On Tuesday, Rashida Tlaib, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, won her primary in Michigan, and she is now overwhelmingly likely to become the first Muslim woman in Congress. In a referendum, people in Missouri voted 2 to 1 to overturn an anti-union “right to work” law passed by the Republican legislature. In an upset, Wesley Bell, a progressive city councilman from Ferguson, Mo., effectively ousted the longtime St. Louis County prosecutor, who many civil rights activists say mishandled the investigation into the police shooting of Michael Brown, the African-American teenager whose 2014 killing set off riots.
So it was strange to see headlines in the following days arguing that the left wing of the Democratic Party had hit a wall. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s movement failed to deliver any stunners Tuesday night,” said CNN. “Down Goes Socialism,” announced Politico Magazine, despite the fact that Tlaib’s victory doubles the D.S.A.’s likely representation in Congress. “Socialist torchbearers flame out in key races, despite blitz by Bernie Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez,” said a Fox News headline.
In part, this spin might just be the inevitable backlash to Ocasio-Cortez’s sudden celebrity. Her primary victory was thrilling and hard-earned, and she’s a charismatic and rousing spokeswoman for her values. But her overnight anointment as the new face of the Democratic Party has created absurdly outsize expectations of her power as kingmaker.
In truth, there’s nothing surprising about left-wing candidates losing their primaries. The happy surprise is how many are winning. Unsexy as it sounds, the real story of progressive politics right now is the steady accumulation of victories — some small, some major — thanks to a welcome and unaccustomed outbreak of left-wing pragmatism.
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It’s true that several candidates endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders lost on Tuesday, including Abdul El-Sayed in Michigan’s gubernatorial primary and Brent Welder in a congressional primary in Kansas. But it’s testament to how far left the Democratic Party’s center of gravity has moved that the winners in those two races — Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan and Sharice Davids in Kansas — could be considered establishment.
It’s certainly true that Davids’s campaign put more emphasis on identity and representation, while Welder, a 2016 Sanders delegate, stressed populist economics. The Democratic Party will likely be weighing the precise balance between those progressive priorities for a long time. But the point is, they are all progressive priorities. After Davids’s victory, Ocasio-Corteztweeted her congratulations: “Your win is an incredible inspiration to so many, myself included.”
“Democrats in disarray” is a take that writes itself, but not every disagreement is a war.