Politics

Democrats Fractured Over Ideological Purity Tests

Party rejects center after bruising 2016 election, demands fealty to pro-abortion, single-payer policies

After the Republicans took a beating in the 2012 elections, the Republican National Committee performed an embarrassing political ritual known as “the autopsy.”

The RNC looked into why Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney lost, and why several GOP Senate candidates went down with him.

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The conclusion the RNC made was, among other things, that the party needed to be more open and less rigid. It’s a political lesson, however, that Democrats think nothing of in 2017. Instead of examining the reasons Democratic candidates lost races up and down the ballot last year, the Left has retreated further to its most radical corners.

The progressive wing of the Democrats has warned its peers not to work with Republicans on immigration, abortion, health care and more. And it is touting its strength even as it remains the minority caucus in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

“We don’t have to tip-toe anymore. We don’t have to hedge our bets,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), speaking to hard-core liberal activists at a Netroots Nation conference on Saturday night.

Warren made clear the days of President Bill Clinton were over. Clinton, a centrist Democrat, worked with Republicans on crime and welfare reform in the 1990s.

“We’re not going back to the days of welfare reform and the crime bill,” Warren said to adoring true believers. “We’re not going back to the days of being lukewarm on choice. We’re not going back to the days when universal health care was something Democrats talked about on the campaign trail but were too chicken to fight for after they got elected.”

The tough talk on abortion has been perhaps the most remarkable line in the sand for Democrats searching for a path forward after their election loss. In the past, Democrats have generally tolerated anti-abortion officials within their party, although it was always a touchy truce. Now, as Warren indicates, abortion has become a litmus test that could mean less money for pro-life Democrats in 2018 election primaries, even if they are more electable party choices in certain regions.

After weeks of controversy over an apparent decision by the House Democrats’ campaign arm to focus on pro-choice candidates, the Democrats did a soft retreat from the hard stance in late July.

“There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” said Rep. Ben Ray Luján, speaking to The Hill. “As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.”

The Democrats’ reluctant acknowledgement that some districts may require pro-life candidates means that the party will likely slip pro-life candidates only into races in which the Democrats are otherwise doomed. As Warren’s speech indicates, activists do not want to hear they exist.

But the Republicans face a dilemma, too. They have been, at times, unable to win big on the abortion issue in general elections. The battle seems, at best, a draw.

To the GOP’s delight, many of the Democrats grappling with abortion policy are also forcing a litmus test on a much more politically potent issue: health care. While Democrats temporarily have the upper hand on the issue thanks to the GOP’s failure to repeal Obamacare, Republicans see the Democrats quickly squandering the lead.

The reason? Sen. Sen. Bernie Sanders is pushing to force the Democrats to adopt a single-payer health care system — the kind France and Canada have — as a legislative priority, not just a platform topic every four years.

Sanders will introduce a bill next month to make single-payer, government-run health care the law of the land.

“Look, I have no illusions that under a Republican Senate and a very right-wing House and an extremely right-wing president of the United States, that suddenly we’re going to see a Medicare-for-all, single-payer passed,” Sanders told NPR last week.

But Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), see a wider problem. Already, Democratic segments of the base are demanding health care serve as a litmus test for House and Senate candidates.

“Any Democrat worth their salt that doesn’t unequivocally say Medicare-for-all is the way to go? To me, there’s something wrong with them,” said former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, president of Our Revolution, speaking to Politico. “We’re not going to accept no more hemming and hawing. No more game playing. Make your stand.”

Another influential player in the health care fight is the National Nurses United, which told Politico that it will be watching how 2018 candidates respond. But forcing the issue is a sure way to lose in swing states, one Democrat told Politico. Such a test would not likely go well in areas of the country outside of the West Coast and the Northeast.

“You can’t just be a liberal Democrat in a lot of these states and be elected,” said an anonymous Democratic campaign official, speaking to Politico. “[So] the question is how we improve the lives of people instead of playing these political games.”

Recently, the House’s top anti-Trump crank, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), was asked about forming an all-black political party, cracking apart from the Democrats.

“No, not at this point,” Waters told a radio show on Aug. 7, giving a less-than-ringing endorsement of the Democratic Party, and urging more black voters to vote. “You can (later) raise that kind of question — whether we are strong enough to talk about organizing another party.”

meet the author

Political reporter, LifeZette. Indiana University journalism grad. Boston U. business grad. Former Indiana, Alabama statehouse reporter, Daytona Beach editorial writer.

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