The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

The Democratic Party’s Favorite New Candidate Hits a Snag

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez marches during the Bronx’s pride parade in the Bronx borough of New York City, June 17, 2018. (David 'Dee' Delgado/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hits an unexpected complication for November; tough questions about whether opposing Brett Kavanaugh is worth it for endangered Senate Democrats; and whether America can continue to function if political parties see each other as enemies and threats instead of mere opponents.

The Road to Congress for New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Democrats’ favorite new congressional candidate, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, hit a bump in the road this week. New York State has lots of small political parties and allows candidates to run as the nominee of multiple parties. Ocasio-Cortez beat incumbent congressman Joe Crowley in the Democratic party’s primary. But the Working Families party had endorsed Crowley, and made him their nominee. The Working Families party asked Crowley to agree to remove his name from the ballot and . . . he won’t.

Ocasio-Cortez now accuses Crowley of bailing on three scheduled concession calls and “mounting a 3rd party challenge against me.”

New York’s 14th congressional district is heavily, heavily Democratic — in 2016, Hillary Clinton won 77 percent of the vote and Donald Trump won 20 percent, and Crowley beat Republican challenger Frank Spotorno, 75 percent to 19 percent.

But what happens if, in November, the 30,000 or so residents who voted for Spotorno in 2016, joined up with the 12,000 or so who voted for Crowley in the primary, and some undetermined number of tuned-out voters who mark the box for Crowley out of habit? Sure, Ocasio-Cortez is the safest bet. But how many Republicans in this district would love to see the congressional career of the self-described Democratic Socialist derailed before it began?

Could you imagine how livid the hard-left Democratic activists would be if they witnessed Ocasio-Cortez defeated in the general election?

UPDATE: This morning, Crowley responded on Twitter: “Alexandria, the race is over and Democrats need to come together. I’ve made my support for you clear and the fact that I’m not running. We’ve scheduled phone calls and your team has not followed through. I’d like to connect but I’m not willing to air grievances on Twitter.”

Yes, Yes, Every GOP-Nominated Supreme Court Nominee Is Extreme, Blah Blah Blah

Elsewhere in the Times, Bret Stephens reminds us that liberal interest groups always react the same way to Supreme Court nominees from Republican presidents, even when they turn out to be exactly what they wanted:

In 1987, the National Organization for Women declared that Anthony Kennedy would be a “disaster” for the rights of women and minorities. Yet the libertarian-minded Kennedy went on to defend abortion rights in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) and cast the decisive vote for marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). In 1990, Judith Lichtman of the Women’s Legal Defense Fund warned in a Times op-ed that “Judge Souter’s confirmation must be denied” based on his evasiveness during his confirmation hearings. Over time, Souter emerged as a reliably liberal vote on the court. Similar fury greeted John Roberts’s 2005 nomination — until his vote to preserve Obamacare remade him into a consensus-oriented pragmatist.

The discussion about potential “Yes” votes among Senate Democrats is focusing heavily upon Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, because they voted for Neil Gorsuch. But we shouldn’t rule out Bill Nelson of Florida, and there should be a lot of attention focused upon Alabama’s Doug Jones — and the question of whether Jones wants to be reelected or whether he’s basically renting his Senate seat for three years. Asked whether abortion should be legal or illegal in a 2017 exit poll, 52 percent of Alabamans said “illegal” and 48 percent said “legal” — and that’s in an election where some Republicans probably either stayed home or flipped for Jones because of Roy Moore’s scandals and problems.

What Happens If You Try to Redefine the Entire Opposition as the ‘Outgroup’ of America?

I really liked this column from Damon Linker, because I think he accurately diagnosed where the United States is headed if current trends of partisan animosity continue — two sides of the debate who think the opposition is not merely misguided or foolish but malignant and evil, and who basically see the other side as the biggest threat to the country, and who must be stamped out at all costs.

If Republicans really do pose such a threat, that’s very bad. But it’s also bad if Democrats merely think and act as if it’s true, since it implies that they now believe that the only way to be a “good American” is to … be a Democrat. The problem with Kavanaugh, after all, isn’t Trump’s corruption or the gratuitous cruelty and ineptitude of his administration. The problem with Kavanaugh is the agenda of his party and its ideology going back decades.

Do Democrats really intend to suggest that Americans need to agree with them or else risk subverting American democracy as such? If so, they should be clear about it — and honest with themselves about what it implies, which is that what was formerly considered perfectly normal (the ordinary give-and-take of democratic politics) has now become a luxury the country can no longer afford.

That would signal the end of normal politics in America — and constitute a genuine crisis of American democracy.

At the heart of this is what separates “the opposing side in our national politics is a bunch of buffoons with bad ideas who must be countered and beaten at the ballot box” from “the opposing side in our national politics is a menace that will destroy our country and who must be fought by any means possible.”

A lot of how we see the world stems from how we define our ingroups and outgroups — not merely “the in crowd,” although that can be an element of it; it’s more which groups we define ourselves as a part of, and who else we recognize as part of our ingroups. The term “RINO” — “Republican In Name Only” — stems from an effort to clarify that some figures deviate from the party so much that they really shouldn’t be cited as representatives of the Republican party. (In some cases, such as Charlie Crist, Arlen Specter, and Lincoln Chafee, they eventually leave.) It’s why many progressives insisted Joe Lieberman wasn’t really a Democrat, and why Trump-skeptic conservatives note how many years Donald Trump was a registered Democrat. Because of how common guilt-by-association has become in our politics, we’ve become particularly attuned to who gets labeled what. Timothy McVeigh is often cited as an example of “Christian terrorism,” although he was an atheist. (It is more accurate to point out that many members of the militia movement in those days identified as Christians.)

Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Maxine Waters, Barack Obama, Rachel Maddow, Michael Moore — you may not be able to stand those folks, but they’re Americans. The moment we take them out of the ingroup of Americans and put them into an outgroup — i.e., suggesting that they’re “not real Americans” — we sail into some dangerous waters. Because we will do things to members of an outgroup that we would never do to an ingroup. We owe things to members of the ingroup that we don’t owe to the outgroup. We can live with a wacky neighbor who believes the moon landing was faked. We can’t live with a wacky neighbor who pledges allegiance to ISIS.

There’s a flip side to this, of course; if you run around accusing several hundred American citizens and organizations of secretly being agents of the Russian government, you’re attempting to redefine lots of American citizens into the outgroup. If you’re refusing to serve the White House press secretary and her family at your restaurant, or going into a screaming rage at Steve Bannon as he browses in a Richmond bookstore, or throwing water at Tomi Lahren as she dines with her parents, you’re attempting to throw them out of the ingroup of humanity, or people who deserve to be left alone despite disagreement.

The idea of “national divorce” —  the concept explored in Kurt Schlichter’s People’s Republic series — which some people wildly misinterpret as pro-national-division — seemed really farfetched just a few years ago. Today? Perhaps not so much. The give-and-take and less-than-fully satisfying compromises that make a constitutional republic work apparently bore today’s young activists; they want to play “Nazi-hunter.” Progressives argue, fairly, that President Trump’s rhetoric often offers frustrated people a scapegoat for their problems — illegal immigrants, foreign countries making unfair trade deals, violent criminals, big businesses — and that he whips them up into an unpredictable anger and belief that they make the country “great again” by lashing out at these scapegoated groups. They contend that he tags whole populations with outgroup labels — all illegal immigrants are potential rapists and gang members, all Muslim immigrants are potential terrorists, every critic is a smug elitist, every member of big media organizations an “enemy of the American people.”

What a lot of progressives don’t realize is that they’re responding to Trump with the exact same playbook! (Or perhaps they realize it and enjoy it.) Everyone to their right is a potential Russian agent, a potential secret member of the alt-right or a neo-Nazi, every employer a heartless exploiter of American labor, every Christian a dangerous theocrat.

How do you coexist with a political opposition that you think is trying to kill you? You can’t.

ADDENDA: Headline on the New York Times front page: “‘I Believe in NATO’: Trump Affirms Support for Alliance.”

Headline on the New York Times op-ed page: “Sorry, NATO. Trump Doesn’t Believe in Allies.”

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