What Big Wins For Progressives Say About The Future Of The Democratic Party

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Missouri Democratic congressional candidate Cori Bush gives her victory speech at her campaign office on August 4, 2020 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
Missouri Democratic congressional candidate Cori Bush gives her victory speech at her campaign office on August 4, 2020 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

While the Biden wing of the Democratic party bets on centrism, progressives keep scoring wins. We take a look at a party marching in two directions toward November.


Kimberly Atkins, senior opinion writer for the Boston Globe. (@KimberlyEAtkins)

Cori Bush, Democratic candidate for Missouri’s 1st Congressional District. (@CoriBush)

Paul Begala, Democratic political strategist. Professor of public policy at Georgetown University. Author of "You’re Fired: The Perfect Guide to Beating Donald Trump." (@PaulBegala)

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Democratic congresswoman representing Michigan's 13th Congressional District. (@RashidaTlaib)

Interview Highlights

On big progressive wins within the Democratic Party

Cori Bush: “People are so ready to see something different than what they've seen. Because what we've had has been OK. But so many things are happening in our communities that need to be addressed now. So I believe when people see someone like me: someone who is just a regular, everyday person, an essential worker, working class nurse, single parent, someone who's been unhoused, been uninsured, been a low wage worker, a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence. When people see that, it speaks to them. So it’s not just signaling to the community, ‘Hey, we need a regular everyday person in Congress.’ But it’s signaling to other people saying, ‘Hey, I can do this, too, I can run … because these are my values.’ And so I believe that more people are going to step up. And I believe we won’t be called progressive so much as we'll just be called Democrats.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib: "I think it's really important for folks to know it's not just our names that are on the ballot. When you think of Jamaal [Bowman], and think of Cori [Bush] and so many others that are running that don't take corporate PAC money. We're representative of folks that want Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, the $15 minimum wage increase, stopping structural racism in our country, ending mass incarceration, all of those things are on the ballot. Not just our name, our lived experiences and what we bring forward is what folks want. They want that connection to Congress not just to look differently, but also to feel and talk differently about the issues that matter most to them.”

“People are so ready to see something different than what they've seen."

Cori Bush

On the 2020 presidential election

Cori Bush: “I was a Bernie Sanders supporter. I've been a Bernie Sanders supporter since 2015, actually, the first time I heard him speak. But I understand right now that Senator Sanders is not the nominee. And so even though I don't agree with everything that Joe Biden is pushing and standing for, I do realize, though, that Donald Trump and his administration is hurting my community, hurting communities all across this country in ways that have set us back so far.

"We've been fighting and struggling and we have the pain. Especially Black and brown communities, and women, marginalized communities, LGBT communities, the disabled community. We have the pain of the regular struggle of everyday life that we had before Donald Trump took office. Now, it’s even worse. So I keep that on my forehead, like that is a sticker on my forehead that reminds me every day that we have to fight. So whatever we've got to do to get that man out. So if it's going to be Joe Biden, then fine. He is not going to be Donald Trump for us. And so ... I'm going to be galvanizing voters to get out and turnout.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib: ”I think I'm enthusiastic about getting rid of Donald Trump. My folks cannot afford, we can't risk another four years of Donald Trump. You know, I have the most polluted zip code in the state of Michigan. And one of the first things he did when this pandemic became very real in our country is he decided to pass an executive order to direct the EPA to stop enforcing the Clean Air [Act] and the Clean Water Act, which has nothing to do. I mean, if anything, during this pandemic, is when we need to fight back corporate pollution and environmental racism. And so for many of our folks, it's really important what's on the ballot. Like I said, it's not names, it's what it represents. And for us, having a president that isn't Donald Trump is very important to my residents right now.”

"Having a president that isn't Donald Trump is very important to my residents right now.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib

On Cori Bush's win and shifts within the Democratic party 

Kimberly Atkins: "I think that this victory and the ousting of a longtime, and I should say very popular member of Congress, a dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, really reflects one of the ways in which the Democratic Party is changing. You know, we've long had the sense that sometimes when lawmakers are in a place too long, voters really develop a 'throw the bums out' mentality. But what is striking about this win and other wins is that it's not necessarily a call to say that these other lawmakers were unpopular or weren't doing good work. But it's that the voters are expecting different things and they're willing to give someone else a shot at bringing in those policies.

"And it's a very similar energy that you saw in the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez when she defeated a longtime incumbent, Joe Crowley, who was a member of Democratic leadership. We saw that with Ayanna Pressley [defeating] Michael Capuano. You know, I covered that race and I couldn't get anybody to say a bad thing about Michael Capuano. But what voters were saying was they wanted something different and they thought that now Congresswoman Pressley represented that district better. So we are seeing the Democratic party shift leftward in a lot of these districts in a way that seems to be ahead of what Democratic leadership here in Congress, in Washington looks like.”

On what’s next for the Democrats

Kimberly Atkins: “Democrats are in a more difficult position, as they usually are, in that they have to bring together a much broader coalition of folks and energize them all to get them to the polls. I'm not taking away from the point the Paul made. That is exactly right. I think there is a civil war happening with Republicans, but there are things that they coalesce around, like conservative judges and other things that sort of ... makes it a little easier to galvanize them, even though the Republican Party is shrinking. They're easier to galvanize. Whereas the Democrats ... you have to appeal to a lot of different people. You have to make sure that you're listening to Black voters, listening to rural voters, listening to urban voters, listening to suburbanites. It's a lot tougher.

"But I think with a lot of these messages that get to these basic principles, I don't think it's just one simple reason. I think it's the basic principles of people who are not being able to live the life that they want to live. And real policy is being put forward that sound[s] good. And voters saying, 'Hey, let's give these things a try.' Whether it's on climate change, whether it's on social justice reform, whether it's on health care reform.

"At the beginning of this race, I really thought, how are you going to run against Obamacare? We just spent 10 years hearing Democrats say how important Obamacare is. Now you want to throw it all out? I feel differently now. I think voters are open to at least hearing the case for throwing it out and bringing in something new. If it's going to help people get health care, as tens of millions of them lost health care because they lost their jobs. I think that if you go to these fundamental principles of making people's lives better, that Paul talked about, that that can really be a deeply resonating message and actually make it easier for Joe Biden to make that case across the board to a lot of different kind of voters who are looking for different things.”

Interview highlights have been condensed for clarity. 

From The Reading List

Excerpt from "You're Fired" by Paul Begala

Excerpt from YOU’RE FIRED by Paul Begala. Copyright © 2020 by Paul Begala. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc, NY.

New York Times: "Cori Bush Defeats William Lacy Clay in a Show of Progressive Might" — "Cori Bush, a progressive activist and a leader of the swelling protest movement for racial justice, toppled Representative William Lacy Clay Jr. of Missouri in a Democratic primary on Tuesday, notching the latest in a stunning string of upsets against the party establishment."

Washington Post: "The Daily 202: Clay’s defeat reflects leftward lurch and generational change inside Democratic Party" — "Black Lives Matter activist Cori Bush lost by 20 points two years ago in her primary challenge against Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.). With higher turnout, despite the novel coronavirus, Bush beat Clay in a rematch on Tuesday by three points."

New York Times: "Progressive Victories Signal Staying Power for the Movement" — "When Bernie Sanders lost to Joseph R. Biden Jr., the left mourned what could have been, worried that it had faltered at a once-in-a-generation crossroads for the Democratic Party."

Al Jazeera: "US elections: Progressive Democrats Tlaib and Bush win primaries" — "Progressive Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives scored victories in primary elections in the United States on Tuesday."

Politico: "‘We have to get rid of Trump’: Pro-Bernie group launches effort to boost Biden" — "A left-wing organization that once described the former veep’s record as 'abysmal' is asking swing state progressives to bite the bullet and support the Democratic nominee."

Wall Street Journal: "House Progressive ‘Squad’ Member Tlaib Beats Michigan Challenger" — "The staying power of 'the squad,' the firebrand progressives who swept into the House two years ago, cleared its biggest hurdle, with Michigan Democrats renominating Rep. Rashida Tlaib for Congress."

Axios: "Why Biden's VP pick matters to Team Trump" — "After pausing their multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to review their strategy, the Trump campaign plans to launch new ads on Monday depicting Joe Biden as a puppet 'controlled by the radical left,' according to two senior campaign officials."

Politico: "Could These Evangelical Democrats Change the Party?" — "They’re horrified by Trump and hope to pull their fellow Christians away from the GOP, but also need to sway a very secular party."

This program aired on August 6, 2020.


Stefano Kotsonis Senior Producer, On Point
Stefano Kotsonis is a senior producer for WBUR's On Point.


Anthony Brooks Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.



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