Progressive Candidates Surge Again as Trump Drags GOP Down

There are times in this business when all you can do is sit back and let the “wow” hop all over you like a jubilant pack of kangaroo mice turned loose upon the world. Why? Because I get to type this sentence: New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated her main primary opponent, conservative Democrat Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, by the razor-thin margin of 72-19.

Ha. Wow. Hop hop hop.

AOC and “The Squad” she came in with in 2018 were supposed to be a fluke, a one-off caused by the daily nonsense from an unpopular president. Sure, she toppled Joe Crowley, long-serving establishment Democrat and ally of Speaker Pelosi, but we were told not to read too much into it. There’s no way progressives are actually getting organized at this level, right?

The not-so-freshman-anymore House Rep. sure made somebody nervous, though. That somebody, of course, was the money. Michelle Caruso-Cabrera was a Republican until 2015, is a former CNBC analyst, and previously lived at the Trump International Hotel and Tower before moving to Cortez’s 14th District only last year. Wall Street titans from firms like Blackstone and Goldman Sachs, along with billionaire investors Stanley Druckenmiller, Paul Tudor Jones and Nelson Peltz, poured money into Caruso-Cabrera’s campaign in an effort to oust Ocasio-Cortez.

They failed. “Wall Street CEOs, from Goldman Sachs to Blackstone, poured in millions to defeat our grassroots campaign tonight,” said AOC on the night of her victory. “But their money couldn’t buy a movement.” AOC, like Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts, lives in a district where the Democratic primary may as well be the general election. Her victory over money power and establishment Democrats was so complete that even Pelosi endorsed her this time around. Beat that with a stick.

Ocasio-Cortez is not the only progressive candidate storming the establishment walls in New York. Jamaal Bowman, a former middle school principal from the Bronx, currently holds a commanding 62-35 lead over eternal incumbent Eliot Engel. Engel, long seen as detached from the district he represents, all but charbroiled his own campaign with an open-mic gaffe in early June that will redound through the annals of self-decapitation forever.

Bowman, a long-time advocate for racial and social justice, was driven by that deep motivation toward a career in education, and now, in politics. “Our children and families work as hard as anyone else,” he said on Tuesday night. “Poverty is by political design, and it’s rooted in a system that has been fractured and corrupt and rotten from its core, from the inception of America, especially over the last several decades.”

The New York Times’s election tracker reports 100 percent of the vote has been tallied in the Bowman-Engel contest, but as of this writing, no victor has been officially declared. “Get used to it,” reports the Associated Press. “Slow vote counts and delayed results are a feature of elections during the pandemic and are likely to continue into the general election in November.”

A similar waiting game is underway in Kentucky, where the Democratic senate primary to determine who gets to try and unemploy Mitch McConnell remains too close to call. With 62 percent reporting and many mail-in ballots yet to be counted, retired Marine lieutenant colonel Amy McGrath holds a 44-37 lead over state Rep. Charles Booker.

McGrath, another conservative Democrat, appeared to have the race in the bag only weeks ago. She received endorsements from establishment heavyweights like Hillary Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. These political blessings fell to the wayside, however, when the uprising after the police murder of George Floyd, combined with the outrage in Booker’s home town of Louisville over the police murder of Breonna Taylor, gave new momentum to his campaign.

“A lot of y’all have been yelling out Breonna’s name,” Booker said at a recent event. “She hung out with my cousin T.J., and when he was murdered, she was there. And her death, her killing, felt like losing him all over again. And we stood up in the streets because we had no other choice.”

Across the country, incumbent Senate Republicans are looking at increasingly dire poll numbers. Democratic challengers are leading in vital states like Michigan, Arizona and North Carolina. The reason for this can be summed up in two words: Donald Trump.

“President Trump’s erratic performance in office and his deteriorating standing in the polls is posing a grave threat to his party’s Senate majority,” reports The New York Times, “imperiling incumbents in crucial swing states and undermining Republican prospects in one of the few states they had hoped to gain a seat.”

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has run an essentially quiescent campaign that (mostly) saves him from himself while giving Trump room to burn his own house down. This strange strategy appears increasingly wise, as Biden now enjoys substantial polling leads nationally, in all the battleground states, and across a broad spectrum of voters. Many white voters, who represent the backbone of Trump’s support, are now fleeing him in droves.

Polls are polls are polls, and it’s 130 long days until the election … but when the money starts quacking about a looming GOP wipeout, it is worthy of note. On Tuesday, the market advisory group Signum Global informed its clients of its belief that the Democrats may well run the table in November. “Signum’s flip suggests that firms on Wall Street and in the financial industry could start preparing for the end of Republican control,” reports CNBC, “both in the White House and Senate.”

“If we had ham, we could have ham and eggs, if we had eggs.” This is what I tell anyone who asks me to predict the outcome this fall. This election has more wild cards than a pomegranate has pips, not the least of which is a deadly pandemic that has, as predicted, exploded into new virulence thanks in large part to the deliberate malfeasance of Trump and his co-conspirators.

Still, I’m wondering today how comfortable most elected Republicans are with their fateful decision to hitch their wagons to Trump’s dimming star. Many of them appear to be very much on the run, while progressive candidates are surging, again. Not one bit of this is a fluke.