Why Does Politico Always Refer To Democrats As “Moderates” If They Oppose Policies Most Voters Favor?

Written by on March 16, 2019

A couple of weeks ago there were 24 freshman Democrats with 100% ratings from ProgressivePunch. Today there are 16. The votes haven’t been that hard that there are many reasons to drift away from 100%. Among the dozens of non-freshmen who still have 100% for the 116th Congress are not just sterling progressives like Barbara Lee, Jamie Raskin, Pramila Jayapal, Ted Lieu, Ro Khanna, Mark Pocan, Jimmy Gomez, Jan Schakowsky, Raul Grijalva, Jim McGovern and Judy Chu but also some pretty crappy New Dems who are usually at the bottom of the barrel, like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Sean Patrick Maloney, Julia Brownley, Terri Sewell, Darren Soto, Derek Kilmer, even reactionary Blue Dog Vicente González! And yet… the number of freshman members with “F” ratings (now 25) has been growing:

Steven Horsford (New Dem-NV)
Angie Craig (New Dem-MN)
Chrissy Houlahan (New Dem-PA)
Susie Lee (New Dem (New Dem-NV)
Lucy McBath (New Dem-GA)
Katie Porter (D-CA)
Kim Schrier (New Dem-WA)
Abigail Spanberger (Blue Dog-VA)
Ed Case (Blue Dog-HI)
Abby Finkenauer (D-IA)
Andy Kim (D-NJ)
Max Rose (Blue Dog-NY)
Mikie Sherrill (Blue Dog-NJ)
Cindy Axne (New Dem-IA)
Antonio Delgado (D-NY)
Jared Golden (D-ME)
Kendra Horn (Blue Dog-OK)
Elaine Luria (New Dem-VA)
Elissa Slotkin (New Dem-MI)
Anthony Brindisi (Blue Dog-NY)
Sharice Davids (New Dem-KS)
Xochitl Torres Small (Blue Dog-NM)
Joe Cunningham (Blue Dog-SC)
Ben McAdams (Blue Dog-UT)
Jeff Van Drew (Blue Dog-NJ)

Republicans Justin Amash (MI) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA) have more progressive scores than some of these Democrats! Clueless media and deceptive DC politicians always refer to members of the Republican wing of the Democratic Party– people who vote with the GOP on core issues– as “moderates,” subtly implying that Democrats who, in the spirit of the party of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, support working families and policies like Medicare-for-All, the Green New Deal, a living minimum wage, free public universities, Job Guarantee, etc, are “non-moderates” (ie, radicals or extremists) and that their popular policies are extreme. The refrain is always that their districts are too red to support progressive policies. But that is often false and never proven. Take Ed Case– one of the worst Democrats in Congress. His district has a PVI of D+17. Not only did Obama win it both times with around 70% of the vote, in 2016 even as weak and flawed a candidate as Hillary eviscerated Trump, 63.1% to 30.5%. There are no Democratic policies Case couldn’t get to the left of his constituents on. Instead, he totally sucks.

Freshman Democrat Mike Levin, who has a 100% score, flipped a red district with a PVI of R+1, but he’s not running away from his party’s values. Neither is Lauren Underwood, who flipped a tough Illinois district with a PVI of R+5– another freshman with a 100% voting record. Matt Cartwright is a full-on progressive who has always campaigned on progressive issues in a Pennsylvania district with an R+1 PVI and where Trump pulverized Hillary 53.3% to 43.7%. Matt won anyway and last year the GOP threw millions of dollars against him and advertised non-stop that he is actually Nancy Pelosi. He still beat his multimillionaire Wall Street bankster opponent, John Chrin 135,603 (54.6%) to 112,563 (45.4). None of that will ever stop the lies about how progressives can’t win in districts where Republicans have beat shit Democrats in the past. Look at Maine’s mythical 2nd district. Trump beat Hillary there and before that the Democrats had run a godawful Republican-lite New Dem/EMILY’s List concoction– the absolute worst, worthless horror show of a candidate imaginable. The progressive legislator Jared Golden ran, the DCCC demanded he join the Blue Dogs. He laughed in their faces, joined the Congressional Progressive Caucus and ran on progressives issues– and won.

All that said, Politico was only too happy to publish a piece by Laura Barrón-López filled with all those rubbish assumptions– Centrists Fear Socialist Tag Will Cost Democrats The House In 2020. As you would expect from Barrón-López, in the very first sentence she defines the conservative Democrats from the Republican wing of the party as “moderates” and pukes out the carefully crafted DCCC conventional wisdom that the conservatives delivered the majority to the Dems, as though their voters wanted right-of-center policies, which is patently false. Predictably, Barrón-López’s villains are named in the first sentence: “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib or Ilhan Omar.” She lauds the right-of-center Democrats: “They haven’t all blindly signed on to the ‘Green New Deal.’ They haven’t been widely accused of anti-Semitism. They aren’t hungry to impeach President Donald Trump.” Barrón-López can’t sing their praises loudly enough with her nonsensical DCCC/Problem Solvers-developed propaganda, tailor-made for ignorant and lazy journalists:

They are the ones on the front lines, defending Democrats’ House majority. And many of the endangered Democrats already see their outspoken colleagues as a potential obstacle standing between them and reelection in 2020.

“As we run up to this presidential [election], we need to show that Democrats, as a whole, are not socialists,” said Rep. Katie Hill, who last November flipped a Southern California district that Republicans held for the previous quarter-century. “We’re not pushing for impeachment without serious cause and serious evidence.”

Hill, a New Dem, ran in a district with a new Democratic registration advantage and pretended to be a progressive for much of the campaign. She has a good voting record in Congress but comes up with statements like this implying that other Democrats are pushing for impeachment without serious cause and serious evidence. A nice enough woman, she’s playing right into GOP hands. Unfortunately her uncontrollable jealously of AOC is a punchline on Capitol Hill.

With the progressive squad of Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Omar and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) capturing most of the headlines, the vulnerable Democrats are left to respond in stronger and stronger terms. The four liberals have forced majority-makers like Hill to distinguish themselves with voters and donors early and often.

“You have these four members frankly that were elected from seats that are going to be Democratic no matter what and represent a very small fraction of the party as a whole,” said Hill. “And it’s like they’re the only ones that exist.”

And as the presidential election nears, Hill and her fellow at-risk Democrats will need all the attention they can get. Republicans must win 18 seats to take back the House, and they have ample targets. Republicans are setting their sights on the 31 Democratically held districts that voted for Trump in 2016, followed by another two-dozen districts like Hill’s that didn’t back Trump but have Republican DNA.

To survive, vulnerable Democrats are shrugging off their more progressive colleagues. It’s a strategy they employed last year when Republicans dropped millions on a steady stream of TV ads tying them to then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The Pelosi-themed ads ultimately didn’t work and Democrats netted 40 seats– their largest gain since Watergate. But the ‘tweet first, explain later’ strategy, utilized by Ocasio-Cortez and friends, who wield nearly 5 million Twitter followers between them, puts Democrats like Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) in a tough spot.

“We all won in districts when we were accused of being somebody else, or something else,” said Spanberger, before reprising the viral line from one of her 2018 debates: “I am Abigail Spanberger. I’m not anybody else.”

Spanberger is among more than a dozen Democrats who represent districts Trump won by more than 6 percentage points in 2016– the top GOP targets for 2020. The list includes two entrenched incumbents who have seen their districts drift toward Republicans: Reps. Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Matt Cartwright (D-PA).

[Cartwright always scores an “A” and Peterson is usually a reliable vote for the GOP on anything important. Since ProgressivePunch was first started, Peterson’s voting record has never once risen to the status of a “D.” He’s also horrifyingly corrupt and belongs in prison for systematically taking bribes from AgriBusiness.]

But the seats most coveted by Republicans belong to newcomers like Spanberger and New York Democrat Max Rose, an Army combat veteran who won a Staten Island-based district Trump carried by nearly 10 points. At least three Republicans are already eyeing a challenge to the 32-year-old Rose.

“This campaign will be a contact sport, and I have no problem with that,” Rose said.

Rose is focused on the promises he’s made, including construction of a sea wall, improving commute times for constituents on Staten Island, which is not connected to the rest of New York’s subway system, or lowering prescription-drug costs. With a Republican in the White House, it’s often hard to deliver on these promises, but the party hopes to show voters that it will pass bills aimed at addressing health care costs and creating jobs.

And Democrats like Rose have to stay on message while fending off 30-second TV ads flashing images of Ocasio-Cortez, who is sure to join, if not replace, Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Republicans’ No. 1 villain.

Pressed on how he’d combat it, Rose quipped: “How’d that work out for them?”

Rose, who has tactically eschewed most of the national controversies, voted against Pelosi for speaker, as did a handful of the Democrats who won in red districts in 2018. Those who called for new leadership, or outright vowed to vote against Pelosi but ultimately didn’t, have already come under attack by Republican outside groups like the Congressional Leadership Fund.

“Wow, that’s innovative stuff,” said Rose, in his distinctive New York accent. “I’m shaking in my boots.”

“I’d like to think that the Republican Party is not run by a bunch of folks that subscribe to be nationalists, like Steve King does,” added Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA), who defeated then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in Orange County, the Reagan-era GOP stronghold. “So while Steve King’s views don’t represent the entire Republican Party, those on the far left of the Democratic Party do not represent the mainstream caucus.”

Another top GOP target, Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC), has broken with the party on a number of procedural votes used by Republicans to divide Democrats. To demonstrate an eagerness to work with Republicans, Cunningham has also made a point to get GOP cosponsors on legislation he introduces.

“I can’t control whatever anyone else says, but I can control what I do. And I was voted in this seat to be an independent check,” said Cunningham, whom GOP operatives have dubbed an “accidental congressman” after his victory in a coastal South Carolina seat Trump won by 13 points in 2016. “I think if you do that, and you have a clear record of that, and you’re honest and transparent about it– then people will send you back.”

But Republicans hope that hammering Cunningham and other Democrats in competitive seats by tying them to their better-known colleagues will prove fruitful. In addition to reprising their failed Pelosi attacks from 2018, National Republican Campaign Committee aides say they will add freshmen like Ocasio-Cortez and Omar to the mix. The thinking is: This time it will stick because Democrats are in control, and Republicans are no longer battling a “hypothetical” Democratic agenda.

Omar’s recent comments about politician’s support for Israel– seen by many as anti-Semitic– has put some Democrats on the defensive. Asked about the Democratic divisions on display last week, Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-IL), who won a Chicagoland district Trump carried by 4 points, dismissed the controversy.

“I’m home every weekend and have the opportunity to talk to folks about health care and lower prescription drug costs. And so, quite candidly, this ends up as a Washington conversation,” said Underwood, “and not a conversation we have in the Illinois 14th.”

But the clearest path to winning back the suburban women the GOP lost in 2018, Republicans say, is constant messaging on socialism and late-term abortion bills passed by Democratic legislatures. “The more we’re talking about socialism, the better,” said one NRCC official, granted anonymity to discuss party strategy. Republicans lost women by 19 percentage points in 2018.

Goal ThermometerThe fundraising deadline at the end of March will provide one of the first looks at the strength of the vulnerable freshman Democrats. Hill, who checks in regularly with the red-district Democrats as a freshman representative in leadership, admitted that she and her colleagues are working hard to post aggressive fundraising numbers. The flood of cash going to Democratic presidential contenders has a number of the freshman Democrats concerned, Hill said, noting that donors have told her they’re contributing to multiple Democrats running for the White House.

“We’ve got these huge fundraising targets because we want to scare off potential challengers,” Hill said. “If we win the White House but lose the House, then we’re in the same boat that we’re in now.”

Part of that survival strategy is an ability for the frontline Democrats, many of whom have never served in government, to create their own distinct profiles– even if it makes them unpopular among their Democratic colleagues.

“Sometimes I may be necessarily offensive,” Rose said of his willingness to split with party leadership. “I sat alone at the cafeteria table when I was in the 5th grade. Maybe I’ll have another round.”

And frustration with the group of liberal rock stars isn’t going away any time soon, particularly on hot-button proposals like the Green New Deal.

“We’re caught in a lose-lose because the activists are completely paying attention to Alexandria. And so if we aren’t supporting it, then we’re seen as bad Democrats,” said Hill. “But if we do support it, then that’s going to be damaging to our campaigns.”

Although Tom Suozzi represents a tough swing district on Long Island and joined both the New Dems and Problem Solvers, he marches to his own drum and makes his decisions based on what he thinks is right for his constituents. Despite being a New Dem, he has a stellar decades-long record on immigrants and on the environment and is an original co-sponsor of the Green New Deal. Earlier today, he told me that “For the Democrats to defeat Trump, the Tea Party, the Freedom Caucus and the GOP agenda, we are going to need the whole team. From the progressives to the moderates. From AOC to Colin Peterson. We need the energy and excitement of the young progressives, to the reliability and experience of the tried and true Democrats. We need to admire Alexandria, at 28, being one of the most well known figures in all of American politics who is pushing for a youthful and dramatic response to climate change (and other things). While at the same time we must embrace the members of our Democratic team who have won in right of center districts and helped deliver the majority. We need to learn from each other and stop the dismissing the importance of our diversity. To make the dream work, it is going to take team work.”


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