If establishment Democrats have some grand strategy behind endorsing a conservative, anti-abortion, gun-loving Democrat during a time of rampant gun death and widespread attacks on women’s bodily autonomy, we’ve yet to hear it.
Nonetheless, top House Democrats like Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries of New York all lent their endorsements to incumbent Rep. Henry Cuellar in the primary for Texas’s 28th Congressional District. On Tuesday, a recount affirmed Cuellar eked out a victory over progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros by a mere 289 votes.
Cuellar has maintained support from Democratic leadership, despite his home being raided earlier this year as part of a federal investigation. (His attorney has said Cuellar is not the target of the probe.) The raid, along with Cuellar’s conservative record, had progressive lawmakers fuming over his endorsements — and for good reason.
As the Democratic Party touts its stances on abortion rights and gun safety, Cuellar is an outlier. He’s voted against expanding federal abortion rights and believes the procedure should only be available in cases of rape, incest and danger to life of the mother. And as progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York laid out in a series of tweets in May, Cuellar has been endorsed and heavily financed by the National Rifle Association, which opposes just about every gun safety measure introduced in Congress.
Ocasio-Cortez’s thread went on to pose a critical question top Democrats have yet to answer: For what reason did they endorse Cuellar?
At best, the rationale is that Cuellar’s district is moderate, and protecting his incumbency is an effort to protect the House majority. But that assumption would be much more palatable if progressive Democrats knew Cuellar was the keystone in some elaborate plot to expand health care, secure voting rights, expand abortion rights or do any number of things Democrats promised to do while campaigning in 2020.
With midterm elections in full swing, recent polling suggests the Democratic base is slightly less enthusiastic than the Republican base. But one major source of Democratic enthusiasm is fury over the potential loss of abortion rights. Top Democrats should have taken that as a sign to not endorse one of the staunchest abortion opponents in their party.
But they backed Cuellar anyway, stepping on their own messaging and thumbing their nose at the base they rely on for success.