Division on the Left

Ashley Rosenberg

After Nancy Pelosi’s House majority took a surprising beating in the November election, with the Democrats’ margin shrinking from 231 seats to 222, both the progressive and moderate wings of the party quickly looked to blame the other. In a time when a show of unity was needed after these substantial losses, Representatives not only publicly attacked each other’s ideologies but also specific Representatives’ campaigns, and a major party figure in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even publicly threatened to quit, claiming that the Democratic party has “been extremely hostile to anything that even smells progressive.” 

The losses in the election only amplified the public disagreement within the party that has been long brewing, as the progressives and moderates diverge ever more sharply on topics such as defunding the police and healthcare. The moderate wing of the party blames the divisive slogans, such as “Defund the Police” and “Medicare for All,” that progressives loved so much in this election cycle for the losses, while the progressive wing refuted this by touting the high voter turnout in places with large black populations like Detroit, Milwaukee and Atlanta.

The losses in the House came mostly in the form of moderate Democrats, but they seemingly lost because of attacks on the more progressive policies of their counterparts. In the Florida 26th and 27th districts, the Democrats lost two seats seen as safe because of the Republican challengers’ ability to exploit fears of socialism among Latino voters. In South Carolina’s 1st District, Joe Cunningham lost in part due to ads from his challenger Nancy Mace that called to “defend not defund the police.”  

By contrast, it was the progressive Democrats who were successful in flipping and retaining seats. Whether these seats were easier to retain due to higher minority populations and a more progressive electorate in these districts or because progressive policies are popular is debated. These successes by progressives but losses by moderates, all seemingly on the back of progressive policies, creates an interesting dynamic of Democrats in the House. This makeup could go one of two ways, where the Democratic party unites and focuses on legislation in areas they largely agree on, such as funding for education, or continues to publicly fight and pit their respective legislation against each other. 

The Democratic party has reached a fracturing point, just like the Republican party did with the 2016 election of Donald Trump. Unlike the Republicans though, the Democrats have been unwilling and unable to unite around a party agenda. Whether this is a matter of weak leadership from Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer or a fracture in ideologies that is too great to repair remains to be seen. But with the White House’s party losing on average 27 seats in the House during every midterm election since World War II, this Democratic majority can’t afford to squander possibly their only opportunity to govern with the Biden administration due to party infighting. 

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