Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez scored the biggest Democratic primary upset in years by knocking off a Democratic powerhouse, Chairman of the U.S. House Democratic Caucus Joe Crowley. When she takes the oath of office in January of 2019 she will be the youngest woman to ever serve in the U.S. House. She is a self-described socialist and one of the major planks of her campaign was the abolishment of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. She is joined in the call to abolish ICE by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Is it possible that this new upstart force has discovered the formula for Democrats to win Congress back from the Republicans?
To win Congress back from Republicans Democrats will need to keep the 194 seats they currently hold and flip 24 Republican seats. There are currently 25 Republican-held districts where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in 2016. Based on these 25 districts alone, Democrats quest to win Congress is very doable. But Democrats could make this doable quest to win Congress undoable if they follow the lead of their new shining star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Ocasio-Cortez joined a growing number of Democratic candidates running for office this year that proudly proclaim themselves as socialist. According to the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), there are 42 people running for offices at the federal, state and local levels this year with the organization’s formal endorsement. Their reach stretches through 20 states from Michigan to Hawaii. Those running for federal offices hope to join the famous socialist of them all Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders, presently the only self-identified socialist serving in either the U.S. House or Senate.
In June Ocasio-Cortez won her Democratic primary race in a district so blue that no Republican bothered to run giving her an automatic victory in the November general election. Her victory has fed growing momentum for the DSA. By July Zak Ringelstein, a non-DSA member Democrat running from the state of Maine for the Senate became a dues-paying member of the DSA. He is currently the only major-party Senate candidate in the nation running as a Democratic socialist. Before the 2016 elections, the DSA had 6,000 dues-paying members as of July of this year they now have 45,000.
The DSA constitution describes its members as socialists who “reject an economic order based on private profit”, and “share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships.” Members during public meetings are said to refer to each other as “comrades,” they wear clothing featuring socialist symbols like the rose and promote authors such as Karl Marx.
Rejection of an economic order based on private profit is a contradiction and a slap in the face of American capitalism. This is the reason why Democrats would be wise to tread carefully, especially if they intend to win Congress. James Thompson is a Kansas congressional candidate who is endorsed by the DSA but is not a member, he is an example of the balance some Democrats are trying to execute. He says “I don’t like the term socialist, because people do associate that with bad things in history, but there’s definitely a lot of their policies that closely align with mine.”
In the days following Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning victory Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi declared that socialism was not “ascendant” in the Democratic Party, she went on to say “It’s ascendant in that district perhaps.” Referring to Ocasio-Cortez’s district Pelosi said each district is different, and that her victory is “just a sign of the vitality of our party.”
Pelosi is wise to draw a hard line because according to a Hill.TV/HarrisX American Barometer poll, 76% said they would not vote for a “socialist” candidate, while only 24% of those polled said they would vote for a socialist candidate. Even among Democrats, the poll shows that 64% of Democratic respondents said they would not vote for a socialist, and among respondents who said they voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election, 59% said they would not support a self-described socialist.
Recent primary races seem to be bearing out Democrats aversion to socialist backed candidates. Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory made her a national political star, she hit the campaign trail to do her part to help Democrats win Congress back. She endorsed and stumped for 7 left-leaning candidates who shared her socialist progressive views. Only 2 of them, James Thompson in Kansas and Rashida Tlaib in Michigan, won their Democratic primary races.
Ocasio-Cortez campaigned for Abdul El-Sayed for Governor of Michigan, Fayrouz Saad in Michigan’s 11th Congressional District and Cori Bush in Missouri’s 1st District. El-Sayed lost, Saad came in fourth in a five-way race and Bush also went down in flames in Missouri. She went to Kansas for Brent Welder’s 3rd Congressional district primary race, to his disappointment he lost. And this month she visited Hawaii to campaign for State Rep. Kaniela Ing who was running for Hawaii’s 1st Congressional district, he finished a distant 4th place.
Republicans are happy to see socialist among the ranks of Democrats because they think it will stop a possible blue wave for Democrats, denying them the chance to win Congress back. They point out that socialist Bernie Sanders plan to provide free government-sponsored health care for all Americans had no co-sponsors in 2013. Today, more than one-third of Senate Democrats and two-thirds of House Democrats have signed onto the proposal, which by one estimate could cost taxpayers as much as $32 trillion.
Among the co-sponsors are 2020 presidential prospects Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and California Sen. Kamala Harris. None of these presidential prospects call themselves Democratic socialists but only one them, Sen. Cory Booker, is disassociating himself from the socialist movement’s top priority of abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Abolishing ICE appears to be another issue where Democrats are going left of American voters. A Politico/Morning Consult poll shows that most voters oppose eliminating ICE. Only 1 in 4 voters in the poll, 25%, believe the federal government should get rid of ICE. A majority, 54%, think the government should keep ICE. 21% of voters are undecided.
Even among Democrats, the poll shows a plurality although not a majority of Democratic voters support abolishing ICE, 43% of Democrats say the government should get rid of ICE, while only 34% say it should keep ICE. Because there is little support for eliminating ICE outside of that 43% Democratic base, Morning Consult’s managing director Tyler Sinclair says “Congressional candidates who embrace the ‘Abolish ICE’ movement could have a difficult time appealing to voters across party lines, for example over three-fifths (61%) of Republicans and 41% of independents say they would be less likely to vote for a congressional candidate who supported getting rid of ICE.”
Democrats must not let President Trump’s recent inhumane use of ICE to separate immigrant children from their parents, fool and blind them to a majority of Americans concern about how immigration affects the changing demographics of America. Although most Americans think the separation policy was wrong it doesn’t mean they want ICE abolished, to the contrary as the poll shows most Americans want strong border controls enforced by ICE.
Democrats are blessed to have a very diverse Party, its tent is large enough to even include socialist. But if they are going to win Congress back from Republicans, they must realize that some aspects of their message will only appeal to a few extreme blue Congressional districts like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s. They must face the reality that a socialist platform and abolishing ICE will NEVER appeal to national general election voters.