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How the DCCC Spoiled the Texas Primary


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Everything is bigger in Texas—including, apparently, the Democratic congressional campaign committee’s screeds.

Texas held its 2018 primaries for multiple offices, including governor and the US Senate, on Tuesday. Much of the analysis after Wednesday’s game has involved looking for signs that the state, symbolizing Republican-held red on US election maps, is moving toward the purple position Democrats hope to gain a foothold there.

But the results also show how renaissance-seeking Democrats in the Lone Star state and elsewhere may be harmed by their national party.

In Texas’ seventh congressional district, Democrats are optimistic about ousting Republican Representative John Kalberson. This is one of those suburban areas where residents might not be so thrilled with President Donald Trump; While the district was easily won in 2012 by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, in 2016 it went to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. When it comes to keeping his constituents hanging on to matters related to the storm, Kalberson also has some weaknesses, which Democrats think is ripe for the picking.

This is where things went wrong. A group of candidates were running for the right to take Kalberson in the Democratic primary, and the DCCC decided that one, Laura Moser, was too progressive to win. So the committee turned completely negative against him, taking the very unusual step of releasing opposition research portraying him as a carpet badger. And it was unscrupulous opposition research, to boot, portraying a comment she made about not moving back to her Texas hometown as if she said she never wanted to live in Texas again, period. (She had already moved back from DC to state, for the record.)

The attempt to drag Moser was so dreary that Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez was forced to say it was a mistake. And the whole thing backfired from the DCCC’s approach, too, as Moser finished second in the poll, sending her into a run-off against first-place Lizzie Panill Fletcher in May.

cartoon on president donald trump

“We have to fix our broken politics – and that starts with rejecting the system where the bosses of the Washington party tell us who to choose,” Moser said in an ad. “We tried that first and see where it got us.”

In fact, it’s hard not to smell the 2016 primaries in this race, when the DNC decided early on that Clinton was its candidate, no matter how the actual election took place. (No, that doesn’t mean anything was “rigged.”) Our Revolution, which was fueled by the unexpectedly vigorous presidential campaign of independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, supported Moser at the end of his race. Labor too, looks like it’ll get its back, as Fletcher’s law firm has done some bad anti-union work. It looks like elections will be tough in May.

Then there are two lessons for the DCCC to stay away from its target, and second, to intervene across the country. The first is that the National Democratic Party needs to realize in many places that its brand is so toxic that asking voters to do one thing basically guarantees they will do something else. This is especially true after the 2016 election, when an alleged slam dunk resulted in a reality television actor taking the oath of office.

Intervention has the potential to make everyone’s life more difficult. Wisely, the DCCC didn’t want Moser in the race, but now it’s not only likely that she wins the nomination, but it’s also the case that the news cycle is focused on one of the political media’s favorite topics: the Democrats are in disarray, Unable to bring his acting together.

More importantly, national level experts and consultants need to stop trying to suppress an outdated model in every election. To win in places that have traditionally been conservative, according to pundits and prophecies, Democrats need to sound and act like Republicans. Maybe, though, that’s not the case: Maybe he needs to voice and act differently than other Democrats. If it means anti-corporate, inequality-focused populism demanding single-payer health care, maybe it could work.

I certainly don’t know for sure what’s going to blow up in any particular election. However, Democrats are not making decrees from above. The DCCC should be focused on keeping whackedoodles and nutjobs out of the race, not perfectly acceptable candidates who want to try something different.

Certainly, some districts require Republican-lite. But maybe an entirely new brand of progressive politics, one that doesn’t sell the country to Wall Street, could also succeed in parts of the country that have historically been reluctant to elect Democrats. We won’t know until someone tries. And the DCCC needs to step back while doing so.



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