Originally published July 17, 2019
This week, the simmering conflict in the House Democratic Caucus boiled over when freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez finally fought back against Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi. This public feud shines daylight on a conflict that has quietly been occurring since 2016: the Democratic Civil War – moderates versus socialists.
Back in the heat of the 2016 Democratic primary, two distinct factions appeared in the Democratic Party. On one side stood Hillary Clinton, self-described Progressive Democrat. On the other side stood Bernie Sanders, self-described Democratic Socialist. Sanders did far better than the establishment Democrats ever expected, so much so that Clinton didn’t want to attack the socialist ideology, lest she alienate the socialist base during the general election. When asked by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews about the difference between a Democrat and a Socialist, the best Clinton could answer was: “I’m not one.” She refused to differentiate between the two.
The 2016 primary obviously went to Clinton, but the socialist wing of the party didn’t stay dormant for long. Staffers from the Sanders campaign began a new group, the Justice Democrats. The Justice Democrats set their sights lower, to the House of Representatives. In 2017, they devised a strategy to take over the Democratic Party. They began to challenge in the primary incumbent moderate Democrats in deep blue districts. Their path to success was to count on low voter turnout and lethargic incumbents to win the primary.
This is how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated Joe Crowley in June of 2018, sending shockwaves through the Democratic establishment. The Justice Democrats found her, vetted her, trained her, and pushed her to victory. Then one of the co-founders of the Justice Democrats became her Chief of Staff. This is not right-wing conspiracy. This information is on the Justice Democrats website. Queens was the first major battle of the Democrats’ Civil War, and the socialists won.
Other candidates who were propelled by the Justice Democrats in the 2018 election cycle were Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib. These three plus Ocasio-Cortez quickly became media darlings, the “fresh new faces” of the Democratic Party. They were socialist women of color, everything the Democrats said they wanted for years.
Nancy Pelosi, upon regaining her House Speakership role, used the popularity of the freshmen. She appeared on magazine covers with these new members, gave them important committee assignments, and basically acquiesced to their every whim. When Ilhan Omar’s multiple anti-Semitic scandals rocked the country, Pelosi covered for it by saying, “I think she has a different experience in the use of words.” When Rashida Tlaib publicly cursed out President Trump, her response was, “I’m not in the censorship business.” She covered for them because she likes the young Democratic voting bloc that these new members energize.
Pelosi’s chickens began coming home to roost when multiple presidential candidates were climbing over each other to co-sponsor Ocasio-Cortez’s signature legislation, the Green New Deal. Knowing that the Green New Deal’s exorbitant price tag of $93 trillion along with its near-zero effect on global temperature was a guaranteed electoral loser, she attempted to downplay the massive popularity of the bill. “The green dream or whatever they call it,” Pelosi said in February. “Nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it, right?” This caused Ocasio-Cortez to counter with her now infamous “I’m the boss” line when talking about climate change.
Pelosi, who is a shrewd politician, knows that the Democrats won’t win back the Oval Office on the backs of coastal elites in deep blue districts. They need to appeal to moderate blue collar voters, who view the socialist bartender-turned-Congresswoman and her cohorts extremely unfavorably. According to an Axios poll, Ocasio-Cortez has 74% name recognition with 22% favorability ratings. Ilhan Omar has 53% name recognition and an abysmal favorability rating of 9%. Meanwhile, the presidential candidates are fully embracing the policies that these incredibly unpopular Congresswomen push for. Free healthcare for illegal immigrants, decriminalizing illegal border crossings, raising taxes, elimination of private healthcare, federal funding for abortions, and the Green New Deal are only a few of the radical leftist positions endorsed by the 2020 frontrunners.
So Pelosi tried to downplay the same Justice Democrat-backed fresh new faces of Congress that she so closely embraced before. In April, Pelosi downplayed Ocasio-Cortez’s electoral victory. “This glass of water would win with a D next to its name in those districts,’’ she said, picking up a glass next to her. When confronted about the split in the Democratic Party, Pelosi dismissed the AOC side of the division with a simple “That’s like five people.”
The rift really took hold when Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, Omar, and Tlaib refused to go along with a bill to fund the border detention centers, pushing a statement that referred to border enforcement as, “[t]hese radicalized, criminal agencies are destroying families and killing innocent children.” Pelosi, who had to deal with Republicans because of the immense public pressure about the crisis at the border, once again dismissed the freshmen. “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world,” Pelosi said. “But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”
This is when Ocasio-Cortez and her gang began to fight back. “That ‘public whatever’ is called public sentiment,” she said on Twitter. Then, in an interview with The Washington Post, Ocasio-Cortez took the standard line of attack that all leftists take when challenged: accusations of racism. “When these comments first started, I kind of thought that she was keeping the progressive flank at more of an arm’s distance in order to protect more moderate members, which I understood,” Ocasio-Cortez told The Post. “But the persistent singling out – it got to a point where it was just outright disrespectful – the explicit singling out of newly elected women of color.”
Saikat Chakrabarti, the Justice Democrats co-founder turned Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, went even further by comparing the Democrats of today to the Jim Crow Democrats of the 1940s. Regarding the southern border, Chakrabarti tweeted, “They certainly seem hell bent to do to black and brown people today what the old Southern Democrats did in the 40s.” After literally decades of Democrats accusing anyone and everyone to the right of Vladimir Lenin of racism, there is something particularly humorous about these accusations striking the core of the Democratic Party.
The Justice Democrats are on the move. They are currently backing five candidates challenging Democrat incumbents in 2020 (four in the House and one in the Senate), and are promising more challenges. One of those challengers is hoping to capture the AOC magic again, in a neighboring district to hers. Jamaal Bowman is “primarying” Eliot Engel, a longtime incumbent who has been in the House of Representatives since 1989. The Justice Democrats’ strategy is on full display. NY-16 is a deep blue district with an entrenched moderate white male representative. The Justice Democrats are hoping that a black candidate combined with a low voter turnout can get them another House seat. Pelosi is now sleeping in the bed that she made, by allowing the socialist radicals to take over her party, embracing them, and cheering when they castigate Republicans as racists and bigots for no reason. Now those same radicals are shoving her friends out of office.
The Civil War is underway. The first major battle for the soul of the Democratic Party was fought in Queens, and it certainly won’t be the last. The 2020 election cycle is heating up. Even if the Democrats lose to Trump in reelection, the House and Senate may be overwhelmed by the socialist presence that is sweeping across the nation. At least this time, the voters of Queens may be better prepared.
Moshe Hill is a political journalist who has written for The Daily Wire, the Queens Jewish Link, and the Jewish Link of New Jersey. He is regularly featured on ‘The Josh M Show’ podcast. Subscribe to aHillwithaview.com for more content from Moshe Hill. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/ahillwithaview and follow him on Twitter @TheMoHill.