Making the same mistake

by Steven Roberts

The left wing of the Democratic Party is fully capable of self-delusion and self-destruction. In 2000, Green Party votes for Ralph Nader gave Florida and New Hampshire to George Bush and cost Al Gore the election. In 2016, disaffected liberals who backed third parties in three key states — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — helped defeat Hillary Clinton and make Donald Trump president.

Next year, they could again indulge their petulant passion for purity and give Trump a second term. Joe Biden’s physical frailty, plus the lingering fallout from inflation, are already damaging his popularity. Now, as the election year looms, two incendiary issues are threatening to splinter his own party.

“Progressives were already angry” with Biden’s support for Israel’s war in Gaza, reports Punchbowl News. “Now he’s considering cutting an immigration deal that they hate even more. House and Senate Democrats are warning the White House that Biden will suffer serious consequences if he caves to GOP demands on immigration policy and border security in order to unlock billions of dollars in new Ukraine aid. That includes alienating the very voters who helped him win office in 2020.”

It’s one thing for liberals to criticize Biden’s policies and try to pull him leftward. It’s quite another to abandon him at the polls. Electing Trump would trash the very values they profess to support and harm the very people they proclaim to protect. As Harry Sisson, a 21-year-old TikTok influencer, bluntly tells fellow Democrats: “You may not love Joe, but let’s not make the same mistake twice.”

“Do me a favor,” he adds to ill-tempered liberals, “When Donald Trump wins because all these people decided to sit out, don’t complain. When more and more of women’s reproductive freedoms are taken away because Donald Trump is insanely pro-life, don’t complain. When more and more gun regulations are rolled back and everybody everywhere has an AR-15 in hand, don’t complain.”

But for now, many of those dissidents are not listening. “Muslim American leaders from six battleground states … vowed to mobilize their communities against President Joe Biden’s reelection over his support of Israel’s war in Gaza,” Reuters reports.

“That could be decisive in a state like Michigan where Biden won by 2.8 percentage points and Arab Americans account for 5% of the vote,” Reuters adds. In the article, Tarek Amin, a Muslim activist from Wisconsin, jeered, “We will change the vote, we will swing it.”

Swing how? To whom? To Trump, who constantly smears Muslims as “radical terrorists”? To the same president who instituted a travel ban on Muslims? Who promised at a campaign rally last summer, “When I return to office, the travel ban is coming back even bigger than before and much stronger than before.”

Similar tensions are rippling through Democratic ranks on the issue of border policy. Republicans sense their vulnerability, and in exchange for any new aid to Ukraine, they are demanding legislative changes that would make it much harder for undocumented immigrants to claim legal refuge here or remain in the country as their cases are processed.

Pragmatic Democrats understand that the current influx of migrants is unsustainable and are willing to negotiate some alterations in policy. “We cannot ignore the reality of the numbers and where they’re coming from,” says Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat. “And we have to find a way, as painful as it may be, to bring some order.”

These pragmatists also understand that the Latino vote, which has been drifting toward the GOP, is not uniform. “Huge proportions of the Hispanic population, especially working-class Hispanics, are actually pretty disturbed by illegal immigration,” demographer Ruy Teixeira tells Reuters.

They should be even more disturbed by Trump, who insists that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of our country. And yet many prominent Latino leaders are blaming the Biden White House for even negotiating with Republicans and poisoning the president’s reputation with Latino voters who can be a critical force in swing states like Arizona and Nevada.

“It’s always been challenging for us to pay attention to our base,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, explained to Punchbowl. “The base of the Democratic Party – young people, folks of color, immigrants – that was the coalition that allowed Joe Biden to get elected. … This coalition is splitting apart.”

Sure, as the election approaches and fear of Trump grows more tangible, many dissidents will return to the fold. But don’t underestimate the ability of liberals to act against their own self-interest. They’ve done it before, and can do it again.

Steven Roberts teaches politics and journalism at George Washington University. Email: stevecokie@gmail.com.