AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
With the midterms fast approaching and the polls looking worse by the day, many elected Democrats are desperate to distance themselves from their party’s increasingly progressive image. But that effort has been made more difficult by the so-called “Squad,” which, despite electoral disaster looming on the horizon, insists on dragging the Democratic Party in an ever-more radical direction.
The Squad first became a force in politics soon after its formation in 2018 following the election of its first four members: Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and of course Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the de facto leader of the progressive left. Jamaal Bowman of New York and Cori Bush of Missouri were added as the fifth and sixth members following the 2020 elections – even as the radical policies pushed by the original four nearly cost Democrats the House that year.
For instance, following the death of George Floyd, the Squad became the legislative face of the “Defund the Police” movement, and on several occasions, appeared to encourage or excuse the violence gripping America’s cities throughout the summer of 2020. The Squad has also called for abolishing border patrol and even all prisons. During the pandemic, Ocasio-Cortez demanded the Governor of New York close the Rikers Island Correctional Facility and release all 10,000 prisoners into the general population.
Ocasio-Cortez also recently revealed that she believes capitalism is “not a redeemable system” – not an uncommon statement for the Squad, who openly advocate for socialist policies and describe themselves as “democratic-socialists.”
It was statements like these that nearly cost Democrats their House majority in 2020 and led to severe blowback from the few remaining moderate Democrats in Congress. Even veteran Democrat operatives like James Carville and David Shor have warned that the Squad’s radical policies are too polarizing and will only lead to disaster.
However, the Squad has continued to unashamedly push their progressive priorities, no matter the harm it may cause to their colleagues’ electoral prospects. Even as most Democrats are now desperately trying to reverse course on “Defund the Police,” Cori Bush has doubled down, saying as recently as February that she still stands behind the slogan. Just a few weeks ago, Ocasio-Cortez was on the road rallying for another progressive candidate in Texas, still calling for the Green New Deal and “Medicare for all.”
On the whole, it appears as if none of the Squad has been chastened by their close call in 2020 and has remained completely unable to grasp that, while they may come from D+25 districts, most of their fellow Democrats do not. Even in liberal areas, there are some clear signs that voters are not too happy with the progressive agenda. Last month, San Francisco voters, some of the most progressive citizens living in one of the most progressive cities in one of the most progressive states in the entire country, recalled three school board members for being “too progressive.” Nearly 80% of voters supported the recall.
In Virginia, Democrats dismissed concerns about wokeness in schools as a “conservative disinformation campaign of falsehoods, half-truths, and exaggerations designed to create, mobilize and exploit anxiety around White status to secure political power.” Then, Glenn Youngkin defeated former Democrat Governor Terry McAuliffe in a state that Joe Biden had won just one year before by 10 points largely on a promise to get woke ideologies out of schools.
Even in cities where progressivism once thrived, reality has set in and now has many of the Squad’s radical policies in full retreat. Many Democrat city leaders who once embraced “Defund the Police” are now refunding the police and quickly trying to hire more officers to combat a spike in violent crime. Liberal lawmakers who imposed harsh COVID restrictions under the guise of “following the science” are now backtracking.
Polling suggests that those Democrats who have broken with progressivism have done so out of a desire for self-preservation. Even minority groups, who the Squad claims to care so much about, are against much of the Squad’s social justice agenda. Politico recently obtained internal polling conducted by House Democrats that said Americans found the Democratic Party too “preachy,” “judgmental,” and “focused on culture wars.”
Despite those alarming statistics, the Squad remains unrepentant. Due to the outsized and largely glowing adoration the Squad receives from most mainstream outlets, who bill the Squad as the future of the party, most Democrats won’t be able to distance themselves from their policies.
Many Democrats thus find themselves in an unenviable position. Should they placate the Squad and allow the party to be pushed further left, their voters may reward them by kicking them to the curb this fall. Should they criticize the Squad and openly break with progressive policies, however, they may find themselves subject to a well-financed primary challenge from the left and relentless attacks from the Squad’s army of activists. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why 30 House Democrats have already announced their retirement this year, the most since 1992. Democrats’ biggest problem this November, then, might not be Republicans or even Joe Biden’s failed agenda, but this small group of radical legislators who can’t seem to see the destructive path they’re leading their party down.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.