Feb 18, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Squad politics backfire

Ayanna Pressley, AOC, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar

Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

The hard-left politics of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and the so-called "Squad," once a dominant theme for vast numbers of elected Democrats, is backfiring big-time on the party in power, top Democrats tell us.

Why it matters: The push to defund the police, rename schools and tear down statues has created a significant obstacle to Democrats keeping control of the House, the Senate and the party’s overall image.

"It's what we've been screaming about for a year," said Matt Bennett, c0-founder of center-left Third Way, which launched Shield PAC to defend moderate Democrats.

  • "It's a huge problem."

The latest sign of the backlash was the landslide (70%+) recall this week of three San Francisco school board members, who were criticized for prioritizing issues like the renaming of 44 public schools — including ones honoring George Washington and Abraham Lincoln — over a return to in-person classes.

  • Other factors like an abrupt admissions change to a prestigious high school were at play (all politics is local).
  • But the most liberal city in the most liberal state decided that liberal activists had gone too far.

It's part of a barrage of evidence that the progressive activism of the Squad pushed the party's image way left of where most voters are — even most Democratic voters.

  • Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, told Axios: "What I'm hearing at home — and what I'm focused on — are commonsense, bipartisan solutions — from tackling grocery and gas prices, to cutting taxes and fixing our infrastructure, to investing in law enforcement and fighting crime."
  • Aides to several Squad members declined immediate comment.

This is a seismic shift from just a year ago. The signs have built steadily throughout President Biden's 13 months in office that Squad politics are problematic when you control everything:

  • 30 House Democrats — the most in decades — have announced they'll retire instead of running in November's midterms. They see little hope of keeping the majority in this environment.
  • Democrats lose poll after poll of generic House matchups, which ask voters if they'd prefer an R or a D if the election were held today.

Republicans' decisive sweep of statewide offices in Virginia was powered in part by Democrats' failure to appreciate parents' skepticism about public schools' mask mandates, policies on transgender rights and approach to teaching about race.

  • Also in November, voters in liberal Minneapolis rejected a proposal designed to radically constrain police.

Zoom out: House Democrats' own polling and focus groups show many swing voters think the party is too "preachy," "judgmental" and "focused on culture wars," according to documents obtained by Politico.

  • An Axios-Ipsos Latino Poll found crime and gun violence are leading worries for Hispanics, whose once-reliable support for Democrats has cooled in part because of "fears of Democrats embracing socialist policies," The New York Times reported.
  • Already in midterm races, Democrats in swing districts are scrambling to distance themselves from far-left movements to "defund the police" and "abolish ICE," The Washington Post found.

Former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota says her fellow Democrats are hurting themselves by not speaking out more forcefully against liberal positions that alienate rural America.

  • Heitkamp — who heads the One Country Project, dedicated to energizing rural voters — told AP: "Now, the brand is so toxic that people who are Democrats, the ones left, aren't fighting for the party."
Go deeper