about “a gender issue.” “It’s not an age issue,” either, he says, insisting that his campaign is “about the right values.”
Feinstein seemed a little stunned as she watched her party turn on her this past weekend. Asked why her liberal stances over the course of 50 years in California politics weren’t appreciated, she shrugged: “Well, that thought occurred to me — but I wiped it out of my mind completely.”
Moderate Democrats other than Feinstein shouldn’t follow her into a similar brain rinse. The party’s left wing is gunning for them. Billionaire party activist Tom Steyer addressed the state Democratic committee this weekend just before it repudiated Feinstein. He had a simple warning for Democrats in Washington: “If you don’t have what it takes to lead now, when we are totally under the gun, then don’t come asking for support later. Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”
The left wing of the Democratic party believes that history is on its side and that they can sweep away the party’s weak-kneed leadership. They point to surveys suggesting that younger people are increasingly interested in socialism as a desirable economic system. A recent Emerson College survey, for instance, found that Americans ages 18 to 34 prefer capitalism to socialism as the better system by only one point: 42 percent for capitalism to 41 percent for socialism. “The future belongs to us,” bellows Bernie Sanders to his audience.
But no so fast. Overall, voters prefer capitalism, by 54 percent to 24 percent. Among Americans 35 and older, the difference in support for capitalism over socialism was between 38 and 42 percentage points. And we can’t forget the famous adage from French jurist Anselme Batbie (often wrongly attributed to Winston Churchill) about the fickle nature of young political views with the passage of time: “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.”
Donald Trump’s presidency has created a form of derangement syndrome among Democrats, pushing many of them into positions that may play well with their base but that will be problematic if they become associated with the party in general elections. Socialized medicine, abolishing ICE, identity politics, political correctness, and sky-high tax rates may quicken the pulse of those who see themselves leading the class struggle.
But such views detract from Democrats’ ability to use Trump as a bogeyman with moderates who will decide which party controls Congress and the White House. If warmed-over Marxists think they can scare voters into supporting Democrats by flying Donald Trump blimps and brandishing his image on posters, they may be in for a rude surprise in general elections.