While the world was terrified of the potential for escalation of the Syrian conflict due to Trump’s strike, something interesting was happening in Kansas. A special election was being held to fill Mike Pompeo’s seat after his nomination to head the CIA. The expectation of the mainstream press was that the Republican candidate would steamroll the Democratic candidate and that would be that.
While the Republican candidate Ron Estes won the seat, it was a hell of a lot closer than they ever expected. The challenger, Bernie Sanders follower James Thompson, came short of victory by only seven points in a district deep in the heart of Kansas that Donald Trump won by over 20 points.
How could it be that a Democrat could come so close in a state like Kansas, a GOP stronghold? It has everything to do with the kind of platform Thompson ran on and the campaign he ran. He embraced the kind of progressive populism that Sanders championed, though didn’t completely sign on with single payer healthcare. He also embraced the campaign funding model of small donations only, not working with big interest groups.
Shockingly, when you actually do politics you have a chance of success no matter where you are.
What did the DNC leadership do when they realized that they might have a successful contender on their hands? Absolutely nothing. Well, nothing until the last few days and that was limited to robocalls.
Of course, the standard criticism might be “it was supposed to be a non-starter, why compete in a place you can’t compete in?” That’s the problem; a standard Dem, aka a neoliberal centrist, couldn’t compete in a state like Kansas. No one actually likes neoliberalism. However, an economic populist along the same vein as Sanders actually can compete because they aren’t complicit in the neoliberal scalping of their communities through globalization and deregulation, so they can more accurately claim to understand the hardships they are going through.
You know who else recognizes the potential power of left wing populism? The Republicans. They were the first to catch on to Thompson’s surge and pulled all the stops to help Estes, from fundraising and robocalling all the way to bringing out Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan to try and save their candidate.
Even CPAC sees the danger of Sanders’ legacy, dedicating their conference post election to getting millennials away from democratic socialism. They aren’t afraid of Clintonist liberals; it’s now readily evident that they aren’t a threat after Clinton lost an election to a Captain Planet villain made manifest.
Dems need to move forward with a progressive platform, or risk the destruction of their party.