Democrats keep worrying about what the GOP wants. They need to stop immediately.

Democratic firebrands like Ocasio-Cortez and Abrams are not a threat to the Democratic Party. They are its only hope.
Image: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stands next to her voting booth holding her filled ballot.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., votes early at a polling station in The Bronx on Oct. 25.Andrew Kelly / Reuters

After Ohio delivered a .01 percent increase in votes for President Donald Trump compared to the 2016 election, former Gov. John Kasich said that Democrats would have won “if they’d have been more clear in rejecting the hard left.”

We know that progressive policies are far more popular with the general electorate than conservative ones.

"The Democrats have to make it clear to the far-left that they almost cost him this election," Kasich told CNN in the hours after the election results were announced.

This sentiment was echoed in a strategy call for high-ranking Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Wednesday, as Politico reported: “The message, Pelosi and others agreed, was clear: If they didn't rein in the far left, their fragile majority would be doomed in the next election.”

Progressives pulled off one of the largest electoral victories in recent American history. So why are they taking cues from the losing party about winning?

It didn’t take long for rising stars on the Democratic left to clap back. "Progressive policies do not hurt candidates," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York tweeted. And as she pointed out in a recent interview with The New York Times, “Every single candidate that co-sponsored Medicare for All in a swing district kept their seat.”

A memo drafted by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and the progressive wing of the party echoed the same sentiment:

“There is no denying Republicans levied salient rhetorical attacks against Democrats, but these will continue to happen as they do every cycle. We cannot let Republican narratives drive our party away from Democrats’ core base of support: young people, Black, brown, working class, and social movements who are the present and future of the party.”

Those who endorsed the most progressive policies on the climate crisis also performed well at the ballot box. Brian Kahn, an editor at Gizmodo’s climate vertical Earther, did an analysis and found that almost every co-sponsor of the Green New Deal won re-election. Of the 93 sponsors who were running, only one lost. Not to mention that one of the original sponsors of the Green New Deal became the vice president-elect.

It feels certifiably ridiculous that it needs to be said, but perhaps the people in the party willing to overturn the results of a democratic election shouldn’t be the blueprint progressives use to find their identity during this constitutional crisis.

But while Ocasio-Cortez and her more progressive colleagues received praise for their bold claims, they also received backlash, especially from self-identified centrists who are taking cues from Republicans like Kasich and saying that the Democratic agenda should be watered down to attract conservative support.

We know that progressive policies are far more popular with the general electorate than conservative ones. What’s so unsettling is not even the fallacy of the message, but the audacity of the messenger.

The Republican party is so unpopular that their leader is the only president in history to have lost the popular vote twice, which is unsurprising given that the GOP has never been so brittle, with top Republican operatives (many currently serving in office) as well as top military advisers and commanders defecting from their own leadership. The Republican Party is not only weak, it’s astronomically divided.

And now the top Republican leaders are weaponizing their unpopularity to reject the will of the American people by refusing to concede the election they lost, enabling a commander in chief who has packed the courts, his Justice Department and now the military with loyalists. “Removing these senior officials — in effect decapitating the nation’s national security bureaucracy — would be without parallel by an outgoing president who has just lost re-election,” The New York Times reported.

If this low-key coup d’etat weren’t happening in America’s backyard, our own foreign policy analysts wouldn’t hesitate to call it what it is. If we were witnessing a populist leader firing the head of the military 72 hours after refusing to acknowledge the results of an election, and reshuffling branches of government to institute sycophants, we wouldn’t be calling it “unprecedented,” we’d be calling it an “autocratic attempt,” a term the New Yorker writer Masha Gessen credits to the Hungarian sociologist Bálint Magyar.

“Trump is trying to use his vertical of vassalage to thwart the electoral system,” Gessen writes. “If he succeeds, his autocratic breakthrough will be complete.” In her analysis, Gessen specifically warns about the peril of President-elect Joe Biden listening to or appeasing Republicans, not just as a danger to his party, but as a lasting threat to democracy.

"If, upon his Inauguration, a President Biden acts as though our national nightmare is over — if he attempts to build bridges and fetishizes bipartisanship in order to pass some watered-down legislation, rather than, say, even acknowledging the necessary and probably impossible task of unpacking the federal judiciary — then the autocratic attempt can return, and it will be stronger.”

Meanwhile, what are centrists Democrats arguing about? How to sound more like Republicans. Are the people who let their party get hijacked by one of the most authoritarian-leaning leaders in modern history really going to be the model for the party who narrowly saved us from it? It feels certifiably ridiculous that it needs to be said, but perhaps the people in the party willing to overturn the results of a democratic election shouldn’t be the blueprint progressives use to find their identity during this constitutional crisis. Democrats taking advice about how to govern from Republicans feels like a fish taking advice from a rock about how to swim.

Instead of focusing on what Republicans want, Democrats need to remember who the hell they are.

I also do not want to hear a chirp about “unity” and “healing” from the enablers of a president whose sophisticated Covid-19 response plan was to let people in blue states die of it and then blame them for it. Democratic firebrands like Ocasio-Cortez are not a threat to the Democratic Party, they are its only hope. Forces of nature like Stacey Abrams and the legion of Black and diverse organizers didn’t turn Georgia blue by appeasing Republicans, they did it by defying them.

Instead of focusing on what Republicans want, Democrats need to remember who the hell they are. They were the quintessential and original party of the working class. They defend the economic interests and share the values of the average voter. They have consistently won the popular vote of every election in the last two decades. Now they have to start acting like it.

The Democrats have the chance at a great success story if they stop letting Republicans put an asterisk next to it. If they want to continue to win, Democrats need to stop trying to make Republicans like them. They need to realize that they have been the popular kids all along.