Doug Schoen: Democratic divide between progressives and moderates is good news for Trump

Strong showings by several left-leaning underdog Democratic candidates in Tuesday’s primaries reveal the ascendancy of the progressive movement within the party and pose risks to Democratic chances to win general election races in November.

In a year shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide protests against police brutality, a number of progressive Democrats – many backed by the “Squad” of freshmen House members led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York (who handedly won her own primary) – pulled out stunning victories against their well-funded establishment opponents.

This could put greater pressure on mainstream Democrats to move leftward and embrace calls to defund the police, allow unfettered immigration, and massively increase taxes – potentially including a wealth tax.


Such a progressive tilt would give President Trump a clear opening to make the case that Democrats have moved too far left and are now outside of mainstream American thinking, and would add fuel to Trump’s claims that the Democrats are “far-left radicals.”

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Further, this progressive surge presents a challenge to the Democratic Party, which needs to mobilize its base while finding a way to unite progressives and moderates to deliver a message that unites – rather than further polarizes – a divided country.

One of the most stunning upsets in Tuesday’s Democratic primaries was in New York’s 16th Congressional District by Jamaal Bowman. He is currently well ahead of House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel, with just absentee ballots left to be counted.

Bowman’s likely victory over Engel is reminiscent of Ocasio-Cortez’s 2018 primary upset over Rep. Joseph Crowley, who at the time was the chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

Ultimately, Bowman’s expected victory is emblematic of the progressive shift occurring within the Democratic Party, which is clearly trending away from center-left policies and establishment candidates and towards progressive candidates.

The only way that the Democratic Party can be successful in November is if it is able to unite progressives and moderates around an inclusive agenda that can bring the country together.

Bowman is a political newcomer who campaigned on a racial and social justice platform and aligns with progressives on issues such as “Medicare-for-all.” Engel is a 16-term congressman and one of the most powerful members of the House, who has played an influential role in shaping U.S. foreign policy.

While Engel was viewed as a stalwart advocate for Israel and has used his position in the House to solidify U.S. support for Israel, Bowman has voiced opposition to Israel’s conduct in the West Bank and has been criticized by many on the other side of the aisle as being anti-Israel.

Bowman also received endorsements and advocacy from high-profile Democratic socialists, including Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. These proved to be far more consequential than the endorsements of Engel by prominent establishment Democrats, including former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

Moreover, Bowman is just one of several left-leaning, progressive Democrats who performed far better than expected against well-funded establishment opponents.

Mondaire Jones, a progressive political newcomer, won the open seat to replace retiring House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey in New York’s 17th Congressional District.

In New York’s 12th Congressional District, the race between House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney and progressive challenger Suraj Patel is still too close to call.

Moreover, in Kentucky’s Democratic primary for the Senate, the under-funded progressive insurgent candidate, Charles Booker is close to potentially defeating the Democratic establishment-backed candidate Amy McGrath, who has been endorsed by prominent Democrats including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.


Ultimately, the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent incidences of police brutality against black people by white police officers have laid bare the systemic racial inequalities that exist in our economic, health care, policing, and criminal justice systems. This has prompted long overdue calls for systemic change.

It is clear that this desire for change has in many ways fueled the ascendancy of the Democratic Party’s progressive movement – manifested in Tuesday’s primaries – as well as the clear movement away from establishment policies and career politicians.

To be sure, in November the Democratic Party only stands to benefit from a base that is excited, motivated and mobilized.


However, the party is now faced with the challenge of maintaining the excitement and involvement of its base while also resisting the urge to move too far left in response to Tuesday’s primary results.

The only way that the Democratic Party can be successful in November is if it is able to unite progressives and moderates around an inclusive agenda that can bring the country together.


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