What the Primaries Taught Us

Primary season is over. The next big election night will be November 6th, when we have partisan, not primary, elections. When we next are glued to the television on an election night, it will be to figure out if the “Blue Wave” happened.

For full disclosure, I think the Democrats will pick up the House. I still think the most likely outcome in the Senate is a narrow GOP majority, but Kavanaugh might kill that. I think Democrats will see their greatest gains in state elections.

So what did we learn in primary season? What did we gain in knowledge? What truths were told?

  • Trump owns the GOP. Let’s be honest, who did the winning? Ron DeSantis, Henry McMaster, Lou Barletta, and people associated with Donald Trump. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker didn’t bother running, and Mark Sanford won’t have the option of running this Fall, thanks to South Carolina Republicans. Trump has 90% approval among Republicans, and therefore he’s the big dog.
  • White “Bernie Progressives” are dead. Who are the Bernie Sanders’ wing’s big wins of the 2018 primaries? AOC, Jealous, Gillum, and other non-white, non-male progressives. Where they took losses were races where they ran white guys. There’s no market for uber liberal white dudes that spout ideology. They have no party now.
  • Being a “moderate” can only be a matter of rhetoric, not action. Note something from the Democratic Primaries: do not offer any aid or comfort to the other side. Here in the Lehigh Valley, my “Blue Dog” Congressional candidate was pulled down 20% basically for tweeting positive tweets at Donald Trump. The IDC State Senators in New York lost 75% of their members. The Democratic Party is not welcoming back the Blue Dog Caucus to win a majority, unlike 2006. That may blunt their victories, but they do not care. Neither side is looking for compromise.
  • Non-white progressives win urban primaries, every time. There are white guys in Congress that represent urban districts. Some of them are going to be unemployed in January. The rest are on borrowed time. Joe Crowley’s overall progressive record didn’t save him against Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. Ayanna Pressley crushed the very liberal Mike Capuano. Non-white, urban voters don’t feel any requirement to vote for white dudes for “electability” anymore, and they honestly don’t need to. What will be more interesting in the years ahead is to see if the younger white crowd continues to vote with the minority population in these primaries. If so, urban politics are transformed forever.
  • Neither party cares to play to the middle. Can we be serious for a moment? The GOP gave up on playing to the middle year’s ago, and consummated that in picking Trump. The Democrats? Hillary essentially gave up on the middle by aiming her campaign towards the large cities and ignoring the Rust Belt. The 2018 primaries don’t mark a change from that. Sharice Davids, a historic candidate by any measure and a progressive, is “moderate” on the 2018 Democratic ticket. Abortion rights and supporting the LGBTQ community are not “liberal” positions in 2018. Some of this is good, we should progress on these issues. The flip side of course is the vast swath of non-ideological, potentially swing voters who are either being forced into a political party they’re not comfortable in, or left to dangle in the 2020 winds. Democrats should have had these people in 2016, but weren’t able to because they didn’t contest them. What happens next to them?
  • Cash rules everything around me. The 2018 Democratic Primaries saw massive infusions of outside money, from groups like Emily’s List, No Labels, and Our Revolution. The outside spending often exceeded the campaign’s spending. The simple truth moving forward is that if you’re not somebody’s candidate, you’re not winning. Buying TV time, paying for a ground game, mail, and even digital ads cost money. You have to have some money behind you to win.
  • Identity politics are the only politics in 2018. Lets be clear, the two parties have gone tribal. Republicans increasingly prefer white men as candidates. Democrats increasingly prefer the opposite. If you’re going to break that mold, you both must be a prolific fundraiser and have something compelling to say. The two parties don’t want the same things anymore, and have diverging views of America. Views on diversity and multiculturalism have moved so far apart that there’s a mistrust of candidates that don’t fit the mold.

On a personal level, I’m feeling like a unicorn right now. I’m a white, straight, Catholic, suburban raised, moderate to liberal Democrat. These primaries were not about people like me.

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