Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is questioned by reporters as she leaves the Capitol following votes, in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018. The Senate Judiciary Committee is finishing its investigation into the meeting between Russians and President Donald Trump’s campaign in June 2016 — and Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa wants to release transcripts from closed-door interviews with Trump’s son and others. Grassley says he wants to work out an agreement with Feinstein to release transcripts from interviews with Donald Trump Jr. and others who attended the campaign meeting in Trump Tower. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
For the establishment Democrats who imagined that Bernie Sanders’ insurgency and the ass-whipping administered to 20-year Congressional veteran and chairman of the House Democrat Caucus by a relatively unknown newcomer, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, were just flashes in the pan, that belief was shaken yesterday when the California Democrat Party refused to endorse Dianne Feinstein for reelection.
California Democratic Party leaders took a step to the left Saturday night, endorsing liberal state lawmaker Kevin de León for Senate in a stinging rebuke of Democratic icon Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
De León’s victory reflected the increasing strength of the state party’s liberal activist core, which was energized by the election of Republican President Trump.
The endorsement was an embarrassment for Feinstein, who is running for a fifth full term, and indicates that Democratic activists in California have soured on her reputation for pragmatism and deference to bipartisanship as Trump and a Republican-led Congress are attacking Democratic priorities on immigration, healthcare and environmental protections.
De León, a former state Senate leader from Los Angeles, received 65% of the vote of about 330 members of the state party’s executive board — more than the 60% needed to secure the endorsement. Feinstein, who pleaded with party leaders meeting in Oakland this weekend not to endorse any candidate, received 7%, and 28% voted for “no endorsement.”
There are two parts to this: one tactical and one strategic.
Tactically, this probably doesn’t hurt Feinstein’s reelection chances. She beat de Leon like a rented mule in the California primaries and, because of her advanced years, it is unlikely that any measurable number of Democrats will vote Republican to replace an entrenched Feinstein with a beatable Republican six years hence.
Strategically, though, it is significant. This endorsement of another hard-left candidate, one that can make Kamala Harris look rather moderate by comparison, by a major state party is a signal about the kind of candidates that will start appearing at the local level. It is also a signal that old-line machine Democrats may start facing party sanctioned primary challenges.
In my view, this has some similarities to the GOP Tea Party experience but it differs in critical ways. There is no doubt that this is a populist and popular uprising in the Democrat party. Ocasio-Cortez was essentially their David Brat knocking off Eric Cantor. But the differences are manifest. Where the GOPe tried to stamp out and then co-opt the Tea Party, there was never a case where a Tea Party-sponsored candidate was able to gain the endorsement of the state GOP organization without having first won the primary. Even then, as we saw in the case of Chris McDaniel, the GOPe frequently sandbagged their own best candidate, taking the short-term loss of a seat in preference to a potential long-time loss of power. In fact, a cynic might think that the national GOP did exactly that by coming around to support Trump while Ted Cruz was still in the race only, in this case, the dog caught the car and here we are.
What is obvious from all of this is that the brushfire that Sanders started in 2016 appeals to a significant part of the Democrat party. They like the energy and they like the socialism. The real challenge is going to lie in keeping traditional Democrats in line with the new Democrat party. At least the Tea Party held many of the same political views as the GOPe. The differences were in style (more brash and combative) and in focusing on the stresses felt by the middle and working classes rather than on making optimal decisions for the Chamber of Commerce. Traditional Democrats and the new Sanders wing have very little in common and this decision to embrace socialism may turn out to be disastrous for the Democrats downstream. Or disastrous for the nation.
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