Jennifer Steinhauer at NYT:
On Tuesday, Jessica Cisneros in Texas, the highest profile primary challenger of the Justice Democrats, a very progressive group, lost to the moderate Democratic incumbent, Henry Cuellar. Left-wing-activist-backed Senate candidates in Texas and North Carolina were crushed by more moderate candidates.
The first dress rehearsal for this battle was the 2018 midterm elections, when the Justice Democrats put its muscle behind nearly 80 Sanders-like insurgent candidates to target House seats, many of them held by less liberal Democratic incumbents. That year, scores of Democrats ranging from left of center (like Katie Porter of California) to fairly conservative (Anthony Brindisi of New York) took advantage of waning support for Mr. Trump in America’s suburbs to make a run for House seats held by Republican incumbents.
The results were pretty unequivocal. Justice Democrats lost virtually every primary race in 2018 when they fielded a homegrown liberal candidate, but they won one very important race: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez upset Representative Joe Crowley in a New York seat he had held for years.
At the same time, scores of middle-of-the-road Democrats were able to get through crowded primaries and win over Republican and independent voters in the general election, giving their party a net gain of 40 seats and flipping the House.
The theory of the case for progressive candidates is that they galvanized the Democratic base, and if people would just give them a chance, they will force through policies that most of the country supports. But the data — and many of the experiences of the 116th Congress — tell a more nuanced story.
A 2019 Gallup poll found that from 1994 to 2018, the percentage of all Democrats who call themselves liberal had more than doubled, to 51 percent from 25 percent. But Gallup also found that between 1993 and 2016, the percentage of Americans identifying as conservative rested between 36 percent and 40 percent, holding at 35 percent in 2018.
Looked at another way, in this Congress, the size of the Progressive Caucus, representing the House’s most liberal members, reached historic size — just under 100 of the chamber’s 235 Democrats — but the New Democrat Coalition, a more moderate group, also grew to historic levels, to roughly 100 members.