Moderate and progressive House Democrats spar over losses

Postgame Analysis

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has blamed candidates who did not mount an aggressive digital campaign

Ståle Grut/NRKbeta

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) at SXSW 2019.

Moderate and progressive House Democrats continued to trade blame over the party’s Election Day losses in critical swing districts across the country, after numerous vulnerable members of the party were ousted and the Democrats failed to flip most of their swing-state targets.

Contentious call: Tensions within the House Democratic caucus spilled into the public through extensive leaks from a caucus call on Thursday, in which Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) raised concerns that key progressive issues like socialism, Medicare for All and the defunding of the police had hurt the party in the general election. Progressives including Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) fired back, arguing that progressive policies appeal to the party’s base.

Speaking out: After the call, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) blamed the party’s House losses on under-spending on digital campaigning and door-knocking in the final stretch of the campaign. “I’ve looked through a lot of these campaigns that lost, and the fact of the matter is, if you’re not spending $200,000 on Facebook with fundraising, persuasion, volunteer recruitment, get-out-the-vote the week before the election, you are not firing on all cylinders,” Ocasio-Cortez told The New York Times. She also said that the party has failed to accept the help and advice that progressive activists could provide.

Out of the game: Ocasio-Cortez also told the Times that she is not sure if she will remain in politics, due to perceived hostility from her party. “I don’t even know if I want to be in politics. You know, for real, in the first six months of my term, I didn’t even know if I was going to run for reelection this year,” she said. The New York congresswoman added that President-elect Joe Biden’s administration needs to bring in progressives, rather than Republicans and other conservatives who campaigned for him.

Pushback: In his own interview with the Times, Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA), whom Ocasio-Cortez singled out for criticism, said: “She doesn’t have any idea how we ran our campaign, or what we spent,” and argued that that Ocasio-Cortez was not a consistent “team player” during the presidential race. He also made the case that “completely unrealistic… false promises” like defunding the police and banning fracking frustrated swing voters and led to the House Democrats’ electoral struggles. “The rhetoric and the policies and all that stuff — it has gone way too far. It needs to be dialed back. It needs to be rooted in common sense, in reality, and yes, politics. Because we need districts like mine to stay in the majority and get something done for the people that we care about the most,” he said.

Big tent: Clyburn reiterated in an NBC interview Sunday that candidates must be allowed to “represent their districts,” and that candidates like Jaime Harrison and Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC) were hampered by progressive rhetoric. He added that labels, including “progressive” and “conservative,” can be counterproductive. “I just want us to be Democrats in a big tent,” he said.

Fallout: The tension within the caucus could foreshadow a tough leadership battle for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who officially announced her bid for reelection as speaker last week. Ocasio-Cortez, who was reluctant to back Pelosi in 2019, has not committed to voting for her in January.

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