Is new blood really better than old blood?
Everywhere you look, they’re dropping like flies.
Incumbent Democrats are being defeated left and right in primaries, typically losing to young, often diverse, hard-core liberal progressives.
Democrats want change. They are tired of the old guard, and they want a new guard to replace them.
This is a phenomenon very familiar to me, having lived through similar bloodletting in the 2010 Republican wave election. That year, incumbent Republicans were losing to younger, fire-breathing conservative ideologues who were taking out “the establishment” in the name of ideological purity.
Interestingly, though, as similar as the two election seasons seem to be, there is an important difference. Democrats are largely ejecting lawmakers that are entirely acceptable to their base, and have not antagonized the progressive wing.
Republicans, by and large, tossed out perceived heretics to conservatism. Moderates and pesky centrists that had plagued the grass-roots activists in the party for years. Mike Castle, Rob Simmons, Lisa Murkowski (in her primary, though she eventually won a write-in campaign), and favored establishment candidates in Colorado, Nevada and many other states were taken down in 2010.
But the Democrats have been, by and large, tossing out mainline liberals. Establishment figures, yes, but very progressive figures that were not standing in the way of a liberal agenda being accomplished.
In New York’s 14th Congressional District, socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated Joe Crowley, a 20-year incumbent congressman and the Democratic Caucus Chair.
Crowley was a New York liberal, and in no way was he offensive to the hard-left liberal activists. He voted liberal. He advocated for liberal causes. He did not conspire with Republicans to water down liberal priorities.
His sin was simple: He was an old, white male establishment figure.
Such was also true of Mike Capuano of Massachusetts. Another 20-year incumbent, Capuano was a liberal. A Massachusetts liberal. But, another old, white male. He was defeated by Ayanna Pressley, a 44-year-old African-American city councilor in Boston.
This is interesting to me, because in the minds of liberal activist voters the important factor is not ideology. It is identity. Not ideas, but superficial divisions of people.
Not that conservatives are immune to this phenomenon. They have their own peculiarities, for sure.
But regardless, the common thread that strings them together is a belief that new, fresh blood is better than old, stale blood.
I certainly understand this impression. Swamp creatures hang around in Washington for a long time, and they lose touch with their constituents. They enrich themselves. They bring nothing new to the position.
I certainly have no affinity for career politicians that have hung on too long.
But here’s the thing, once they are in their job, the new people are rarely all that different than the old people.
The Tea Party wave of 2010 is an instructive example of this. The entire year, the grass-roots raged against the old guard. They kicked out incumbents. They voted for new blood.
Eric Cantor loses. John Boehner resigns as speaker of the House.
And for conservatives, it was about ideas. They were sick of sellouts and moderates. They wanted true blue, ultra-conservative leaders elected. And to a large degree they were.
Elected with a promise to attack the national debt. Elected to end Obamacare.
Yet, what happened when those people were in power? The new people voted almost exactly like the old people. The last budget deal passed by Congress and signed by the president was a budget-busting debt mountain. Controlling the presidency and both houses of Congress, they did not repeal Obamacare.
Nothing really changed.
“But, we just didn’t kick out enough of the establishment hacks,” you might say. And sure, I suppose if you got rid of every single elected official in Congress and elected new people, maybe it might marginally change something. But honestly, I doubt it.
New or old, elected officials run into a whole host of issues when they are finally in a position to make decisions. The administrative state. Bureaucrats. The intricacies and nuance of policymaking that partisan candidates never fully grasp, but have to deal with once they vote on things. And, of course, the partisan gridlock that exists no matter who sits in Congress.
The people who take down the establishment almost immediately become the new establishment, and tend to make decisions that look a lot like what the old guard did.
So, in theory I don’t have a problem throwing out anyone currently serving in Congress. But I don’t expect it to ultimately change much, and frankly neither should you.
Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.