The Progressive Playbook
There has been a lot of debate amongst progressives on how to move on from this election cycle. Do we leave the Democratic Party, go Green, or start a Progressive Party? Many still wonder why Bernie didn't run as an independent. Was he threatened? Did he play us? Is he a sell out? The answer to all three is a resounding no. Although I now believe (after three "debates" and the Podesta emails) that Bernie probably could have won on a third party ticket, at the time he dropped out I did not think so and clearly he didn't either. We know the Democratic Party is corrupt and does not want us in their ranks. They prove it time and time again, going out of their way to push us out of the party. But why is it that they do this? Because they fear us!
A lesson in Electoral Strategy – The Tea Party
Ideologically I do not agree with anything the Tea Party stands for. They have been an extremely destructive and corrosive influence on our politics. So why bring them up? Because they had a winning strategy and we should copy it. After all this is what Bernie tried to do.
The Tea Party was an astro turf (fake grassroots) group funded by billionaire backers such as the Kochs. Even with all their money and influence, they knew that establishing a third party would be too costly and not a sound strategy. So instead, they organized an insurgent party. An insurgent party is one that organizes independently of the main party, but then infiltrates them in the primary elections. By doing this, the Tea Party swept into power in a single election cycle. At the height of their power, they held 60 seats in the House of Representative in 2011. Let’s take a look at how they did this.
A Winning Strategy
The Tea Party targeted seats that they could win. Instead of running as independent candidates in the general election, they ran head on against the Republicans in the primaries. The GOP base is extremely reactionary and easily riled up as evidenced by the rise of Donald Trump. In many Congressional primaries, a very small percentage of the voting public goes to the polls (the data shown is for presidential years only in which turnout is higher). That means that a candidate only needs a very small number of the votes to win the primary. This could be as few as 10,000 people in a Congressional district to win the primary contest! If you win the primary as a democrat in a blue district, you are all but ensured that seat. If you win the primary as a Republican in a red district, you are all but ensured that seat.
The Case of Eric Cantor
Eric Cantor was the US House Majority Leader from the 7th Congressional District in Virginia. The House Majority Leader is the second most powerful position in the US House. In 2014 he faced a Tea Party challenger named David Brat in the primary. David Brat won the primary, and since the 7th District is solidly red, he went on to easily win the seat in Congress. David Brat defeated the second most powerful person in the US House of Representatives with only 36,110 votes!
I am going to now elaborate on this strategy using two examples of how this will and does work. I am using Connecticut because it is my home state and I am familiar with the voters here. CT is a solid Blue State where this strategy will be extremely effective.
Example 1 – Democrats dominate Connecticut’s 1st Congressional District. Congressman John Larson has held this seat in the US House since 1999, nearly 18 years. He has faced no serious primary challenges, but he does run against a Green party candidate in each general election. Below is a breakdown of the voters in CT’s 1st District.
As you can see, the District is solidly blue. Below are the elections results from the last general election in 2014.
Larson won easily, defeating the Republican Corey by 53,769 votes. The Green candidate Russell received 3,447 votes. Let’s take a look at a hypothetical 2014 election in which the Green candidate received half of the democratic votes.
Even if the Green received half of the Democratic votes, they still would not win the seat. The “liberal” votes would be split amongst the Democrat and Green, and a solidly blue seat would now go to a Republican. (It is safe to assume that minimal Republican votes will go Green. Unless the Greens ran a massive canvassing effort to register new voters or reach independents, they would not win.)
Now let’s say that the Greens placed their efforts in winning the primary election against John Larson. In the case of David Brat above, he only needed 29,000 votes to win the primary (Cantor had 28,898 votes). What if the Greens used their resources to get on the primary and run against the Democrats there? They would only need to organize a small percentage of the voters in the district to unseat Larson. If they won the primary, they would undoubtedly win the general election and a seat in Congress!
Example 2 – Josh Elliot is a young progressive from Connecticut. He is running for the Connecticut House of Representative in the 88th Congressional District. He ran in the primaries as a democrat and won the nomination with a mere 1053 votes. The 88th district is most of the Town of Hamden, with a population of 60,960. HE WON THE PRIMARY WITH JUST 1,053 VOTES!
How hard would it be to organize and get 1,000 people out to vote for an honest candidate?
But What about Third Party?
I personally like the Green Party’s platform. They by far have the best platform of any party in the country, yet in their 30 year history they have not won a single seat in Congress. If they modeled themselves as a progressive Tea party, they could hold 100 seats in Congress easily. Their refusal to do this makes me question their credibility and their desire for progressive change.
In the above examples you can see why the Green Party fails to pick up any seats in Congress cycle after cycle. Even in one of the most “liberal” Congressional Districts in the country (CT’s 1st), they fail to run even a modest challenge against the Democrats. This is straightforward electoral math, and this is why the Green party has not won a single seat in Congress in nearly 30 years of running candidates. Sadly until we change our electoral system third parties will not be viable. We will not be able to change the electoral system unless we gain some power in Congress. The best strategy to go forward is creating and insurgent party for the reasons detailed above. This is what Sanders tried to do with the presidency and continues to do with "Our Revolution". He can not come out and explicitly say this because he relies on the Demoocrats for committee appointments in the Senate, we however can.
American Reformers Strategy
1) You should immediately reach out to progressive groups and organizations in your community. Tell them about the American Reformers strategy, and get them to join forces with you.
2) Build a core group of like-minded activists to help form a local chapter of American Reformers within your district. This will be the base of the insurgency party in your area.
3) Find people within the local chapter who are willing and able to run for office. Target seats in your area that could be won using the insurgency method.
4) If you live in a Red District, research your states election laws and register your candidate to run on the GOP primaries against the establishment candidate. Use the organization that you have assembled to help canvass, phone bank, and get voters to the primary to vote for your candidate. If you live in a Blue District, research your states election laws and register your candidate to run on the Democratic primaries against the establishment candidate. Use the organization that you have assembled to help canvass, phone bank, and get voters to the primary to vote for your candidate. Where viable, run as a third party candidate. (Certain districts have only one party ever run for office. In these districts running as an independent would be viable strategy).
5) If we can win some primaries in these solidly blue and red districts, we will be able to win seats in Congress. Once there we will have the means to push progressive change.
The Tea Party made a concerted effort to target seats that always go to the GOP. They would wage primary challenges to congressmen who were not deemed “conservative” enough. In the primary, it takes a very small percentage of the population to win the seat. If you live in a solid blue or red state, once you win the primary you are almost certain to win the seat. There is no reason that we should not be using this strategy to gain power in liberal strongholds such as California, Oregon, and New England. At least 100 Congressional Seats could be won in this way.
Failures of the Tea Party
Where the Tea Party failed we will win. The Tea Party fizzled out due to their obstructionism and failure to govern. Once in power they showed their true intention of sabotaging the government in order to please their billionaire masters. If we followed this strategy and gained seats in Congress, we would have a legitimate outlet to speak about and push for progressive change. If we came to power and began passing legislation that helped the public at large, we would be rewarded with more seats in Congress and more power. This strategy will take a lot of sustained organization, patience, and hard work – BUT if we follow this game plan we can and we will win!
Are you in? Join American Reformers on Facebook and stay tuned for more to come!