Maybe Democrats Should Focus On Beating Republicans Instead Of Tearing Down Progressives In Primaries?
A good rule, in this, the year of our
lord internet 2018, is to never assume that you can do some shady ass shit without anyone finding out about it, because it is entirely possible that the person you are trying to pull said shady ass shit with is recording you, and will probably post it online.
Such is the case with a conversation between House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Levi Tillemann, a progressive running in Colorado’s Sixth District, in which Hoyer asked him to step down in order to clear a path for the candidate the DCCC wanted to win the primary, centrist Jason Crow. Crow is a veteran and attorney with a history of defending fracking companies and payday loan companies, as well as lobbying against gun control on behalf of gun manufacturers. He's the kind of Democrat the DCCC believes could possibly appeal to Republicans who are on the fence. Tilleman, on the other hand, is campaigning on things like Medicare for All, free college tuition and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Thus, Hoyer and the DCCC seem to have decided he had to go.
Tillemann recorded the meeting, in which Hoyer made it clear that the DCCC was playing favorites with Crow and did not want Tilleman to continue running against him, and then released it to The Intercept this week.
Here is the whole transcript, which reads like a script from The Good Wife, via Vox:
HOYER: Levi, obviously I wanted to talk to you about this congressional race.
TILLEMANN: You would like me to get out of the race.
HOYER: You keep saying I would like you to get out, and of course that’s correct.
TILLEMANN: I know you’re fundraising for Crow.
HOYER: Yeah. I’m for Crow. I am for Crow because a judgment was made very early on. I didn’t participate in the decision.
TILLEMANN: So your position is a decision was made very early on because voters had a say. That’s fine because the DCCC knows better than the voters of the Sixth Congressional District, and we should line up behind that candidate.
HOYER: That’s certainly a consequence of our decision. There are two things I would like you to consider. One may be easier than the other. First would be, if you stay in the race — and frankly, I hope that you would not — but I’ll get to that in a second. But if you stay in the race, it is not useful to the objective to tear down Crow. Crow’s clearly the favorite; doesn’t mean he’ll win, just means he’s the favorite.
TILLEMANN: I hear you.
HOYER: That doesn’t mean it’s right, just means —
TILLEMANN: No, I hear you.
HOYER: I don’t know Crow well, but I think he’s a decent human being.
TILLEMANN: So before we go any further on that, Crow is the favorite in no small part, Congressman Hoyer, because the DCCC not only put its finger on the scale, but started jumping on the scale very early on. I’m born and raised a Democrat, I mean, it’s undemocratic to have a small elite select someone and then try to rig the primary against the other people running, and that’s basically what’s been happening.
HOYER: I hear you, and I disagree.
TILLEMANN: But you were part of that process.
TILLEMANN: You said, “Abso —”?
HOYER: I’ve been at this a long time. When I said we need to get in strong, hard, and early, you disagree with me. You know, obviously, that’s your choice.
TILLEMANN: You guys are shoveling money at him.
HOYER: We’re going to continue.
TILLEMANN: You’re going to continue to do it?
HOYER: We are going to continue to do it, and the reason, Levi, we’re going to do it is because a decision was made to focus. It was clear that was our policy and our hope that we could, early on, try to come to an agreement on a candidate that we thought could win the general, and to give that candidate all the help we could give them so that we would have a unified effort going into a general election.
TILLEMANN: Which means effectively, Congressman Hoyer, I’m running a campaign against Crow, and against you, and against the DCCC, because you guys are on Crow’s side.
HOYER: Yeah. You know, frankly, that happens in life all the time.
This is far from the first time Democratic leadership has pulled this shit recently, and, also, not the first time it has backfired spectacularly. Back in February, the DCCC released opposition research on Laura Moser, a progressive running in the 7th Congressional District of Texas in hopes of clearing the path for attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. The outrage over this made Moser a such nationally known name that she ended up coming in second in the primary, and will face off against Fletcher in a run-off election in May.
Other Democratic primary candidates also report being asked to step down by the DCCC, or told they must pass a "rolodex" test -- the ability to raise at least $250,000 from the contacts in their phone -- in order to have a shot.
In a press conference on Thursday, Nancy Pelosi explained how this is all totally fine, nothing to see here:
“In terms of candidates and campaigns, I don’t see anything inappropriate in what Mr. Hoyer was engaged in — a conversation about the realities of life in the race as to who can make the general election.”
If they truly believed that Tilleman could not make it to the general election, then they should have just remained neutral and let the chips fall where they may.
This is not a good look.
For as much shit as progressives get for tearing the party apart for being "purists" -- this is an area in which the party could really use a little more purity and transparency. Why even bother with the facade of primaries in the first place if this is how things are going to be? It's insulting. Not just to candidates, but to voters. Hell, it's actually pretty insulting to the candidates they want to win, because it creates the perception that they would not be able to win a fair and neutral primary on their own merit, and perception is everything.
It's also just a bad idea to alienate progressives like this. I'm sorry, but if all those mythical moderate Republicans were gonna magically realize their party was just too crazy and vote Democratic, 2016 would have been the year for that. Donald Trump would have been the breaking point. He wasn't. Punching left and merging right just isn't a very good idea, strategically, anymore.
The Democratic Party absolutely must get its shit together and read the fucking room. People are tired of this shit. They don't like unfairness. The days of pulling this kind of nonsense and no one finding out about it, or shrugging their shoulders and going "Oh well, whatever, everyone is corrupt!" or going "Well, why shouldn't the party favor people who have 'paid their dues' over newcomers? This is just how the game is played," and anyone buying that are over. Not just because it's unethical, but because people do not like it and there is absolutely nothing they can do to unring that bell.
Democratic leadership has nothing to lose and everything to gain from making sure everything is 100% fair and on the up and up. The people who hate it really hate it, and those voters who aren't bothered by it probably won't be bothered if it stops, either. To that end, they need to be 100% neutral in primaries -- okay, barring the extremely unlikely scenario in which Roy Moore decides to run as a Democrat, in which case, sure, DCCC, jump up and down as much as you'd like! -- and focus their money and energy on beating Republicans and not on defeating progressives in primaries. It's some bullshit.
Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse