At first glance, the upset victory scored by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over 10-term Rep. Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th District Democratic primary is no big deal for Democrats’ chances of flipping the House in November. After all, the Bronx and Queens seat is overwhelmingly Democratic and has zero effect on Democrats’ fight for the majority.
But that first glance is very, very deceiving. This isn’t just about a single House race. This is about the struggle for the future of the Democratic Party – both in New York and nationally. This is about the kind of candidate Democratic voters want. This is about the kind of leaders the Democratic Party will have after 2018.
In short: Ocasio-Cortez’s victory is about a whole hell of a lot more than just a single strongly Democratic House seat. Below, four major lessons Democrats should take from her win – the primary upset of the 2018 cycle to date.
1. The Democratic base is sick of the establishment
Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party in 2016 – and the establishment’s acquiescence to him in 2017 and 2018 – put a massive spotlight on the divide between the GOP party leadership and the Republican base.
Meanwhile, overlooked amid the Trump furor, Democrats have been in the early stages of a civil war of their own – between pragmatic establishment types and liberals infuriated with the Trump presidency.
That Crowley, the heir apparent to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, could lose a primary to a 28-year-old, politically unknown and woefully underfunded Democratic Socialist speaks volumes about where the energy in the party is right now.
All you need to do is watch the two-minute bio video Ocasio-Cortez put out to understand a) where the party is right now and b) how terrifying that should be to the party establishment.
2. Politics punishes people who get ahead of themselves
In mid-April, Politico ran a story on Crowley with this headline “Queens party boss angles to succeed Pelosi as speaker.” The piece detailed how Crowley was laying the groundwork to make a run at the three septuagenarians leading his party in the House. (More on that below.) In politics, you take your eye of the ball for even a minute and you can lose.
Witness Roy Barnes’ loss in the Georgia governor’s race in 1998 as he prepped for a 2000 presidential bid. Or George Allen’s stunning defeat in his 2006 Senate re-election race as he geared up for a 2008 presidential candidacy. Or Eric Cantor’s 2014 primary loss as he readied himself to be speaker of the House.
Crowley now joins that ignominious list.
3. House Democrats need some younger blood
I’ve written for years about the fact that the three top Democrats in the House are all over 70: Pelosi (78), Steny Hoyer (79) and Jim Clyburn (77). Crowley was seen as the spring chicken of the group at 56.
But, with him now gone – and a clear message sent that the party is sick of the establishment – it’s harder and harder to see how Pelosi doesn’t face a real challenge for the top job (either minority leader or speaker) in 2019. She was already in jeopardy of not winning the simple majority vote before this political earthquake happened in New York on Tuesday night. Now the desire for new faces and people who represent the younger generation of Democrats will be felt even more strongly.
And that’s bad news not just for Pelosi, but for Hoyer and Clyburn as well.
(Worth noting: With Crowley’s loss, the next generation – below Pelosi – of future Democratic leaders has been totally obliterated. Xavier Becerra left Congress to be the California Attorney General. Steve Israel of New York retired. Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen ran and won a Senate race. Debbie Wasserman Schultz crashed and burned as the head of the Democratic National Committee. And now, Crowley. There’s no one left. It’s a wasteland.)
4. Women rule
Ocasio-Cortez’s victory is only the latest example of a very clear trend in Democratic primaries in 2018: When women run, they win.
No one has cataloged the success of female Democratic candidates in this election cycle better than The Cook Political Report’s House Editor David Wasserman. Following the June 12 primaries, Wasserman tweeted two amazing facts.
First, this: “Remarkable: after tonight, Dems have nominated women in 73/150 (49%) of ’18 House races (excluding Dem incumbents). On GOP side, just 18/112 (16%).”
Then, this: “UPDATE: so far in 2018 Dem House primaries featuring at least one woman, one man & no incumbent, women have been the top vote-getters in 66/93 cases (71%). On GOP side, just 9/26 (35%). Never seen anything like it.”
While Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t add to those stats – she beat an incumbent – she clearly represents the growing power of female candidates in Democratic primaries.
If you are, say, Elizabeth Warren or Kirsten Gillibrand or Kamala Harris – all of whom are looking at the 2020 Democratic presidential race – the victory of Ocasio-Cortez (and all of the rest of these Democratic women over the course of the year) have to buoy your hopes.