What does progressives’ primary success mean for Texas Democrats?

Some Democrats think progressives can’t succeed, and call them a “loud minority.” Others say progressive values energize voters.

By Kristen CabreraMarch 10, 2022 2:20 pm,

Texas progressives won, or made runoffs in three Democratic primary contests. That’s got some more traditional Democrats talking. At least one longtime operative calls progressives a “loud minority” in the party.

Previously we dug into how the March 1 primary contests helped elevate Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw as be “the leader of the new right in Texas,” according to a conservative columnist for the Fort Worth Star Telegram. On the Democratic side, a recent headline in The Nation read, “Democratic Insiders Keep Bashing Progressives, but Progressives Keep Winning Key Elections.”

John Nichols, national affairs correspondent for The Nation, spoke with Texas Standard about how longtime Democratic operatives are reacting to progressive success in congressional primaries in Texas.  Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Let’s talk about the idea that progressives are being called a loud minority. Where exactly is this coming from?

John Nichols: Well, that comes from some of the key players in the Democratic Party establishment. And this notion that progressives are a loud minority is pushed by Democratic consultants like James Carville. He is the source of that quote. But it’s also pushed by a lot of the media, which has developed a fantasy that that somehow progressives live in a couple of neighborhoods in New York City and Washington, D.C., and in other ways that the movement doesn’t really exist. It’s quite the opposite as the Texas primary showed.

In fact, you narrowed in on three Democratic primaries in Texas. Give us a few more details about those three races and why you believe they signaled something for the left going forward.

Three congressional primaries in Texas – all for open seats – that got a lot of attention at the national level. You saw progressives and more moderate forces in the party show up. And those were in the Austin-San Antonio area – that’s the race that Greg Casar, a former Austin City Council member ran in. Then you had one in the Dallas area where Jasmine Crockett was running. And then down closer to the border, you had Jessica Cisneros running.

In those three seats, those people I mentioned all ran as extremely progressive candidates. They accepted endorsements from very progressive groups. They really distinguished themselves as folks who were on the left of the party. And in each case they ran very, very well. Greg Casar won his primary. Jessica Cisneros forced the incumbent congressman, Henry Cuellar, into a runoff, and Jasmine Crockett is also in a runoff, although she came within a whisker of winning a majority and looks to be very strongly positioned for the runoff.

What does that add up to? Does it mean that progressives need to be taken more seriously within the Democratic Party? What’s your what’s your take?

My take would be that the issues progressives are running on need to be taken more seriously, and maybe we need to be a little careful about the labels. And what’s interesting to me is that, in the case of Greg Casar, as well as Jessica Cisneros, they ran on single payer Medicare for all health care. Which, in the media is often identified as this left wing progressive stance. But the fact is, when you look at the polling, it’s very popular across the line. In fact, when you describe it to Republicans, there’s a lot of them who like it.

And similarly with talking about the Texas grid and talking about how that relates to some climate issues, you find that there’s an awful lot of people that are concerned. And so I guess one of the things that I would remind folks of is that both on the left and the right, there are issues that resonate beyond the labels. And I think what Texas showed is that some of the issues that progressives are running on resonate in a state that that isn’t necessarily thought of as a bastion of left wing politics. Although admittedly, the districts we’re talking about doing relatively Democratic.

Do you think that we’re looking at the end of an era? Perhaps.

That’s an exceptionally good question. Clearly, we’ve seen the end of an era to an extent, because we now have a Democratic president in Joe Biden, who’s certainly no left winger. Joe Biden pretty much defines the center of gravity in the Democratic Party. And yet he has governed with a lot of respect for the left. I think that’s really the lesson: that since Bernie Sanders’ campaign in 2016, you’ve seen adoption of a lot of progressive policies and frankly, the advancement of a lot of progressive thinkers within the party. There’s still a wrestling match, though, and there are a lot of what would be described for lack of a better term is establishment Democrats that don’t like that change. It’s a push and a poll. But clearly, that sort of new Democrat moment has faded. And again, Texas gives you a very good set of examples to back that case up from its primary results.

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