Posted December 24, 2022
This article will appear in the forthcoming issue 223 of Against the Current. Kim Moody presented an overview of U.S. politics in the wake of the midterm elections at the December 11 Zoom meeting of Solidarity members and friends.
It’s gridlock. Specifically, it’s still a right-versus-center impasse, but with a shift to the right. Trump/MAGA forces dominated the Republican primaries but stumbled in the general election. The “Red Wave” became a ripple — though a significant one.
After spending a lot of energy and money fighting their own tiny left flank in the primaries, the Democratic Party centrists lost the House by nine seats and barely held the Senate. (1) This they saw as some sort of victory, since the party in the White House traditionally loses seats in Congress in the midterm. Many of those who voted Democratic were concerned by the threat to reproductive rights, voting rights, and more than a little whiff of fascism.
Their choice was a defensive one. Turnout was lower than in 2018 at about 45-46 percent compared to 50.3. While some states with close contests such as Pennsylvania, Georgia, Maine and Oregon had higher than average turnout which helped the Democrats, in most states Democratic turnout was down while Republican turnout was up, as is often the case when the other party is in the White House. (2)
As a result, in the general election over three million more people voted Republican than Democrat. (3) Having legislated their best and lacking a positive program sufficient to deal with the multiple crises affecting the vast majority, the Democrats’ last line of defense was to outspend their Republican rivals. In the end: a country stuck in the mud and sinking to the right at an unprecedented cost.
While ideology mattered, the entire election process was driven by vast amounts of money deployed with ideological precision within and between the two major parties. An estimated $16.7 billion was spent on federal and state elections, $8.9 billion of it on Congressional candidates, parties, and political committees — 38 percent of that from the richest one percent of donors. This compared to $5.7 billion for the 2018 congressional midterms and $3.9 billion in 2014. (4)
Behind this money stands a ruling class divided in partisan and ideological terms, but united in the limits to which the wealth of capital and the resources of government are to be used to alleviate the plight of the majority facing cost-of-living, housing, climate, energy, reproductive and healthcare crises, on top of the social wreckage of decades of neoliberal policies from both parties.
On November 8, Republican candidates picked up 14 House seats from the Democrats for a net gain of 12, five of whom were endorsed by Trump. This brings the House balance to 213 Democrats to 222 Republicans. (5) With a slim majority of nine, this was still less than the twenty-or-more seat majority the Republicans expected to win.
While MAGA conspiracy theories and the “Big Lie” hurt some Republicans, the evidence is overwhelming that money rather than bold ideas from Democrats was a major factor in diminishing the “Red Wave.”
The vast majority of House seats are “safe” for one party or the other, so the election outcome was decided when the Democrats minimized their losses in the general election by holding 25 of 37 highly competitive “battleground” seats. There they defeated nine of eleven Trump-backed Republican challengers along with sixteen “normal” Republicans.
In every case but one the Democrats outspent their Republican opponents. Sixteen of these winning Democrats were part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC- “D-Triple C”) Frontline program that “provides Democratic Members of Congress from potentially competitive seats the resources to execute effective reelection campaigns.” (6) That is to say money, advertising, campaign pros, etc. for candidates in vulnerable districts.
The DCCC also targeted five candidates as part of its “Red to Blue” program to flip Republican seats for special funding, in which three Democrats and two Republicans won “with most of the winners leading in fundraising.”
In addition, a week before the general election the DCCC put out a “Red Alert” for five vulnerable candidates, three of them Frontline members, adding an additional $3.9 million to $6 million to each campaign. Millions more in “outside” money also boosted these five candidates at the last minute putting them among the top 30 “outside” spenders by both parties in all House contests. Thus, each of these five Democrats “outraised their Republican challengers and won.” (7)
Altogether, the DCCC outspent its Republican counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), $324,132,497 to $262,222,093. So, even if some Trump-backed candidates were their own worst enemy, money made the difference in beating back all varieties of Republicans.
Senate races were even more disproportionate as the Democrats raised a total of $819,362,242 compared to the Republicans’ $681,062,468 by the end of the general election.
The all-important Georgia Senate race and runoff between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker, became the most expensive race of the cycle, reaching $380.7 million by late November with outside groups splurging $146 million over the entire general election. $54 million was spent on ads in the last week alone. Altogether, Warnock outspent Walker three-to-one through mid-November. As the New York Times put it, Trump’s “handpicked candidate, Herschel Walker, was outspent and outmatched.” (8)
Three Democrats in addition to Warnock defending highly competitive Senate “battleground” seats, Mark Kelly (AZ), Maggie Hassan (NH), and Catherine Cortez Masto (NV) all won the general election by massively outspending their Republican opponents in the tens of millions. In another key Senate race, the only one in which a Senate seat changed parties, John Fetterman, noted for his proletarian Carhartt outfits and populist style, outraised Trump-favored Mehmet Oz by $56.7 million to $40.4 million.
Warnock’s election gave the Democrats a one seat majority in the Senate, but Krysten Sinema’s switch from Democrat to independent muddies the situation somewhat even though she says she will not caucus with the Republicans. (9)
Over the whole election cycle, big business and the wealthy played a major role in funding candidates, parties, and Super PAC “outside” spending, the latter of which came to about $1.3 billion in 2022. As we saw above, contributions from the top one percent of all political donors accounted for 38 percent of the total.
Business individuals and PACs alone gave somewhat more directly to Democrats than Republicans: $1,027,082,361 compared to $931,954,716 during the whole cycle. The largest single source of business money by far is the securities and investment industry, which favored Democrats over Republicans by $141,282,772 to $106,254,713 as of late October.
The big earners and PACs of those Wall Street bottom feeders, the private equity and hedge funds, contributed $347.7 million with the largest amount going to “outside” spending during the primaries alone. Over the past few years this “industry” has split its direct contributions between the two parties with Democrats coming out slightly better on average over time.
Three of the top recipients of this financial sector largess in the 2022 cycle have been the familiar Democratic duo of Senators Kryrsten Sinema (now a declared independent) ($312,825) and Joe Manchin ($369,251), along with their sometimes leader, sometimes enabler, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer ($1,228,307).
In exchange this trio helped strip the Inflation Reduction Act of a provision to close a tax loophole on financial sector interest. (10)
The Primaries: Party & Money
The political character of the midterm general election, that is, the choices to be available to voters in November, were determined by an even smaller electorate during the primaries that ran from March through September. Greasing the rails on both sides of this seven-month exercise in minority rule were expenditures of $4-5 billion, disproportionate amounts of it directly or indirectly from that even smaller wealthy top one percent of the population.
In recent primary elections, party organization as well as vast amounts of money have come to play a central role in determining outcomes. As a recent edition of the major textbook on congressional elections summarized today’s contests, “Both Senate and House election patterns confirm that the United States has entered an era of nationalized, polarized, party-centered politics that is very different from the candidate-centered world of the 1970s and 1980s.” (11)
Furthermore, as one of the few book-length studies of primaries put it, “Contrary to previous assumptions, parties are not impartial bystanders, but rather key players that influence the primary process and outcome.” (12) This has been characterized by both direct intervention and the acceleration in money raised and spent by both parties in the primary season, as well as by candidates and allied “outside” interests.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), for example, which raises money for and intervenes in House campaigns saw its spending through June of each midterm primary election cycle escalate from $75.3 million in 2014 to $116 million in 2018 and $139 million in 2022 with four months to go to the general election. (13) The figures on midterm primary season in Table I illustrate the acceleration of spending.
Candidate, Party & Super PAC Primary Spending House & Senate 2014-2022 *
Source: Federal Election Commission: Congressional Candidate Table 1; Party Table 1; PAC Table 1.
* Figures are for election cycle of 18 months from January of prior year through June of election year, covering over half the primary period. ** Democrats and Republicans only.
This increase in money embodies yet another of the many current attacks on democracy. First, it protects incumbents who were able to out fundraise challengers by over nine-to-one in 2022 — and indeed, not including incumbent v. incumbent races due to redistricting, only ten incumbents lost their primaries this year: two Democrats and eight Republicans.
Money tends to win elections generally and force all candidates to emphasize fundraising and increase dependence on media purchases (the “air war”) as opposed to grassroots participation (the “ground war”) in campaigns. This emphasis also increases the role of highly paid elite professional campaign consultants, who do most of the ad buying and now dominate most campaigns. (14)
One estimate by the ad tracking firm of AdImpact shows that spending on ads alone in Congressional campaigns through July of each election cycle has tripled since 2018, increasing from $410 million to $1.2 billion in 2022. By the eve of the general election, party committees such as the DCCC and NRCC alone had spent $272 million on ads across all media in the last eleven months of the 2022 election cycle. The major party-allied Super PACs splurged $693 million on ads over that period, with Republicans leading by about $100 million. (15)
While money from individuals plays a large role, only about 20 percent of all such contributions in the 2022 primary season came in the form of small contributions of $200 or less. Just 41 of the 741 candidates for the House and Senate races tracked by OpenSecrets.com who raised $100,000 or more (anyone in the running) through October got more than half of their funds from small donors, with Republicans actually out numbering Democrats 21 to 19 along with one third party candidate.
Wealthy donors provide hundreds of millions. Among the top 100 individual donors who contributed $2 million or more in this election cycle as of September 2022, 49 gave to Democrats, 50 to Republicans, with one only to unspecified “outside” committees. (16)
The Primaries: Democrats’ War on the Left
Given their addiction to wealthy donors and financial bottom feeders, it is not altogether surprising that the Democrats’ party apparatus and centrist leaders spent their primary campaigns in open warfare on the small cohort of left progressives who fought to gain ground in Congress.
Locating genuine left progressive Democrats (for lack of a better term) is difficult since although a small subset identify as democratic socialists, the term “left” is generally avoided as a public self-description while the label “progressive” is more often displayed than practiced in Democratic circles.
While left progressives tend to be defined by support for policies such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, they are sometimes divided on attitudes toward Palestinian liberation and Israeli apartheid policies and the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) movement, funding for police, and matters of legislative compromise and tactics.
Thus in estimating the success of this left cohort I will limit left progressives to those endorsed by Bernie Sanders, the Justice Democrats, and/or Our Revolution. (17) Most were self-styled progressives, while two, Summer Lee (PA) and Greg Casar (TX), identified themselves additionally as democratic socialists — although Casar was not endorsed by his own Austin, Texas chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) due to his opposition to BDS. (18)
While the ability of incumbents to retain their seats held up in the 2022 primaries, a larger than usual number of retirements and those running for another office meant there were 33 Democratic open-seat primary contests (those with no incumbent) and one newly created district (NC 14) considered “Solid Democratic” which provided a greater opportunity for new candidates to win.
Altogether, not including left progressive incumbents such as those in “the Squad” and eliminating duplicate endorsements, the above-specified endorsers backed three outsider candidates for Senate (all by Sanders) and 23 for the House in the 2022 primaries. Two of the Sanders-endorsed Senate candidates won — one a challenger, the other in an open seat contest.
Of the eight House candidates who challenged a sitting incumbent, only one (Jamie McLeod Skinner in Oregon) won. Of the 15 who fought open seats, nine succeeded. Altogether in the House primaries 10 left progressives won and 13 lost. Due in part to extensive redistricting, as well as aggressive mainstream opposition, three incumbent left progressives — Marie Newman (IL), Mondaire Jones (NY), and Andy Levin (MI) — were defeated by moderates in incumbent v. incumbent primaries.
In the general election, three of the ten left progressives who won their primaries (Odessa Kelly, Michelle Vallejo, and Jamie McLeod-Skinner) were defeated for a net gain in the 118th Congress of four. (19)
Almost all the successful left progressives in the House come from safe deep blue, mostly urban districts so that they posed no threat to the Democrats’ slim House majority going into the general election. Nor could their potential numbers actually threaten the centrist domination of the party in the House or Senate. Yet the party and its close well-to-do allies poured money and resources into stopping even this trickle of left-wing representation.
That the party sees such intervention as its right was made clear in 2018 by the press secretary of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s main vehicle of intervention, who told Vox “We have been clear all cycle that we reserve the right to get involved in primaries to ensure that there is a competitive Democrat on the ballot in November.” (20)
Sean Patrick Maloney, head of the DCCC and a member of the centrist New Democrat Coalition (NDC) in the House, repeated this “right” early in 2022 election cycle when he said, “the DCCC is prepared to protect our majority by recruiting compelling candidates…” (21) — that is, centrists.
Ironically, Maloney himself, the consummate centrist, lost in the general election.
Democratic Party intervention in the primaries can be seen in two major forms: defense of centrists and conservatives and defeat of left (and not so left) progressives. In addition to substantial aid in the form of millions in paid-for ads and other media and tech services for preferred candidates, the DCCC targets candidates through its above-mentioned Frontline program for those considered vulnerable in the general election.
The point of this is to protect incumbent moderates who, in the centrist imagination of the DCCC leadership, are considered more likely than progressives to win in the general election in potentially competitive districts. Many of these are the suburban districts central to the Democrats’ strategy for holding on to the House.
Of the 39 candidates chosen for the 2022 Frontline program 25 were members of either the centrist New Democrat Coalition or the conservative Blue Dogs House caucuses, while only 5 were members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), one of whom was also a New Democrat. (22) None, of course, were left progressives.
More down and dirty was the use of semi-official and allied PACs and Super PACs to fight progressives even when they were in safe districts. One new addition to the party’s arsenal of internal protection was the Team Blue PAC. This semi-independent PAC is led by Hakeem Jeffries, Chair of the House Democratic Caucus; Josh Gottheimer, a member of both the NDC and Blue Dogs, and Terri Sewell, another New Democrat.
Jeffries is a nominal member of the CPC, but as Chair of the Democratic House Caucus is a consistent supporter of centrist incumbents. He is now the successor to Pelosi as party Caucus leader.
Team Blue was formed to support “Members of the House who are facing strident electoral challenges” in their primaries, including from “Extremists and other outside forces…” (23) — and as Jeffries told Rolling Stone, to protect from distortions of the incumbents’ record by the “hard left.” That is a term he used to describe democratic socialists, when he told The Atlantic “There will never be a moment where I bend the knee to hard-left democratic socialism.”
Team Blue is funded by corporate PACs including: the National Association of Realtors; American Financial Services Association; the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers; New York Life Insurance; UnitedHealth Group; Comcast; UPS; and several others. (24)
In the 2022 cycle Team Blue PAC has endorsed and contributed to 25 candidates, 14 of them New Democrats. In particular were four incumbents facing primary challenges from the left. These include Shontel Brown (OH) who beat Sanders’ campaign co-chair Nina Turner by nearly two-to-one in her May 3 primary; Donald Payne, Jr. (NJ) who won by 84 percent on June 7 against Imani Oakley who was backed by the Black Lives Matter PAC; Dina Titus (NV), who defeated Sanders’ 2020 state co-chair Amy Vilela by 82 percent on June 14; and Danny Davis (IL) who beat Justice Democrats’ candidate Kina Collins 52 to 45 percent on June 28. (25)
A new like-minded “dark money” group, the Opportunity for All Action Fund run by Clinton-Obama-DCCC veterans and located in the office of the Pelosi-associated House Majority PAC, is heavily funded by Michael Bloomberg and other media and hedge fund bosses. It spent $764,412 on outside support for Davis, Payne, and Titus. (26) Altogether it spent just over $1 million in outside money, most of it on ads favoring moderate Democrats. (27)
In 2022 there has also been an escalation of party-connected, big-donor Super PACs that specifically oppose those they regard as too progressive. They include Linkedin billionaire Reid Hoffman’s Mainstream Democrats; crypto-billionaire and Biden-supporter Sam Bankman-Fried’s Protect Our Future (until his crypto fund FTX collapsed late in the primaries); and American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) United Democracy Project, directed specifically at defeating Democratic progressives who are critical of Israel.
These Super PACs have backed mainstream Democrats against relatively more liberal challengers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Texas. (28)
When necessary, top Democratic leaders weighed in directly on the side of moderates and conservatives. The most outrageous of these interventions was that of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries among others who actively supported Blue Dog, anti-abortion, pro-gun Rep. Henry Cuellar (TX) against Jessica Cisneros who was backed by Sanders, Justice Democrats, and Our Revolution.
All but a handful of self-identified progressives in the House refused to buck the leadership and back Cisneros. Cuellar won the primary runoff by fewer than 300 votes. (29) And so, the Democratic Party leadership and its funding allies, having stemmed the trickle of left challengers, entered the general election in full centrist armor with lots of money
The “Red Ripple:” Dollars and the Donald
The big surprise of the 2022 general election was that the Democrats didn’t do as poorly as expected and the much-predicted “Red Wave” turned into a ripple, albeit a significant one.
The Republicans lost two governorships to the Democrats and lost all its contests for Attorneys General — positions that would have given them greater ability to restrict voting rights. In addition, the Democrats gained full control of three more states bringing the division to 17 to 22 Republican-controlled states. (30)
The Democrats held the Senate without a majority of one given Sinema’s switch to independent, possibly depriving Biden the chance to have majorities on Senate committees. The Republicans, on the other hand, took the House by fewer than the 20 or more seats they hoped to gain.
Trump-endorsed candidates did well in the primaries where his hardcore base formed a higher percentage of voters. According to Ballotpedia in the primaries Trump made a total of 240 endorsements in federal and state races with a success rate of 92 percent.
In House contests, he endorsed 172 candidates of whom 160 went on to the general election. Of these general election Trump endorsees, 123 were sitting incumbents only one of whom lost in the general election. An additional thirty-seven ran in open seats or as challengers, fourteen of whom lost bringing the total of defeated Trump House favorites to fifteen.
Since the Republicans lost in 196 districts where there was an opposing major party candidate,this was not itself decisive. Crucially, however, as noted above 25 Republicans, nine of them Trump-backed losers, went down to defeat in the 37 highly competitive “battleground” districts that played a central role in the outcome of the general election. So MAGA defeats played a significant role in damming the Red Wave and minimizing the Democrats’ losses in the House, but less so than “normal” Republican losers.
Once again money appears to be central to these outcomes. The Democrats defended their seats in competitive districts including the 37 “battleground” by outspending their opponents significantly. As Politico noted in the third quarter of 2022, the Democrats outspent Republicans in 50 of 65 more broadly defined competitive House seats — “in many cases by 2 to 1 margins.” (31)
A major difference between Democratic and Republican funding is that Republicans have drawn more heavily on a handful of billionaires. (32) In addition, a couple of large “outside” money sources controlled by party leaders contributed heavily: notably in House campaigns from the Congressional Leadership Fund which spent over $100 million after Labor Day in the final months of the general election — over twice that of the Democrats’ comparable House Majority PAC.
This kind of outside money goes to ads for or against candidates rather than directly to the favored candidates themselves, who have no control over their content. Much of the Republican anti-Democrat ad tsunami was directed at suburbanites focused on crime — as usual, a code word for race.
This worked particularly well in mostly blue “downstate” New York. As the New Times reported, “from Long Island to the Lower Hudson Valley, Republicans running primarily on crime swept five of six congressional seats.” (33) These five Republican victories were enough to flip the House.
The Democrats, while also drawing heavily on the wealthy, have relied more on fleshing out their party apparatus and candidate campaign coffers, particularly in competitive districts. By the end of the general election, Democratic House candidates had raised $921,570,715 compared to $890,054,946 for Republicans.
Particularly important in terms of timing, House Democrats outraised Republicans over the summer as 61 Democrats pulled in more than $1 million a piece on average from July through September, compared to only 34 Republicans. (34)
In terms of the important House party committees, as of late October the DCCC outraised the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) $324,132,497 to $262,222,093. Altogether Democratic Party committees at all levels outraised Republicans by $218 million.
To a greater extent than the Republicans, the Democrats appear to have concentrated more of these vast amounts of money on party interventions in key competitive race — for example, those Frontline candidates and in the 37 “battleground” districts — while Republican billionaires spent huge amounts of outside money on negative ads against Democrats in select races such as those in suburban New York. So to a considerable extent, the Democrats blunted the Red Wave with money beating both Trump-endorsed and “normal” Republicans.
The Democrats’ Shrinking Voter Base
A deeper look at the voters in the general election, however, spells further trouble for the Democrats and their centrist leaders — old and new. If the exit polls are at all accurate, the party of moderation saw still more erosion in its voter base.
The diverse and class-divided Latinx vote continued to move away from the Democrats. In the 2018 midterm Latinas/os cast 69 percent of their votes for Democrats and 29 percent for Republicans. In 2022 it was 60 to 39 percent — a major shift. For Black voters, the party’s most loyal core, the drift went from 90 percent Democratic in 2018 to 86 percent in 2022 — 83 percent according to AP VoteCast.
There was not only a shift in the Black vote, but a drop in the rate of turnout in relation to whites as well. Looking at the available data, the New York Times’ election data wizard Nate Cohn, argues that in this midterm whatever the general rate of turnout, that of Black voters was below that of whites.
He writes, “the Black population share was below the national average in virtually all of the key districts and Senate contests.” Black voter share fell particularly low in North Carolina, Louisiana, and even Georgia where it averaged 26 percent below white turnout as of the November general election. (35)
This appears to have changed in the Georgia Senate runoff between Sen. Raphael Warnock and his Trump-backed challenger Herschel Walker, as Warnock’s urban Black backers showed up in larger numbers in early voting with Blacks composing 32 percent of early voters compared to 29 percent in November. In the end it was still a fairly close race with Warnock’s 51.4 percent to Walker’s 48.6.
Nevertheless, nationally according to some polls whites accounted for 72 percent of all voters in 2018, but 73 percent in 2022 even though population trends are strongly in the opposite direction.
In general Cohn suggests “the distinct possibility that the Black share of the electorate sank to its lowest since 2006.” He also speculates one factor is that among Black activists, who might mobilize Black voters, there are “doubts whether the Democratic Party can combat white supremacy.” (36) Astoundingly, given the initial impact of the Dobbs ruling, even the women’s Democratic vote share fell from 59 percent of women voters in 2018 to 53 percent in 2022. (37)
More generally, looking a state-level data Cohn concludes “In state after state, the final turnout data shows that registered Republicans turned out at a higher rate — and in some places a much higher rate — than registered Democrats, including in many of the states where Republicans were dealt some of their most embarrassing losses.” (38)
Just as House majorities are won or lost in a relatively small number of competitive districts, so are they won by swaying independent voters. The defeat of those and other Republicans was due in large part to independents repulsed by MAGA-extremism swinging to Democrats to a greater degree than usual.
In the Senate race with John Fetterman, for example, Republican Mehmet Oz lost the independent vote by 19 percentage points, whereas the spread is usually more around five points one way or the other. (39) Thus, it seems likely the Democrats have become even more dependent on independents in general elections.
In terms of income, even among the poorest voters with family incomes below $30,000 there was a move away from Democrats from 63 percent in 2018 to 54 percent this year. Indeed, the Democrats lost ground among all those with family incomes up to $99,999, which would certainly include many working-class voters, but they held steady at 47 percent to the Republican’s 51 percent of those from $100,000 to $200,000 in both years, according to the exit polls.
Reflecting the lower turnout in class terms, voters in 2022 were both somewhat wealthier and more educated, which contrary to the notion of a massive proletarian MAGA vote, also helped the Republicans. The percentage of voters with family incomes above $100,000 increased from 33 percent in 2018 to 37 percent of all voters in 2022, while those with incomes above $200,000 rose from 9 percent to 10 percent. The proportion of those with a college degree increased from 41 percent to 43 percent.
Republicans increased their proportion of voters among those making $200,000 or more from 52 percent in 2018 to 58 percent in 2022, according to exit polls. This points to the limitations of the Democrats’ strategy of appealing to wealthier suburbanites, as the suburban vote went 52 percent for the Republicans in 2022 compared to 49 percent for both parties in 2018. (40)
The New York suburbs were a demonstration of this. Thus the Democrats have lost voters among both relatively poorer working-class people and well-to-do suburbanites as well as among Blacks, Latinas/os, and women. Clearly neither money nor moderation, much less running on Biden’s record, can save the opportunist political center from itself as it faces a Republican Party in which the extreme battle the merely ultra-conservative.
The poet W.B. Yeats famously wrote, “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold… The best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.” The Democratic centrists, hardly the best but certainly lacking conviction, could do no more than minimize their own defeat in the House at the hands of the “passionate” right.
Yet so pleased were the party leaders that they had defied tradition and cut their losses, it is precisely more centrism that they offer as they reorganize the House Caucus and maintain the political status quo.
Deprived of the Speakership, Nancy Pelosi graciously stepped down — though by no means out. In her place and in her shadow as Democratic House Minority Leader by unanimous vote of the Democratic Caucus (Squad and all) will be Hakeem Jeffries, the first Black representative to head the Caucus.
Jeffries, however, is also the militant defender of the party’s political centrists who we met above as head of the anti-left Team Blue PAC and who assures us in this case with conviction he will never “bend the knee” to democratic socialism.
Gone as chief of the DCCC is New Democrat and promoter of “compelling (centrist) candidates” Sean Patrick Maloney, who outspent his opponent five to one but lost his redistricted seat when Republican billionaires swamped him among the suburbanites of the Lower Hudson Valley with $8 million in Super PAC money in fearmongering ads on crime.
Lined up to replace Maloney at the head of this third-of-a billion-dollar party campaign funding and intervention machine are fellow New Democrats Ami Bera, who chaired the 2022 deeply centrist Frontline program, and Tony Cardenas, whose top contributions come from the AIPAC, BlueCross/BlueShield, AT&T, and California energy giant PG&E.
The DCCC top position, which was previously elected by the Caucus, will now be appointed by Caucus leader Jeffries. (41) New faces, big bucks, old politics. In the Senate, it will be old faces, money, and politics as Chuck Schumer continues as leader with some changes in the old faces in his leadership team.
Across the aisle in the House, Trump-endorsed Representatives form a huge block in the Republican Conference — although some are already distancing themselves from “the Donald.” Trump himself appears in trouble but defiant as he runs for president and wallows in his victimhood with his hardcore MAGA base largely intact.
The non-MAGA party establishment and a growing number of office holders are organizing against the Trumpites in their midst and seeking an alternative to a Trump presidential campaign among the merely ultra-conservatives — the most likely being successful vote-getter and rival faux-anti-establishment poseur Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Still, it is too early to write off a viable Trump candidacy and even more MAGA violence. A late November Poltico/Morning Consult poll showed Trump 15 points ahead of DeSantis among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. (42)
Not only is the siting head of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, a Trump loyalist, so are all those challenging her for the top spot in the post-election leadership brawl. And, apparently, MAGAmaniacs now dominate most state parties as well. (43) So whether free citizen or convict, Trump and Trumpism remain in the picture.
What is clear is that the majority of the residents of the United States, and for that matter, the world, will face more crises, devastation, wars, racism, and collapsing living standards as the legislators at the center of the American empire engage in gridlock and the political impasse they and their wealthy funders have created and are incapable of breaking.
The shattering of gridlock is a task that falls to those organizing and striking at Amazon and Starbucks, railroad workers demanding the right to strike, union members confronting cautious leaders, those in the streets against police violence and climate destruction, and the millions who suffer from the calculated neglect or fanatical intent of politicians. It will have to come from below and outside the halls of Congress, state legislatures, and city councils in the streets and workplaces across the country as anger turns into action.
In the wake of the election, the Biden administration and almost all the Democrats in Congress joined in the further undermining of democracy and the defense of capitalist authority when they imposed a settlement that railroad workers fighting for safe and decent working conditions had voted in their majority to reject, thus negating the workers’ democratic right.
In their anger at both political parties, the rank-and-file organization Railroad Workers United not only called for “a unified and powerful labor organization” but pointed to a long-range way out of the impasse by suggesting that perhaps the time had come for, “a political party that will better serve the interest of not just railroad workers but all working-class people.” (44)
- By “centrists” I mean Democrats who tend to be moderately liberal on some social questions but remain locked into neoliberal priorities and policies on the economy, business, taxes, wealth, empire, etc. which, in turn, limits their social liberalism. They are the perpetrators and heirs of the Clinton-Obama “Third Way.” This includes a substantial proportion of those officeholders who call themselves “progressives.” The centrists are not just a “wing” of the party’s office holders, operatives, campaign pros, and funders. They dominate the party’s organizations and structures in government and out at virtually all levels. There are also Democratic conservatives who help tilt things rightward.
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- Michael P. McDonald, “2022 November General Election Turnout Rates,” U.S. Election Project, November 23, 2022, https://www.electionproject.org/2022g; Kati Perry, et al, “Where voter turnout exceeded 2018 highs,” Washington Post, November 19, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/interactive/2022/voter-turnout-2022-by-state; Cook Political Report, “2022 National House Vote Tracker,” https://www.cookpolitical.com/charts/house-charts/national-house-vote-tracker/2022
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- Cook Political Report, “2022 National House Vote Tracker.”
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- Jonathan Weisman and Rachel Shorey, “Fueled by Billionaires, political spending Shatters Records Again,” New York Times, November 3, 2022,. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/03/us/politics/midterm-money-billionaires.html; OpenSecrets.org, “Total Cost of Election (1990-2022),” Ballotpedia, “Election Results, 2022: U.S. House, “ November 21, 2022, https://ballotpedia.org/Election_results,_2022:_U.S._House.
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- Cook Political Report, “2022 National House Vote Tracker; David Wasserman, “House Recap: The Five Biggest Takeawys from 2022’s Photo Finish,” Cook Political Report, December 1, 2022, https://www.cookpolitical.com/analysis/house/house-overview/house-recap-five-biggest-takeaways-2022s-photo-finish. The Republican gains were in: OR5, AZ2, AZ6, WI3, VA2, TN5, TX15, NJ7, NY3, NY4, NY17, NY19, CO3, and CA13.
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- Jessica Piper, “Gerrymandering, hubris and court fights: How redistricting shaped the battle for the House.” Politico, November 6, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/11/06/gerrymandering-hubris-court-fights-redistricting-house-00065295; Ballotpedia, “Endorsements by Donald Trump 2022,” https://ballotpedia.org/Endorsements_by_Donald_Trump; Ballotpedia, “U.S. House Battlegrounds, 2022,” https://ballotpedia.org/U.S._House_battlegrounds,_2022 ;Ballotpedia, “Election Results,”; Cook Political Report, “2022 National House Vote Tracker,” November 24, 2022, https://www.cookpolitical.com/charts/house-charts/national-house-vote-tracker/2022; DCCC, “DCCC Announces Members of 2021-2022 Frontline Program,” March 1, 2021, https://dccc.org/dccc-announces-members-of-2021-2022-frontline-program/#:~:text=Frontline%20is%20the%20DCCC%E2%80%99s%20battle-tested%20program,have%20been%20named%20to%20the%20program.&text=Frontline%20is%20the%20DCCC%E2%80%99s,named%20to%20the%20program.&text=the%20DCCC%E2%80%99s%20battle-tested%20program,have%20been%20named%20to. Henceforth all election results are from Ballotpedia and all political fund raising and spending statistics are from the Federal Election Commission or OpenSecrets.org. unless otherwise specified.
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- Keith Newell, “Fundraising fueled incumbent Democrats’ bids to beat Republican challengers in key swing districts, narrowing GOP House majority,” Opensecrets.org, November 28, 2022, https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2022/11/fundraising-fueled-incumbent-democrats-bids-beat-republican-challengers-key-swing-districts-narrowing-gop-house-majority;
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- Jonathan Weisman and Maya King, “Warnock Defeats Walker in Georgia’s Senate Runoff,” New York Times, December 7, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/12/06/us/warnock-walker-georgia-senate-runoff.
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- PBS, “Krtysten Senima is now an Independent. What does that mean for the senate?”, PBS News Hour, December 9, 2022, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/kyrsten-sinema-is-becoming-an-independent-what-does-that-mean-for-the-senate.
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- Taylor Giorno and Srijita Datta, “Private equity and hedge fund industries pour nearly $347.7 million into 2022 midterm,” OpenSecrets.org, September 7, 2022, https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2022/09/private-equity-and-hedge-fund-industries-pour-nearly-347-7-million-into-2022-midterms; Weisman and Shorey, “Fueled by Billionaires” .
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- Gary C. Jacobson and Jamie L. Carson The Politics of Congressional Elections, Tenth Edition (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2020), 256-257. For a more detailed analysis of the role of party and money in primaries see Kim Moody, “The ‘Class Ceiling’: Political Money and the Primary Election as a Class Project,” Spectre, Issue 6 (Fall 2022), 34-55.
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- Hans Hassell, “Party Control of Party Primaries: Party Influence in Nominations for the US Senate,” Journal of Politics, 78(1) (2015), 76.
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- Henceforth all political fund raising and spending statistics are from the Federal Election Commission or OpenSecrets.org. unless otherwise specified.
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- See Kim Moody, “The ‘Class Ceiling’: Political Money and the Primary Election as Class Project,” Spectre Issue 6, Fall 2022, 34-55; Adam Sheingate, Building a Business of Politics: The Rise of Political Consulting and the Transformation of American Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), passim.
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- AdImpact, 2021-2022 Projections, https://adimpact.com/2022-political-spending-projections/; Madison Fernandez, “Special Edition: Pre-Election Day numbers to know,” Poltico, November 6, 2022, https://www.politico.com/newsletters/weekly-score/2022/11/06/special-edition-pre-election-day-numbers-to-know-00065302.
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- OpenSecrets.org., “Who are the biggest donors?”, as of October 16, 2022, https://www.opensecrets.org/elections-overview/biggest-donors. A Financial Times analysis which purported to show that Democrats won some Senate races because they outraised Republicans in small donations based on funds from online fundraisers ActBlue and WinRed actually only shows total figures ranging from less than $50,000 up to $218,300, which would amount to a tiny fraction of campaigns waged in the millions and could hardly have made the difference between victory or defeat. Courtney Weaver and Caitlin Gilbert, ”Megadonors tighten grip on Republican fundraising,” Financial Times, November 21, 2022, https://www.ft.com/content/87c5687f-d564-4e8e-a1e7-5828a77cfeaa
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- For a broader definition of left progressives see Elaine Karmarck “Lessons from the 2022 Primaries—what do they tell us about America’s political parties and the midterm elections?”, Part II – -Party Factions, Brookings, September 8, 2022, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2022/09/08/lessons-from-the-2022-primaries-what-do-they-tell-us-about-americas-poltical-parties-and-the-midterm-elections/. I have also not used the endorsements by the Working Families Party as they cast a very broad net that excluded most of those endorsed by Sanders, Justice Democrats, and Our Revolution, but included candidates that can hardly be considered progressive, let alone left progressive including even Sean Patrick Maloney and Chuck Schumer.
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- Ryan Grim, “Primary Occupation,” The Intercept, October 16, 2022, https://theintercept.com/2022/10/16/democratic-party-progressive-israel-aipac-dmfi/
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- All results are from Ballotpedia.
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- Ella Nilsen, “The DCCC’s controversial meddling in 2018 primaries, explained,” Vox, May 3, 2018, https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/5/3/17290902/dccc-2018-midterms-primaries-democrats:nancy-pelosi-laura-moser
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- Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, “DCCC Announces 2021-2022 Districts in Play,” News, DCCC, April 2021, https://dccc.org/dccc-announces-2021-2022-districts-in-play.
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- Ballotpedia, “U.S. House Battlegrounds, 2022,” https://ballotpedia.org/U.S._House_battlegrounds,_2022.
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- Team Blue PAC, “Who We Are,” https://www.teambluepacc.com/
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- OpenSecrets.org, “Team Blue PAC PAC contributions to Federal Candidates,” February 1, 2022, https://www.opensecrets.org/political-action-committees-pacs/team-blue-pac/C00780411/candidate-recipients/2022; OpenSecrets.org, “Blue Team Pac PAC to PAC/Party,” February 1, 2022, https://www.opensecrets.org/political-action-committees-pacs/team-blue-pac/C00780411/pac-to-pac/2022; Sharon Zhang, “Jeffries, Favored to Succeed Pelosi, Has History of Hostility Toward the Left,” Truthout, November 17, 2022, https://truthout.org/articles/Jeffries-to-succeed-pelosi-has-history-of-hostility-toward-the-left.
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- Kara Voght, “Top House Democrat Unveils Plan to Beat Back Progressive Rebellion,” Rolling Stone, February 16, 2022, https://www.rollingstone.com/poltics/politics-news/democratic-primaries-progressive-incumbents-hakeem-jeffries-1301186/; Insider NJ, “Black Lives Matter PAC Endorses Imani Oakley for Congress,” March 7, 2022, https://www.insidernj.com/press-release/black-lives-matter-pac-endorses-imani-oakley-for-congress/; Zachary Smith, “Brown wins primary in the 11th Congressional District, msn.com, May 4, 2022, https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/wh+ere-shontel-brown-ran-strongest-in-the-11th-congressional-district-primary-see-vote-by-precinct/ar-AAWVr5g?ocid=uxbndlbing; Branko Marcetic, “Nina Turner Was Defeated Last Night, But All Is Nor Lost, Jacobin, May 4, 2022, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2022/05/nina-turner-ogio-election-defeat-shontel-brown; Ballotpedia, “June 14, 2022, Election Results, https://ballotpedia.org/June_14,_2022,_election_results .
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- OpenSecrets.org, “Opportunity For All Action Fund, 2022,” November 3, 2022, https://www.opensecrets.org/outside-spending/detail/2022?cmte=C90021353&tab=targeted_candidates; OpenSecrets.org, “opportunity for all Action Fund Recipients, 2022,” https://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/recips.php?cmte=C90021353&cycle=2022; Akela Lacy, “New Dark Money Group Spending Against Progressives Is Suspiciously Well Aligned With Powerful Democrats, “ The Intercept, June 8, 2022, https://theintercept.com/2022/06/08/opportunity-for-all-action-fund-dark-money-democratic-primary/.
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- OpenSecrets.org, “Opportunity For All Action Fund, 2022,” November 3, 2022, https://www.opensecrets.org/outside-spending/detail/2022?cmte=C90021353&tab=targeted_candidates.
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- Federal Election Commission, Mainstream Democrats PAC, May 4, 2022, https://www.fec.gov/data/committee/C00804823/?tab=spending ; Andrew Perez and David Dayen, “Democrats Are Still Boosting Antiabortion Congressman Henry Cuellar, “ Jacobin, May 10, 2022, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2022/05/henry-cuellar-texas-dems-abortion-roe-rocha; Lacy, “Democrats’ Major Campaign Tech Firm”; Elena Schneider, “Where megadonors are spending big money in the shape the Democratic Party’s future, “ Politico, May 16, 2022, https://www.poltico.com/news/2022/05/16/democrats-moderate-progressive-super-pacs-00032610; David Sirota, “The Democratic Party’s Leadership is Trying to Destroy Progressives, 2 Jacobin, May 17, 2022, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2022/05/democratic-party-centrists-progressives-pacs-leadership; Sam Sutton, “A crypto titan dumped millions into midterms, then lost a fortune,” Politico, November 10, 2022, https://www.poltico.com/news/2022/11/10/crypto-megadonor-sam-bankman-fried-00066062.
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- Felicia Sonmez, Mariana Sotomayor, and Mariana Alfaro, “ Rep. Henry Cuellar, Jessica Cisneros locked in tight battle in Texas, Washington Post, May 25, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/05/25/cuellar-cisneros-texas-congress/; Ally Mutnick and Sarah Ferris, “House Dems shun primary fight against anti-abortion incumbent,” Politico, May 23, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/05/23/henry-cuellar-abortion-house-democrats-primary-00034288; Julio Ricardo Varela, “Why is Pelosi desperate that this Pro-NRA, anti-abortion Democrat stay in office?”, MANBC, June 4, 2022, https://www.msnbc.com/opinion/msnbc-opinion/henry-cuellar-jessica-cisneros-runoff-shows-texas-latinos-diversity-n1295797?icid=msd_botgrid;Roll Call, “Key results for Roll Tuesday’s primaries in seven states, “ June 7, 2022, https://rollcall.com/2022/06/07/key-results-from-tuesdays-primaries-in-seven-states/; CQ Roll Call, “At the Races:Not oo pumped,” June 23, 2022; https://rollcall.com/2022/06/23/at-the-races-not-too-pumped/.
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- Aaron Blake, “4 takeaways from the Georgia Senate runoff,” Washington Post, December 6, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/12/06/takeaways-georgia-runoff-2022-warnock-walker/.
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- Ally Mutnick and Jessica Piper, “Dem candidates swamp GOP in House fundraising, “ Poltico, October 17, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/10/17/democratic-candidates-house-fundraising-00062110.
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- Courtney Weaver and Caitlin Gilbert, “Megadonors tighten grip on Republican fundraising,” Financial Times, November 21, 2022, https://www.ft.com/content/87c56871-d564-4e8e-a1e7-5828a77cleaa.
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- Nicholas Fandos, “Meet the Voters Who Fueled New York’s Seismic Tilt Toward the G.O.P.,” New York Times, November 27, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/27/nyregion/republicans-election-ny-suburbs.html.
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- Mutnick and Piper, “Dem candidates.”
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- Nate Cohn, “Black Turnout in Midterms Was One of the Low Points for Democrats, “ The Tilt, New York times, November 30, 2022, email@example.com; Nate Cohn, “Georgia Runoff: What a Walker or Warnock Victory Would Look Like, “ The Tilt, New York Times, December 6, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/06/upshot/georgia-runoff-walker-warnock.html; ABC, “National Exit Poll, House,” 2022,https://abcnews.go.com/Elections/exit-polls-2022-us-house-election-results-analysis; NBC, “Exit Polls 2022,” https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2022-elections/exit-polls; CNN, “2022 Exit Polls,” https://edition.cnn.com/election/2022/exit-polls/national-results/house/0; CNN, “Exit Polls 2018,” https://edition.cnn.com/elections/2018/exit-polls; Brittany Gibson, “Warnock focuses on turnout as early voting ends in Georgia runoff,” Poltico, December 2,2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/12/02/warnock-georgia-runoff-early-voting-00071997; Reid J. Epstein, Jasmine Ulloa, and Maya King, “Warnock Claims Momentum in Georgia, as Walker Banks on Election Day Turnout,” New York Times, December 5, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/05/us/politics/georgia-senate-runoff-election-day-turnout.html; Jessica Piper, “3 numbers that show how Raphael Warnock won the Georgia runoff,” Politico, December 8, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/12/08/raphael-warnock-georgia-runoff-00072999 . In addition, the Black vote has been diluted in places due to the movement of Blacks from cities to suburbs and to redistricting which has reduced the number of Black majority congressional districts.
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- Cohn, “Black Turnout”; Cohn, “Georgia Runoff”; CNN, “2022 Exit Polls”; CNN, “Exit Polls 2018”; ABC, “National Exit Poll, House”; NBC, “Exit Polls 2022.”
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- ABC, “National Exit Poll, House”; NBC, “Exit Polls 2022,”; CNN, “2022 Exit Polls”; CNN, “Exit Polls 2018”; NBC, “United States House Exit Poll,” November 7, 2018, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2018-election/midterms/.
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- Nate Cohn, “Turnout by Republicans Was Great. It’s Just Than Many of Them Didn’t Vote for Republicans,” The Tilt, New York Times, December 8, 2022, <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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- Aaron Zitner, “Why Independent Voters Broke for Democrats in the Midterms,” Wall Street journal, November 12, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-independents-broke-for-democrats-in-the-midterms-11668249002?mod=hp_lead_pos8; John Gramlich, “What the 2020 election lookslike by party, race and ethnicity, age, education andreligion,” Pew Research Center, October 26, 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/10/26/what-the-2020-electorate-looks-like-by-party-race-and-ethnicity-age-education-and-religion/.
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- CNN, “2022 Exit Polls; CNN, “Exit Polls 2018,”; NBC, “United States House Exit Poll,” November 7, 2018.
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- Nicholas Wu, “Dems get in array on the future leadership after Pelosi departs,” Politico, November 18, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/11/18/house-dems-leadership-roles-pelosi-00069334; Nicholas Wu, “A second House Dem is running for campaign chief after shockingly positive midterms,” Politico, November 14, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/11/14/dccc-ami-berra-tony-cardenas-dems-00066669; Rachel Blades, “’Dems in disarray’ makes a [brief] comeback,” Politico, December 1, 2022, https://www.politico.com/newsletters/playbook/2022/12/01/dems-in-disarray-makes-a-brief-comeback-00071567.
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- David Siders, “Republicans shrug off Trump ’24 bid: ‘The excitement’s just not there,” Politico, November 27, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/11/27/republicans-against-trump-2024-00070632.
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- David Siders, “Why the Republican Party Just Can’t Quit Trump,” Politico, December 11, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/12/11/rnc-trump-mcdaniel-election-losses-00073343.
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- Railroad Workers United, “Democrats, Then Republicans Smit Rail Labor,” Press Release, December 2, 2022.
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