Leftward Lurch Imperils Democrat Party

Former Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-MD) (R) speaks of his commitments at the Netroots Nation 2015 Presidential Town Hall with moderator Jose Antonio Vargas at the Phoenix Convention Center July 18, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Democratic presidential candidate spoke of the criminal justice system in income inequality before being interrupted …
Charlie Leight/Getty Images

At the annual NetRoots Nation gathering, two leading progressive candidates for the Democrat nomination were booed and heckled by protesters. The event could easily be remembered as a water-shed moment that confines the Democrat Party, at least in the near-term, to a weak national party that is only competitive in certain regions of the country.

NetRoots Nation is a conference of the Democrat Party’s most progressive and left-wing activists and bloggers. As part of its meeting, NetRoots hosted a “Presidential Town Hall” featuring socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and progressive former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Few national political figures have embraced the full kaleidoscope of leftist policy proposals as eagerly as Sanders and O’Malley. The panel was even moderated by a celebrated leftist journalist who is also famously an illegal immigrant. Only a drum-circle and piped-in scents of patchouli were missing from what ought to have been a leftist dream-team of Presidential politics.

For the NetRoots activist crowd, though, it wasn’t enough. The event was loudly interrupted by a throng of activist from #BlackLivesMatter who challenged the panels’ commitment to progressive change. Both O’Malley and Sanders were flummoxed, with Sanders, at one point, asking the illegal immigrant moderator if he had “control” of the event.

O’Malley tried to address the activists by assuring them that, of course, “black lives matter.” He went on to make the equally true statement that “all lives matter.” For this “gaffe,” he had to make an awkward apology tour.

In the aftermath of the debacle, both the Sanders and O’Malley campaigns sought one-on-one meetings with the organizers of the #BlackLivesMatter protest group.

The entire episode could have been a farce out of a Tom Wolfe novel, but is, in fact, a sad reality facing today’s Democrat Party.

After more than a decade of cynically manipulating class and race rhetoric for short-term political gain, the Democrat Party faces a growing cadre of activists who bought into the rhetoric. For them, only the most extreme leftist or progressive policies will satisfy their political blood-lust.

In this brave new world, all lives matter, but some matter more than others.

For the past six years, the media have been obsessed with concern-trolling over whether a resurgent conservative movement would push the Republican Party “too far to the right.” The Establishment Republican class, fueled by its donors at the US Chamber and other corporate groups, have bought into this narrative.

While this silly debate has played out in the salons of 6th Avenue, K Street and Capital Hill, a far more dramatic political story has unfolded.

Since Obama won the Presidency, the Democrat party has been eliminated from large swathes of the country. When Obama was sworn in in 2009, Democrats controlled over 30 Governors’ mansions. After the 2014 elections, they hold just 18. They have been wiped out in the South and most of the Midwest.

The current political make-up of Congressional and state legislative seats is even more dramatic. Outside of the coasts and urban areas, the Democrat party is simply not competitive in most of the country.

“The national Democratic Party’s brand makes it challenging for Democrats in red states oftentimes and I hope that going forward, the leaders at the national level will be mindful of that and they will understand that they can’t govern the country without Democrats being able to win races in red states,” Paul Davis, who lost a close race against Kansas GOP Gov. Sam Brownback last year, told Politico.

Obama won office largely on the strength of historic levels of voter turnout by minorities and very young voters. Even with those high levels of turnout, he would have lost if the GOP hadn’t failed to motivate working class white voters to support its candidates.

The GOP presently has at least a decent chance of nominating a candidate conservative enough to attract working class voters. If it does, the Democrats will again need historic turnouts from minorities and college-age voters to be competitive nationally. It is not at all clear that any candidate other than Obama has that electoral power.

It isn’t even clear that Obama himself still has that draw. Obama’s last-minute campaign push for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in his political home base wasn’t enough to save Rahm from an historic run-off. Rahm was crushed in the very same minority precincts where Obama campaigned.

Rahm ultimately survived his run-off with a deluge of campaign spending and strong support from Republican voters, but, for Democrats, it was a clear warning shot that their activist and minority base wants far more change than the party is willing to deliver. Even attempting to deliver than change will further alienate the party from a large majority of the voting public.

Vincent Sheehan, who lost the South Carolina Governor’s race to Republican Nikki Haley, worries that recent party rhetoric reflects an “antagonism toward or a hostility toward the moderate elements of the Democratic Party.”

If self-described socialist, former activist organizer, Bernie Sanders is deemed to passive or even moderate for this new breed of progressive activists, then the long-nightmare of the Democrat Party is just beginning.