Stop Fearing Primary Challenges (and Stop Fearing Incumbents)

In Texas in 1994, Sheila Jackson Lee won office after winning the Democratic primary against incumbent Congressman Craig Washington.

In Texas again, this time in 2002 in a race for the state's House of Representatives, Joaquin Castro defeated incumbent Arthur Reyna in the Democratic primary. Castro was going to run against Democrat Lloyd Doggett for Congress, but a retirement opened up a seat in a neighboring district.

And, hey, look, in Texas in 2012, a young unknown named Beto O'Rourke defeated incumbent Congressman Silvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary before winning office.

In California in 2016, Ro Khanna won office after defeating his opponent in the Democratic primary, Congressman Mike Honda.

This is obviously a partial list.

When newly-elected Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that she would back primary opponents to Democratic incumbents in Congress, it wasn't the least bit surprising. Ocasio-Cortez won precisely because she did that. Why wouldn't she want to convert that upset into more elections for the Justice Democrats' movement? I mean, it was fucking obvious from the start that Ocasio-Cortez wasn't gonna be a reticent and quiet new legislator. She wasn't elected to not kick some asses.

I'm all for getting rid of some dusty motherfuckers in Congress. I'm all for greater representation of women and non-whites in the House of, you know, Representatives and in the Senate. And Republicans sure as shit ain't gonna help with that. I'm not sure how anyone can think that having Ayanna Pressley in the House next year is not a good thing. Sorry to Michael Capuano, thanks for your service, and all that. But this is how politics ought to work. It's how you hold our elected Democrats accountable.

The flip side of this is for progressives who support primary opponents against more moderate incumbents. If those moderates win the Democratic primary, then the supporters of the primary opponent need to suck it the fuck up and vote for that moderate Democrat. None of this "Boo-hoo, i can't vote for them; they're corporate/neoliberal/Wall Street" (or whatever fuckin' buzz-insult you wanna toss) bullshit. It's too important now in our Trump-fucked time to hold the seat. That's part of the deal: primary away, but accept the outcome, even if you lose. Or fuck off with your primary challenge. You don't care about strengthening the party, just your part of it. (By the way, the same goes for supporters of the incumbent if the primary challenger wins. Pull the D, people.)

And, by the way, if you're getting all upset about Ocasio-Cortez, that's because you're buying the right-wing spin that she's some kind of out-of-control, raging socialist fiend. That's a lie. As a long-term Democratic congressional aide described it, "Ocasio-Cortez had been respectful to members and constructive in internal party debates. Out of the three full meetings of the Democratic caucus that have taken place this week, Ocasio-Cortez has spoken up in just one of them, to advocate for the new climate committee." That last part is not a bad thing, either.

And, while I'm at it, I have no problem with the debate over whether or not Nancy Pelosi should be speaker. I support her because there is no one else with her abilities or her tenacity. She's a fuck of a lot more progressive than most Democrats. And she goddamn well earned it with this election. Besides, what we should really be talking about is replacing Steny Hoyer for Majority Leader. Get someone new in that position to tee them up for a future speakership.

It's all about the future. There is a chance we might have one.