We Are In Uncharted Water Heading Into November

I have to admit that I chuckled a bit yesterday morning when I read some of the analysis of the primary elections held on Tuesday. At least the headline to a piece by Nathaniel Rakich put it in the form of a question, “Did Democrats Just Have Their First Tea Party Moment Of The 2018 Primaries?” His response is in the affirmative.

The Democratic Party woke up this morning with a clear signal from Tuesday’s primary elections: The #Resistance means business. The more progressive candidate won in Democratic primaries around the country. The question, however, is whether those more liberal candidates will hurt the party’s chances in November.

Similarly, James Hohmann writes:

Tuesday was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for Democratic moderates.

The success of very liberal candidates in primaries across four states is causing a new bout of heartburn among party strategists in Washington, who worry about unelectable activists thwarting their drive for the House majority.

Was it only a week ago that we were reading things like this from Sahil Kapur?

During the first big wave of primaries this month, Democratic centrists did something their GOP counterparts often couldn’t during the Obama years: They survived. Instead of nominating radical outsiders, voters mostly went with moderate incumbents.

That take was mostly based on the fact that, in the Democratic primary for Ohio’s next governor, “establishment candidate” Richard Cordray overwhelmingly beat Dennis Kucinich, who had been endorsed by the Bernie Sanders-affiliated group Our Revolution.

I hate to say “I told you so,” but the fact is…I told you so.

Let’s first of all note that the first big wave of primaries this month all happened in states that Trump won. Similarly, the special elections that have occurred since the 2016 election have almost exclusively been held in red states and districts. It therefore stands to reason that moderate Democratic candidates have done well. As the primaries move to more predominantly blue states and districts, we are likely to see candidates prevail who embrace more liberal platforms.

The problem for most political analysts is that, because midterm primary elections happen all over the country, they can’t do the kind of deep dive into local politics that we saw with Martin’s take on the Pennsylvania primaries yesterday. So they fall back on pre-existing national narratives and attempt to force local election results into those categories. Rakich chose the one about whether the resistance is analogous to the tea party, which I attempted to debunk previously.

Another national narrative that we’ve seen already and will pop up a lot over the next few months is to assign Democratic primary candidates to either the Clinton or Sanders wing from the 2016 presidential primary. One race that demonstrates the futility of that frame is next week’s contest to be the Democratic nominee in the governor’s race in Georgia. Stacey Abrams seems to have a comfortable lead over her opponent Stacey Evans at this point. But Lee Fang is attempting to paint Abrams as a Republican-coddling establishment candidate up against the progressive Evans. On the other hand, Jessica Testa wrote, “The Ghost Of Hillary Vs. Bernie Is Alive In Georgia,” flipping the script to Abrams in the role of Bernie and Evans as Hillary. Having read both articles, I have to say that, other than the headline, Testa captured much more of the local nuance in the race than Fang. But the whole Bernie vs Hillary breakdown is old, forced and unhelpful.

While recent history can often be useful in helping us understand current political events, that might not be true this time around. The election of Donald Trump and the resistance movement it created are unprecedented. What we know so far is that women, African Americans and young people have been organizing in ways that they haven’t in the past. That might be true of other groups as well that the media hasn’t noticed yet. Early primary results have indicated that one potentially big theme that might emerge this cycle is that women are overwhelmingly winning elections at the local level. Keep an eye on that one, for sure. In the meantime, this election, more than any other in recent history, is one that we should approach with eyes as wide open as possible and without the usual filter of what happened in the past. We are in uncharted water heading into November.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.