What do we make of this Democratic civil war that’s exploded over the past few days? A lot of things, but before we get to all the other things, let’s be clear about the main thing: It’s a disaster in the making. If it continues and metastasizes, it will reelect Donald Trump.
Most of the country wants to vote against Trump. There are only a small number of scenarios under which he can win. The main one? A split Democratic Party. That all but guarantees four more years of Trump, and recriminations that we don’t even want to begin to contemplate.
So they all need to stop this. Now.
They—and here, “they” means the left—especially need to stop making it about race. AOC was way out of line to charge Nancy Pelosi with “the explicit singling out of newly elected women of color" in her and her three Squad-mates. Pelosi has undoubtedly promoted more people of color to leadership positions than any speaker in history. (Maybe that’s not saying a lot, since the House was often run by Democratic racists in the old days and then modern-day Republicans who have awfully few people of color to promote, but still, she’s done a tremendous amount.)
And her chief of staff’s tweets (more than the infamous one he deleted) comparing moderate Democrats to Jim Crow-supporting segregationist Democrats were outrageous. He can criticize their votes on border issues all he wants. He can argue all he wants that he doesn’t buy that they have to vote such-and-such a way because of their districts (and if he wants to win that argument, he should adduce evidence that will support his claims).
But to basically call them Dixiecrats? That is way, way, way, way over the line. A number of them are people of color. But even if they weren’t, that’s TNT-level rhetoric, just guaranteed to infuriate everybody—especially coming from a tech and hedge-fund (!) millionaire (beware those Marxist millionaires) with zero political experience before he joined Sandersworld in 2016. No wonder Pelosi was steamed and said to them last Wednesday: “So, again, you got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it. But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just okay.”
I get the bigger picture: This isn’t really about immigration. It’s about the left feeling that Pelosi isn’t doing enough on holding Trump accountable. It’s about impeachment. Fine. They have a point. But make that point. Don’t call fellow Democrats racists, or walk right up to the line of saying that. It’s the worst thing you can say about a Democrat.
Stop and think that over. It’s not the worst thing you can say about a Republican. Because a number of Republicans openly are, starting with the guy in the Oval Office—who saw enough benefit for himself in the war of words dividing Democrats to engage with it directly and defend Pelosi from the charge. But even for those who aren’t, Republicans as a group just don’t really care about racism.
Democrats do. To compare any modern-day Democrat—let alone one of the first Native American people elected to Congress, Sharice Davids—to the Dixiecrats is something that people are never going to forget, and they’re going to get revenge for. It begins the downward spiral that Trump will mostly stand aside from, chuckling at as his enemies knife each other. The responding tweet from Hakeem Jeffries’ team was over the line, too. Childish.
If the left think Pelosi is weak on impeachment, it seems to me there are a lot of things they can do to push her more in that direction. AOC has 4.7 million Twitter followers. Has she sicced them on Don McGahn? Maybe she has, and I don’t know about it, but if she hasn’t, she should. Have she and her Squad held a press conference pressing McGahn to testify?
Cameras follow AOC and her Squad wherever they go. She could stand there and read the phone book, and it’d make cable. She has a platform like few people in America. She could be touring the country giving speeches that respectfully implore her party’s leadership to be more aggressive. That might piss off Pelosi too, but it would constitute using that massive platform of hers toward a constructive end.
And Pelosi and Jerry Nadler and the rest of them do need to get more aggressive. Negotiating with any of these Trump people about their appearances? Out. Just subpoena them, let them not show up, slap a citation on them, hold them all in contempt of Congress, take them to court, and make them defy the courts. This isn’t radical. This is defending a basic power that the Congress has had since the very beginning of the republic.
But both sides better cool it right now. Because here’s another vital and depressing point about this. The Democratic Party has no leader who can make peace here. There is no one who is trusted by both sides. The liberals and moderates obviously won’t trust Bernie Sanders. The leftists obviously won’t trust Joe Biden.
There is a bit more of a chance that Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris could manage it, but only a bit. And it’s risky politics. If Warren reproaches the left, she’ll lose some of her base. Harris has already spoken up for Pelosi here, calling her “very respectful of women of color” in an interview on The Breakfast Club. But if Harris were to choose to defend the left if this fight continues, she’d lose her establishment support, which is sort of in the checking-her-out stage right now anyway.
Getting into the middle of this kind of fracas is not what most politicians do. It is, however, what transcendent leaders do. It’s not clear that the Democrats have any.
One of the presidential candidates might have to become one, though. This feud will probably cool down for the moment. Saturday evening, the Justice Democrats, the left group that backed AOC last year, released a statement that seemed an attempt to lower the temperature a bit. But it will reemerge every few weeks in new manifestations. And it runs the risk of tearing the party in two. Not two sides of equal size. The AOC wing is smaller. But it’s large enough to make 16,000 voters in Wisconsin, 23,000 in Michigan, 35,000 in Pennsylvania decide not to vote. And that’s all it will take for Trump to have a second term.
I know no one on either side wants that. I wish I knew they have the will and discipline to prevent it.