Primary season is under way, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has faced growing backlash to its heavy-handed interventions on behalf of some favored candidates. A taped conversation in which Representative Steny Hoyer, a member of Democratic House leadership, pushed an insurgent candidate to withdraw sparked the latest furor, and it deepened when House minority leader Nancy Pelosi backed Hoyer’s intervention.
In separate op-eds, Jonathan Alter and longtime Democratic operative Elaine Kamarck argued that DCCC interference is essential if Democrats are to recapture a House majority in the fall. Both applauded the citizen mobilizations that could help generate a “wave election,” but essentially want activists to line up, salute, and let the pros take care of candidate selection. They couldn’t be more wrong.
Alter’s argument is the more scabrous; it accused “remnants of lefties in Jill Steinland” of “moral vanity” for “indulging” in primary fights that drain resources over “minor policy differences.” (He didn’t bother to explain why a primary challenger is equivalent to a third-party candidate.) Alter fretted that more progressive candidates might actually beat “well-funded moderates with better chances of winning in November.” In this most important election, Democrats should put party and country over “personal preference,” he argued, and resist voting for the candidate whose views they support, and instead favor the one more likely to win in the general election. Built into this argument is the unquestioned assumption that the DCCC is best qualified to identify the right candidate.
Kamarck, an early champion of the New Democrats and a longtime DNC member, echoed Alter’s faith in the pros. She expressed regrets that the party has allowed candidates to be selected by voters in primaries rather than party officials in back rooms: She wants more, rather than fewer, superdelegates to help determine the party’s presidential nominee. The DCCC, she admitted, is “not always right,” but it is more concerned about “electability than ideological purity.” In her view, voters don’t understand that “not all congressional districts are Berkeley, California. “
It’s hard to be a weatherman if you can’t tell which way the wind is blowing. Alter and Kamarck have summarized the beliefs of a party establishment that doesn’t have a clue.