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The DCCC’s Undemocratic Decision

The DCCC's decision, and establishment Democrats' placid acceptance of it, call into question just how serious the party of democracy is about the practice of democracy

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, appears at the Washington Press Club Foundation dinner on March 13. (Photo: Tom Williams)

On Friday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, House Democrats’ campaign arm, announced that it will refuse to do business with vendors or consultants who support Democrats attempting to primary incumbent Democrats in blue districts. Firms that contract with the DCCC learned of its decision via a list of new hiring standards sent out Friday morning. “The core mission of the DCCC is electing House Democrats, which includes supporting and protecting incumbents,” the form reads. “To that end, the DCCC will not conduct business with, nor recommend to any of its targeted campaigns, any consultant that works with an opponent of a sitting Member of the House Democratic Caucus.”

The most generous read of the DCCC’s decision is that it represents ordinary, nonideological professional cowardice. Anyone given the opportunity to create barriers for people who would compete with them for their jobs would likely do so, especially if it were possible to tuck their efforts away in an innocuous-looking form. A more ideological read would hold that the DCCC continues to be frustrated by the success of leftward congressional challengers such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who successfully “primaried” then-Democratic caucus chair Joseph Crowley, and hopes to nip the campaigns of these progressive challengers in the bud.

The DCCC’s move to undercut primary challengers comes at a particularly ironic moment for the Democrats: 2020 candidates such as Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren have advanced the idea of abolishing the electoral college in order to empower the popular vote; meanwhile, Andrew Gillum has launched a massive voter registration drive in Florida; and Georgia’s Stacey Abrams is pushing back against voter suppression in her state. It would be fair to characterize the 2020 Democratic message as primarily centering on the importance of democracy itself, with due focus on enacting the will of the people.

And that makes sense. Globally, thinkers in democratic countries have begun voicing concerns about the rise of strongman authoritarianism and the decline of democratic values. Democrats have led America’s contribution to this international defense of democracy, comparing Trump to the anti-democratic, illiberal leaders he praises: Kim Jong Un of North Korea, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.

But the DCCC’s decision, and establishment Democrats’ placid acceptance of it, call into question just how serious the party of democracy is about the practice of democracy. The committee doubtlessly has its reasons for jealously protecting its incumbents, but its members should ask themselves if those reasons ought to supersede the voters’ right to choose among candidates in free and fair elections carried out on even fields. If they think they know better than the voters, then by all means, blacklist vendors and consultants who work with primary challengers. But they should be aware that, in doing so, they are undermining what could be the Democrats’ clearest and most resonant message heading into 2020 — and beyond.

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Elizabeth Bruenig

Elizabeth Bruenig

Elizabeth Bruenig is an opinion columnist at The Washington Post.

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