Hillary Clinton’s shift to the Left continues unabated and two recent events showcase why. Late last week Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders unveiled a progressive dream of making public colleges free for all. The Clinton camp knew this was coming and had already hinted they might support some kind of free college. But Sander’s full-fledged avocation of the issue shows he is trying to out-left Hillary.
Another event occurred that likely slipped under the radar for many. On Tuesday, Democratic Jim Kenney won his party’s mayoral primary in Philadelphia. He faced off against Anthony Hardy Williams, a supporter of charter schools and fiscally “smarter” policies. Hardy, not exactly a centrist by any stretch, dominated the monetary aspect of the race, spending over $7 million to defeat Kenney. But Kenney, endorsed by progressive superheros Elizabeth Warren and Bill De Blasio won with 56% of the vote.
While the media tends to downplay there is a rift in the Democratic Party it is clear a rift exists. And it could be characterized as starting after Obama’s 2012 win. It is said as soon as a President wins a second term he becomes a lame duck. True or not Obama’s lack of signature accomplishments in the first two years of his second term angered progressives because they believed he was appeasing red-state Democrats and being squishy on progressive priorities.
Democratic losses in 2014 only added fuel to the fire. Many moderate, red state Democrats were defeated in the Senate and only five House Democrats now sit in districts that voted for Mitt Romney. This perhaps irreparably shifted the balance of power in the party to the Progressive Left. Since 2014 the Progressive Left has staked out policy and electoral turf. The battle in Chicago that made former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel have to go into a run-off to hold the Mayor’s office stands as one example. The more recent policy example was a solid majority of the Democratic Senate Caucus voting against the Obama endorsed Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership.
Consider this, Democratic efforts to find more centrist,traditionally liberal candidates to run for political office has resulted in some backfires. The GOP learned such lessons the hard way in 2010 (Nevada, Colorado) and 2012 (Indiana). Democratic attempts to clear the Senate field in Ohio have failed with Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld refusing to bow out against former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. In Nevada, Catherine Cortez Masto, and Florida, Congressman Chris Murphy, the party’s anointed nominees have not scared off more progressives like Dina Titus (NV) and Alan Grayson (FL).
It’s little surprise the Democratic Party is moving to the left. Jim Kenney’s pollster, Anna Greenburg, states fact when she says “The energy in the Democratic Party is on the left. It’s coming from the urban centers, and that’s where Democratic votes come from.” Thus, it is little surprise progressives and their candidates feel they can move the party leftward as more rural and suburban voters leave the party.
This poses significant problems for the party. The establishment realizes it while the Progressive wing does not. Ideas like expanding school choice are popular among some elements of the Democratic Party. Progressives have largely battled mayors like Emanuel and now Senator Corey Booker of New Jersey (former mayor of Newark) for trying to expand school choice. Also, Progressives are far more likely to go all in on taxes for a greater welfare state and free college. But this idea might upset Democrats topsy-turvy alliance with affluent suburban voters turned off by the GOP’s stances on immigration and social issues.
Regardless, it is clear the energy is towards the Progressives as the end of the Obama era nears. The Clinton camp knows it and has backpedaled on former, more moderate policy positions in favor of more progressive ones to court this ascendant wing of the party. Course, Democrats may never be able to hold onto the Senate or retake the House for a decade but as Democratic leaders are learning (as the GOP did) ideological purity trumps electoral victory to true believers.