Dan Balz from the Washington Post reports on the debate underway amongst Democrats prior to the 2015-16 presidential primaries.
That there is such a debate over the direction of the Democratic Party is without question, and the differences have become louder in the wake of the drubbing the Democrats suffered in the midterm elections.
What is in question is the degree to which the rising populist movement on the left can materially shape the party’s future. More specifically, absent some sign from Warren that she is going to run, can these Democrats successfully pressure Hillary Rodham Clinton, the party’s dominant prospective presidential candidate, to adopt much of their agenda?
It is well known that Hillary Clinton is seriously considering running for the nomination and would be a potentially strong establishment candidate for the Democrats. But further to the left of Clinton is Elisabeth Warren the Senator from Massachusetts. Warren has been building a higher profile in US politics at the national level. Her supporters have already been stating clearly where they stand.
Those trying to encourage Warren to run in 2016 argue a different case. Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.Org Civic Action, said there are important policy differences that need to be aired before Democrats pick their 2016 nominee.
She cited issues such as how the party should address income inequality, who holds positions of power in the executive branch — a cause taken up by Warren when she opposed Obama’s nomination of investment banker Antonio Weiss as treasury undersecretary — and whether it is even possible for Democrats to have a discussion about expanding, rather than constraining, Social Security benefits. “We are not debating style here,” she said. “We are debating substance.”
This is urging the Democrats to move to the left. Which leads to the obvious question how will Clinton respond? So far there haven’t been a lot of specifics from Clinton and as yet it remains uncertain what her strategy will be.
Balz goes on to cite examples of the debate within the Democrats and observes that not all within the party are as yet convinced of the populist message Warren is pushing.
Populist energy pulsates within the party to the point that Democrats cannot agree on whether it has become its dominant ideological strain. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who has championed a populist message as much as Warren, said: “It’s a good, strong message, and it’s a message that she’s carried very well, and it’s a message that a number of us have put out there for a number of years, and it’s catching on. . . . I don’t think it’s there yet.”
But Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware, who comes out of the centrist Democratic tradition, said he believes the party has tipped in favor of Warren’s anti-Wall Street, populist message. “I don’t think there’s any question,” he said of a shift that he finds worrisome for the party’s future hopes of winning over independents and swing voters.
Relating to and winning over independents and swing voters is a key issue not just for Democrats but also the GOP. Also the Republicans would probably welcome a presidential nominee such as Warren with her big government style agenda. Whether they would be good enough to defeat her populist message in a presidential campaign is yet to seen. They haven’t won the Presidency since 2004.
Debates such as the current one inside the Democratic Party can be very healthy in any political movement and shouldn’t be automatically categorised as a split.