There they go again.
Just three weeks ago, the mainstream political media reported that the broad Democratic left was divided, and that the so-called “establishment” wing had defeated the forces of Senator Bernie Sanders. The evidence? Mainly that in Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer beat Sanders-endorsed Abdul El-Sayed in the gubernatorial primary, while in Kansas, Sharice Davids topped another Our Revolution favorite, Brett Welder, for a congressional nomination. I argued at the time that progressives, defined broadly, had in fact won the night: It’s ridiculous to define women like Whitmer, who supports a $15 minimum wage, gun-safety legislation, and Planned Parenthood funding, or Native American lesbian Obama administration veteran Davids, as merely “establishment.”
This time, the script is flipped, but the divisive storyline is the same.
Now the Sanders forces supposedly have the establishment on the run, with the surprise victory of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in a crowded Democratic primary race. But again, that’s the wrong takeaway from an exciting primary. Gillum was an early Hillary Clinton surrogate and convention delegate whose victory is first and foremost due to the hard work of African-American Democrats, the backbone of the party. The “Gillum beats the establishment” storylines are creating a false narrative, maybe even intentionally so.
As is often the case, Politico demonstrates the problem. Three weeks ago it told us “Bernie and his army are losing 2018.” This morning we learned “Sanders-backed Gillum notched Florida stunner.” Both stories were misleading.
Black Democrats bet on Gillum early, when most observers didn’t think he had a chance. BlackPAC and Color of Change went all-in last spring; the Sanders endorsement came in August. It was particularly meaningful since Gillum had been a prominent Clinton surrogate. As he did with Stacey Abrams, a black Clinton supporter who won the gubernatorial primary in Georgia, Sanders showed an ability to move beyond the fissures of 2016 that others in the party, on both sides, appear to lack—and that the media will forever use to write their favorite (and laziest) storyline, “Dems in disarray.”
Gillum also got help from outside groups like Tom Steyer’s Next Generation America, focused on the youth vote, and Moms Demand Action, the gun-safety group, both of which backed Clinton. He also won the backing of Democracy for America and the Working Families Party, which backed Sanders. It’s true that Emily’s List endorsed Gwen Graham (as it had Whitmer in the Michigan primary), but given its commitment to electing female Democrats, that wasn’t surprising. Indivisible chapters and other post-Trump progressive groups worked hard for Gillum, too.