London Preparing to fly home, I started reading the papers at 3 AM in Brussels, then 9 AM in Munich, while changing planes, and now in London’s Heathrow at noon, as I wait for the next leg to Chicago and then home to New Orleans. All of the reporters and pundits are as clueless as the rest of us about how the dust will finally settle from the chaos of the midterm elections, but they are united on some issues, including that the bloom is off the rose and now is the time to go hard against progressives. One of the frightening and wonderful things about elections is that they provide hard-earned and unquestionable accountability. The voters speak. There are consequences. Money can make a candidate, but it can’t vote in the election booth. When the spinning stops and only the Trumps and Bolsonaros of the world can argue about the results.
The Times talked to Sean Patrick Mahoney, a five-term Democrat who surprisingly lost in New York, but had run much of the Congressional campaign. He argued the one thing that was clear in a “post-mortem” is that this “was the best House Democratic midterm since John Kennedy was in the White House….” That’s important to remember, before the circular firing squad is triggered, even though some of the press is focusing their gun sights on progressives.
Looking at Beto O’Rourke’s defeat in Texas, the Times offered that “…the baggage of a too-soon 2020 presidential run that, despite fizzling quickly, left behind a record of progressive statements on guns and fossil fuel and the police aimed at national Democratic primary voters, not the Texans he needed to win over in a governor’s race.”
That shot was gentle compared to the after-market analysis on Stacey Abrams second loss for Governor of Georgia. “The Abrams campaign was often described as insular and reluctant to take advice. By the final weeks, it was stunningly tight on cash. The Abrams campaign and its two affiliated committee raised at least $131 million. After spending at least $2.2 million a week on television ads for more than a month, the campaign’s spending plummeted in the final week to just $313,000, according to data from AdImpact, a media-tracking service.” Delivering a coup de gras, they added, “community leaders, campaign aides, state lawmakers and other allies describe Ms. Abrams, 48, as a visionary sometimes distracted by her obvious national ambitions and a personality more at home explaining intricate policy than engaging in the glad-handing and rope-line hugs.”
Ouch! Two progressive stars who galvanized media, magnetized money, and offered hope to many progressives have been vanquished. Ironically, both seem to have let their ambitions for the White House and national prominence blind them to the first priority in all organizing, which is building and maintaining a base. Nowhere is that more important than in politics. A simple rule would always instruct that you can’t build on a loss. Being able to raise money on the East Coast and Bay Area can’t ever substitute for minding your own knitting at home and keeping that tight. Trump is now learning this – finally – as well.
The Republicans flipped more seats in New York State – four – than anywhere else as they seek to take over the House of Representatives. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive bright light from the Bronx, was quick to call for new, fresh leadership for Democrats in the state.
But, watch out, as the moderates try to wrest control of the Republican Party from Trump and his crazies, the Democratic leadership may be doing the same thing and they beating the same drum about doing the work for the base, including name checking AOC on exactly this issue. Sure, soon to be ex-Congressman Murphy is probably a bit bitter since he didn’t protect his own base either, but this is a warning for all of us, as he goes hard:
The last time I ran into A.O.C., we were beating her endorsed candidate two to one in a primary, and I didn’t see her one minute of these midterms helping our House majority. So, I’m not sure what kind of advice she has, but I’m sure she’ll be generous with it. But let’s be clear, she had almost nothing to do with what turned out to be an historic defense of our majority. Didn’t pay a dollar of dues. Didn’t do anything for our frontline candidates except give them money when they didn’t want it from her. There are other voices who should be heard, especially when suburban voters have clearly rejected the ideas that she’s most associated with, from defunding the police on down. She’s an important voice in our politics. But when it comes to passing our agenda through the Congress, or standing our ground on the political battlefield, she was nowhere to be found.
If there’s a progressive moment in our future, we have to pay attention to the base and the building blocks, if we’re going to contend for power, and not press notices while we exploit our victories and listen and learn from our defeats.