By Karik Krishnaiyer, republished from The Florida Squeeze
As we approach another party primary which has been divisive, the calls for unity and coming together are as loud and nauseating as ever. As a longtime active Democrat in Florida, I’ve sacrificed principle and my values before to back deeply-flawed candidates who were nominated. In retrospect, doing this did nothing but further solidify a long-standing pattern of behavior from the party establishment.
This behavior means that progressives get ridiculed and stomped on in party primaries, but once the general election rolls around values-based left-leaning voters are expected to compromise and support the candidates with a D next to their names. When the Democrat inevitably loses the General Election as 21 of the last 22 statewide candidates not named Bill Nelson have, progressives are blamed for depressing turnout or not enthusiastically backing the nominee. Progressives and issues-oriented-voters are often blamed for the discord within the party, reflecting the attitude that the Democratic Party is like a sports club that you uncritically cheer for irrespective of circumstances.
Meanwhile, Florida’s establishment Democrats go back into peaceful cohabitation with the ruling Republicans who have pillaged this state in the last two decades. Many work as lobbyists in a GOP-dominated legislature and strike up public friendships with Republican elected officials. For many of these establishment Democrats who are feeding at the trough in the political system, they’d choose social and personal association with Republicans over progressives if given the choice. Many simply like to rub elbows with people they perceive are in power and get free things from those lobbying governmental bodies though ironically they castigate progressives like Bernie Sanders for wanting to give away “free” things to the general citizenry of this nation.
We’ve seen this election scenario play out before and it did not end well at all for Democrats or the state.
Since 2002, Florida’s progressives have been asked repeatedly to park values at the door to support flawed party nominees. It began when Bill McBride, anointed by insiders as the best hope to beat Jeb Bush, won 62 counties in the primary edging Janet Reno, the former US Attorney General who had impeccable progressive credentials. Reno ran up enough of a margin in the three southeast Florida counties, Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach that she barely lost the primary. She also won overwhelmingly among African-Americans statewide including in Duval County.
Coming off the 2000 recount and a stolen Presidency for George W. Bush that happened right in front of our eyes, energy on the left was at a high in Florida. Yet, the establishment instead of empowering this energy to take on Bush’s brother in the Governor’s race, opted for a safe play – a conventional moderate who could win statewide and, as party strategists obsessed about, make the counties between the Apalachicola and Suwannee rivers a sea of blue.
McBride did well along the “I-10 corridor,” but was slaughtered up and down I-4 and I-75. He lost by the largest margin of any Democratic nominee for governor in the state’s history.
Reno, who generated enthusiasm among the most activists was rejected for the traditional institutional Democrat, the late Bill McBride. What ensued was a Republican landslide that we noted above was the biggest at the Gubernatorial level in the state’s history.
Despite anger about 2000, turnout dipped in 2002 thanks to nominating the wrong candidate. It’s an important lesson for 2018 where an assumption is being made by many that nominating the “safest” candidates will ensure an anti-Trump wave. This is the public face, but perhaps the private reason is what’s discussed above. Party insiders have contempt for progressives and those who put issues and personal values over party or cheerleading against the Republicans.
2002 is the most analogous example to 2018 we have, but it wasn’t the only instance of the Democrats forcing a flawed nominee on progressives and expecting values-oriented voters who are motivated by issues and ideology to park their ideals to support a candidate wearing the uniform of the blue team.
In 2004, Betty Castor occupied the middle ground against Mel Martinez who, despite a somewhat moderate record as Orange County Chairman, decided to run to the hard right. Castor lost to a Republican nominee who ran the most conservative campaign (for a Republican) in the state’s history. Martinez’s extremism motivated an increased turnout on the right and the Democrats were caught flat-footed. The turnout gap allowed the GOP to win a record 84 seats in the 120-seat State House.
In 2010, moderate Alex Sink, the wife of McBride, questioned President Obama’s Health Care plan, positioned herself to the right of GOP Governor Charlie Crist on insurance and banking and tried to appeal to “swing voters” against a pathetically weak GOP nominee in Rick Scott. Sink, like McBride and Castor, was defeated thanks in large measure to a depressed turnout in southeastern Florida. The primary was cleared to ensure Sink got a shot at the Republicans, who nominated their perceived weakest candidate, Rick Scott. We all know how that ended.
After the 2010 election, progressives in southeast Florida were scrutinized for not turning out in higher numbers to support a nominee and party that scarcely showed any concern for them and had worked diligently to discredit Kendrick Meek, the progressive African-American US Senate nominee who hailed from the region.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s loss in Florida by over 100,000 votes was conveniently blamed on Bernie Sanders-supporting progressives, Jill Stein voters and the Russians. Yet exit polling data and post election surveys showed fewer Sanders voters had defected to the Republicans than Clinton voters in 2008 who voted for John McCain instead of President Obama. Jill Stein also ran behind Governor Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee who logic tells us probably took more votes from the GOP than the Democrats.
2016 US Senate nominee, the moderate Patrick Murphy was similarly flawed, but was hoisted on us with the assurance he could win. He didn’t come close to being competitive let alone a successful US Senate candidate.
On the national level we’ve seen time and again the contempt with which progressives are treated by the party establishment. Entities like the Democratic Governors Association and its outside allies meddle in primaries almost always backing the candidate with the greatest corporate connections.
In the midst of all of this, progressives are told it doesn’t matter who the Democrats nominate, they’ll be better than the Republican nominee. This might in theory be true but the party will never learn it needs to stand for something and produce candidates that reflect the values of the vast majority of Democratic voters – not the values of insiders who make a living off the best-funded candidates or off cohabitation with the Republicans.
This election cycle, we’ll be providing a clear idea in November which Democrats deserve the support of progressives and which don’t. For me personally, the time has come to start skipping some races or voting for third party/independent candidates where a viable progressive one is present. I’ve personally compromised far too often with the Democratic establishment through the last dozen plus years.
We are at the point where the only way the Democrats will learn is by rewarding solid nominees with vocal support while withholding votes from those who are deeply flawed or Republican lite. The party establishment is going to blame progressives in any event and given the party’s track record even when progressives pile support behind a flawed candidate, they’ll lose irrespective of what progressives say or do. That’s a fact in Florida when looking at the recent past.