CommunityThe Bullpen

The One Flaw in the Brilliant Plan

Last night, speaking for the entire institutional Left, Markos Moulitsas made a bold prediction about fellow denizen of The Left, Dennis Kucinich. Asked if Democrats should offer a primary challenge to the Ohio Democrat if he votes against the final health care bill, Markos said “I don’t think he gets a pass” and that his actions of making common cause with Republicans on the bill are a perfect excuse and rationale for a primary challenge. This set other members of The Left buzzing about this titanic struggle on The Left for the soul of the Democratic Party. What will happen? Who will win out? The Left or The Left?

There’s a tiny problem with all of this.

That would be the fact that Dennis Kucinich isn’t going to get a primary challenge this year.

Wanna know how I know?

Well, here’s the ballot, for one thing.

The Ohio primary takes place on May 4, and the filing deadline for candidates was February 18. Kucinich has no Democratic challenger, with three Republicans (including a guy named W. Benjamin Franklin!) vying to face him in November.

A salutary effect of the health care debate dragging out as long as it has – at least, salutary for incumbents – is that it has breezed past many filing deadlines for primaries in their states. Yesterday, Pennsylvania and Oregon joined eleven other states in reaching their deadlines; California and Nevada’s are at the end of this week, and by the end of March, 23 states will see the deadline pass.

In addition, as Markos well knows (and I don’t blame him for being baited into an answer about a primary challenge which is physically impossible; Lawrence O’Donnell needs a researcher) it’s pretty difficult putting together a primary challenge. I strongly support primaries for bad Democrats (I’m not saying Dennis Kucinich is one of them), but they take years of cultivation, knowing that they will have little or no institutional support, at least from national Democrats. In fact, they often take multiple cycles. Incumbents have money and usually a fair amount of local supporters. This enormous power on the part of “The Left” doesn’t really exist, at the level of being able to take out dozens of incumbents at a time. One or two at a time, maybe.

That’s especially true when labor, the one actor who can credibly raise the resources needed for a primary challenge, says “we’re going to take them out,” referring to members of Congress voting against the bill, when within two weeks, that will be physically impossible in 23 states. A smarter “Left” would already have had the challengers pre-positioned, would already have amplified the pressure, would already have made their intentions known at the time when it could actually be helpful.

At this point, well over half the incumbent Democrats in Congress know their circumstances for a primary with precision. And most of them will by default be the Democratic nominee in their respective districts. That doesn’t mean there’s no electoral leverage over them whatsoever, but idle threats about primaries just look silly.

“The Left” needs to get a bit smarter about this.

Previous post

New Health Care Whip Count: 192 Yes, 194 No

Next post

What's the Holdup on the Health Care Bill? CBO, Senate Rules

David Dayen

David Dayen