What is the Democratic Party so afraid of?
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s new policy banning its political vendors from working with candidates who challenge sitting Democrats is rightly causing outrage and raising questions about its true intent.
The DCCC, the party’s campaign arm for House races, recently announced it “will not conduct business with, nor recommend to any of its targeted campaigns,” any political advertising, polling, or strategy firm that works with an opponent of any sitting member of Congress. Such a rule is a blunt warning to the country’s top political consulting talent to avoid working with primary challengers to incumbents. The DCCC might as well call it the Incumbent Protection Act.
The group claims the move is aimed at protecting the new Democratic majority in Congress. But it’s an antidemocratic and anticompetitive policy. Voters sent a loud message in the midterms last fall: They’re hungry for fresh and diverse faces, like Representative Ayanna Pressley, who defeated an incumbent Democrat. It’s as if the party feels emergency action is needed to stop the next Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, another challenger who beat an incumbent.
Indeed, the DCCC’s measure seems to be aimed at the New York freshman Democrat, who took to Twitter to criticize it, and then some. “My recommendation, if you’re a small-dollar donor: pause your donations to DCCC & give directly to swing candidates instead,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, before launching a thread of said candidates and their websites. Pressley also denounced the rule for its potential specifically to hurt minority candidates and vendors. “The fact that I challenged an incumbent meant a lot of folks were told not to come anywhere near my campaign,” she tweeted. “Democrats should not be in the practice of creating litmus tests or roadblocks that have a chilling effect on new candidates or those who would invest their sweat equity in support.”
It already seems to be happening. Other progressive Democrats in the House joined in the criticism, while other veteran members favored it. Meanwhile, the DCCC is holding firm. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told The Washington Post on Tuesday that her focus “is strictly on winning the election and to putting our resources where it will win the election for the American people.” Representative Cheri Bustos, the DCCC’s chair, has insisted the policy is not a “blacklist” and that she is not changing it.
The new DCCC vendor policy is a troubling sign of old-school politics — just what turns off voters. And that’s something the Democratic Party should fear a lot more than a few primary challenges.