Echoing what has become a go-to talking point among prominent Democrats in the aftermath of democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's landslide victory over New York Rep. Joe Crowley in last week's primary election, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) asserted without evidence on Sunday that candidates can't "go too far to the left and still win the Midwest."
"With respect to the senator, strong, clear advocacy for working class Americans isn't just for the Bronx."
Duckworth's claim that Ocasio-Cortez's bold agenda of Medicare for All, a federal jobs guarantee, and housing as a human right is "the future of the party in the Bronx" but not in wide swaths of the U.S. sparked swift backlash from progressives—including Ocasio-Cortez herself—who pointed to Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) victories in the Midwest during the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries as evidence that an ambitious left-wing agenda has broad appeal among the American electorate.
"With respect to the senator, strong, clear advocacy for working class Americans isn't just for the Bronx," Ocasio-Cortez wrote in response to Duckworth's comments, highlighting Midwestern states that Sanders won in 2016—several of which Hillary Clinton went on to lose to President Donald Trump in the general election.
With respect to the Senator, strong, clear advocacy for working class Americans isn’t just for the Bronx.
Sen. Sanders won:
We then lost several of those states in the general. What’s the plan to prevent a repeat? https://t.co/99K08qr7SH
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) July 1, 2018
Briahna Gray, senior politics editor at The Intercept, argued that efforts by Duckworth, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and other high-ranking Democrats to downplay the popularity of Ocasio-Cortez's platform is motivated by a desire to preserve "the party's failing strategies, and the strategists paid to enact them, for another election cycle."
But, Gray writes, Ocasio-Cortez's unwavering embrace of democratic socialism in the face of hand-wringing and criticism from old-guard Democrats is the primary reason she has been able to "articulate a holistic progressive vision for America," which "the Democratic Party has long failed to do."
In response to Duckworth's warning against embracing policies that are "too far to the left," Gray tweeted a graphic that echoed Ocasio-Cortez's point about the broad appeal of Sanders' agenda in the Midwest.
Tammy Duckworth: I don't think Dems can win the midwest with leftist policy.
Bernie Sanders in 2016: pic.twitter.com/hgSj0CE43z
— Briahna "Intersectionality Includes Class" Gray (@briebriejoy) July 1, 2018
The advocacy group People for Bernie suggested that instead of bashing left-wing ideas on Sunday talk shows, Duckworth should hold town halls across Illinois to better gauge her constituents' views on widely popular proposals like Medicare for All, higher wages, and free public college tuition.
Tammy Duckworth should hold town halls across the state on #MedicareForAll, universal free college,wages, racism,housing as a right, respect for immigrants,LGBTQIA+ rights,and climate change.
It's easy to discount an agenda on Sunday TV. It's harder to say it to 1000s of faces.
— People For Bernie (@People4Bernie) July 1, 2018
Zach Carter, senior politics reporter at the Huffington Post, argued in a series of tweets on Sunday that by suggesting an ambitious progressive agenda would be rejected by voters in the Midwest, "Duckworth is pretty much saying Ocasio-Cortez's ideas won't fly with white people here."
"When she says 'the Midwest' won't stand for what they do up in 'the Bronx,' she isn't talking about voters in Chicago, St. Louis, or Milwaukee," Carter writes, alluding to the large black and Latino populations of those cities that are widely receptive to left-wing economic ideas.
While the argument that white voters would reject a progressive agenda like Ocasio-Cortez's is false, Carter argues, it is illustrative of how Democrats deploy identity politics "as a weapon against lefty ideas about inequality."
Specifically, Dem leaders only consider identity politics useful or meaningful when they can be deployed as a weapon against lefty ideas about inequality.
— Zach Carter (@zachdcarter) July 1, 2018
"That's bad electoral strategy, and it's not the way Democrats under 40 think about politics, identity or otherwise," Carter concludes.