Contact Me By Email

Contact Me By Email

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

A split among Democrats may threaten ‘the Squad’ - and help Trump - in 2024

A split among Democrats may threaten ‘the Squad’ - and help Trump - in 2024

A Somali Muslim woman wearing a black headwrap speaks outside in a crowd.
Ilhan Omar, the representative from Minnesota, in Washington DC on 14 December 2023. Photograph: Shutterstock

“A looming clash between the centre and left of the Democratic party could unseat members of the “the Squad” of progressives and hand a gift to Donald Trump’s Republicans in the 2024 elections.

The war in Gaza has divided Democrats like no other issue and is likely to play a key role in party primaries that decide which candidates run for the House of Representatives.

Squad members including Jamaal Bowman of New York, Cori Bush of Missouri and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who accuse Israel of fuelling a humanitarian disaster, are facing potentially well-funded primary challengers. Some Democrats fear that the infighting could weaken the party’s campaign in November.

“A lot of us have seen the headlines that Squad or Squad-adjacent members could be in trouble this cycle,” said Chris Scott, the co-founder and president of the Advance the Electorate political action committee (Ate Pac), which recruits and trains young progressives. “When I look at 2024, this is not the cycle where we need to be getting in a battle within our home faction.

“There is a much greater threat to us all that we need to be focused on. If you’re having a progressive and centrist go against each other in an open seat, that’s one thing, but to start taking shots at your own is a dangerous precedent and I don’t think we need to fall into that trap this cycle.”

The left have won some notable victories during Joe Biden’s presidency but continue to push him on issues such as climate, immigration, racial justice and Gaza, where many are dismayed by his unwavering support for Israel. On 7 October Hamas killed 1,200 Israelis and took about 240 hostage; Israel has since bombed and invaded Gaza, killing about 20,000 people.

Ideological tensions with moderates are set to spill into the open during a primary season that kicks off on 5 March with races in Alabama, Arkansas, California, North Carolina and Texas.

Bowman faces a stiff challenge from George Latimer, a Westchester county executive who is an ardent supporter of Israel and could receive a financial boost from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac). Bush has competition from Wesley Bell, a county prosecutor who described Bush’s initial response to the Hamas attack as not “appropriate”.

Omar will be up against Don Samuels, a former Minneapolis city council member who came within two percentage points of her in a primary last year. The lawyerSarah Gad and the air force veteran Tim Peterson have also filed to run against Omar in the primary.

Centrists smell an opportunity to put progressives on the back foot over their voting records, not just on Israel but a host of issues.

Matt Bennett, a co-founder and the executive vice-president for public affairs at Third Way, said: “The Squad for the most part has been problematic for Democrats generally because their voices are outsized and very loud and they have come to define what it means to be a Democrat in swing districts, and that can be very difficult.

“We are not huge fans of primaries against incumbent Democrats – often those resources can be directed more forcefully elsewhere to try to beat Republicans – but Cori Bush has done and said a lot of things that are going to be weaponised against her Democratic colleagues and so we wouldn’t be heartbroken if she’s beaten by a more mainstream Democrat in a primary.”

Squad members and their allies may also have to contend with pro-Israel Super Pacs and dark-money groups spending tens of millions of dollars on attack ads in a bid to unseat them. Critics say such ads often misrepresent progressives’ views to give the impression that they are cheerleading for Hamas.

The Democratic Majority for Israel Pac (DMFI Pac) recently launched a six-figure ad campaign targeting the Michigan congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, the sole Palestinian American in the House and one of Biden’s most strident critics. Its narrator said: “Tell Rashida Tlaib she’s on the wrong side of history and humanity.”

This week the DMFI Pac published its first round of endorsements for the 2024 election cycle, including 81 incumbent members of Congress. Its chair, Mark Mellman, said all the endorsees have demonstrated a deep commitment to the party’s values, “which include advancing and strengthening the US-Israel relationship”.

The group added that, in the 2021-22 election cycle, DMFI Pac-endorsed candidates won more than 80% of their races, helping bring 21 new “pro-Israel Democrats” to Congress.

Larry Jacobs, the director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, said: “The well-organised, and those with resources including money, are looking at the primaries as a way to settle scores.

“The Squad has a target on its back. The Israeli Zionist interest have concluded that they underinvested in the last election and that a bit more would have defeated some of the candidates, including Ilhan Omar, who won by only 2%. The amount of money going in looks to be substantially larger.”

The House primary stakes have been raised by 23 Democrats and 12 Republicans retiring, seeking other office or getting expelled, leaving a record number of open seats up for grabs. In Oregon’s third congressional district, Susheela Jayapal – whose sister Pramila is chair of the Congressional Progressive caucus – is running for an open seat but facing blowback for not signing a resolution that condemned Hamas.

As the war continues and the death toll mounts, the issue becomes ever more rancorous. Scott, the Ate Pac president, warned: “I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of these primaries get nasty.

“My worry is, do we get in a fight with the primaries and start trying to do all this spending going against Democrats because we don’t agree necessarily on the same issue and then we miss the mark and come up short in some of the open seats that we should be able to easily win?”

He added: “I get the frustration, but if you’re talking about possibly actively spending money to primary somebody like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or even Rashida Tlaib, one, what type of message are we sending and then two, where are our priorities overall?”

Scott argues that Democrats should instead focus efforts on candidates such as Mondaire Jones, who is aiming to win back his New York seat from Republicans, and Michelle Vallejo, who is running for the most competitive congressional seat in Texas. “As a party we have to be smart about how we play these and now is not the time to fall into that warring battle of ideologies,” he said.

Others share the concern about losing sight of the bigger picture and the unique threat posed by Trump and far-right Republicans. Ezra Levin, the co-executive director of the progressive grassroots movement Indivisible, said: “High-profile, expensive primary fights this cycle that exacerbate fractures within the Democratic coalition are bad for Democrats’ chances in the general election – and thus bad for democracy.

“As leaders of a grassroots movement dedicated to preventing Trump from returning to power, we’ve adopted a fairly simple test for all our strategic decisions over the next 12 months: will this move help or hurt our chances of beating Donald Trump and winning a Democratic trifecta in 2024? Aipac and DMFI’s latest moves clearly fail this test.”

The argument over Gaza appears to have been shifting in progressives’ direction. In a recent opinion poll for the Wall Street Journal, 24% of Democrats said they were more sympathetic to the Palestinians, 17% sided with the Israelis and 48% said they sympathise with both equally.

Biden, who often hovers in the ideological middle of the Democratic party, has gradually yielded to pressure to urge Israeli restraint and has warned that the country is losing international support because of “indiscriminate bombing”. But he has stopped short of calling for a permanent ceasefire.

Norman Solomon, the national director of RootsAction and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, said via email: “Scapegoating progressives is inevitable. That’s what corporate centrist Democrats and their allies routinely do. But primaries merely set the stage for the main event, which will be the showdown between the two parties for Congress and the White House.

“Whatever the results of the congressional primaries, the momentous crossroads in the fall will determine whether the fascistic Republican party controls Congress for the next two years and the presidency for the next four. Progressives aren’t making such a calamity more likely. Biden is.”

No comments:

Post a Comment