In March, the DCCC announced its policy against progressive challengers of incumbent Dems. But the policy has been met with widespread scorn, and may be starting to backfire. Ryan Grim, Eugene Puryear, and Jacqueline Luqman discuss the situation
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Hi. I’m Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network. In March, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, otherwise known as the DCCC, announced that it would blacklist any consulting firms that support progressive candidates who are running against incumbent House Democrats. Basically, cutting them off from funding. But the policy has been met with widespread scorn and it might actually be starting to backfire for the DCCC. Here to discuss this issue with me are Ryan Grimm. Ryan is a Washington bureau chief for The Intercept. He’s the author of the forthcoming book We’ve Got People: From Jesse Jackson to @AOC, the End of Big Money, and the Rise of a Movement. Hey, Ryan.
RYAN GRIMM Hey. How you doing?
JACQUELINE LUQMAN And I’m joined by Eugene Puryear. Eugene is a journalist, author, and activist. He is also co-founder of Stop Police Terror Project-DC and a member of DC’s Movement for Black Lives Steering Committee. Hey, Eugene.
EUGENE PURYEAR Hey. Thank you so much for having me.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Thank you both for joining me today. Alright. This all got started with a policy the DCCC enacted under Cheri Bustos, who is the new chairperson of the organization, and it caused some consultants to drop a client— Marie Newman. Newman is challenging the incumbent Democrat Dan Lipinski for the seat in the Illinois 3rd District. This is important because Newman’s policies are far more progressive than the blue dog, family values Democrat Lipinski who voted against women’s rights, LGBTQIA rights, the Affordable Care Act, $15 minimum wage. This policy has already caused a lot of controversy in the party which, Ryan, The Intercept ran a series of articles on. So Ryan, why don’t you tell us what the basis of this policy was for the DCCC to enact.
RYAN GRIMM This was the DCCC pushing back against this new, insurgent energy within the party. Cheri Bustos claims that she pledged to do this when she was running for DCCC chair, and was elected partly on the basis of it. The DCCC is a member-driven organization and the members are the incumbent House Democrat. And so, this is them just circling the wagons and saying this is our club. Lift up the bridge. Shut it off now. We’re done. The irony is that they announced this policy— it had leaked out to us before— but when they announced it, they included it in their message to consultants about the priority of diversity. The irony being of course that when you pull up the bridge, and when the caucus is dominated by white members of Congress, and when the consulting tree is overwhelmingly dominated by white consultants, what you’re saying is this is it. We’re done. And so any talk about changing the complexion, just falls apart.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Wow. It’s interesting that you said that the DCCC announced this policy in their statement about diversity for the party. Eugene, this policy has drawn a lot of criticism because people say that it will in effect do nothing but entrench political power in the Democratic Party for largely, old white men. What do you say to that?
EUGENE PURYEAR I think in just the reality of who’s already there or maybe perhaps older people in general, and more conservative people as well, regardless of race, can be put into there. If you look at some of the other insurgent races we started to see emerge in black and Latino districts that are all heavily gerrymandered deeply blue, so I think that is true in the most general sense. But I think this is an interesting thing. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out I think on a couple levels. One, I actually think political consultants are highly overrated, quite frankly. And the DC political consultant class, self referentially refers itself to other candidates to further the mythology that they have all the answers, which I don’t think is true. I think also it will be interesting to see how this plays out longer-term in terms of how people relate to the party establishment. I have said for some time now, I think that we’re really in a slow-motion political realignment here. And I think what this will really do is start to harden those lines. You’ll start to see really parallel infrastructures and ecosystems start to emerge to do some of the important tasks for new, more insurgent progressive candidates. Again, as I pointed out in our highly gerrymandered reality, I’m not surprised the DCCC went this way because a lot of their members are going to be deeply vulnerable because they won’t be able to play any sort of card that well, if you vote for a more progressive Democrat in a primary where quite frankly if you were to vote for a third party candidate in a general election in many of these districts, that it would throw it to a more conservative Republican or the like. And so I think in some ways, this might actually have fill-up effect, which is the reverse of what the DCCC is hoping for. But it might have a fill-up effect from more progressive campaigns as it forces people who want to run outside the establishment and outside the system, to develop the necessary expertise themselves. And I think the more people see that a layperson can figure these things out and that— as we’ve seen with some of the grassroots campaigns that have been successful— without all of these consultants you can win, it could be a big change to the political landscape.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN I mean, that— I’m sorry. Go ahead, Ryan.
RYAN GRIMM I think Eugene is totally right that it could end up developing this alternative infrastructure and that the DCCC might come to deeply regret it. One disagreement I’d have with him on the first part is that yes, absolutely. Most consultants are overrated particularly when it comes to pollsters or television ad buyers, but we’re actually using the term consultant very broadly here. A number of candidates that I’ve talked to who haven’t wanted to go on the record yet because they are not sure if they’re going to run, for instance, are losing their compliance consultant. This is just a person they need to file their document with the FEC. Marie Newman lost two of her mail consultants. So in other words, people whose expertise is in designing mailers and making sure that they land on people’s doorstep, and those people are consultants. They’re for hire. They’ll do whatever. If you’re running on Medicare for All and abolishing ICE, they’ll design a mailer for you that says, “abolish ICE,” et cetera. AOC, for instance, needed consultants in order to help file her FEC documents and to help get the mail out the door, so there are some kind of basic infrastructure needs that even the most rudimentary campaign requires. And if you can’t find anybody to do that for you, like asking Marie Newman who’s a small business owner to figure out the FEC website herself, it’s just going to take up all of her time which she needs to use to be out campaigning and meeting voters. And so absolutely, I 99 percent agree with Eugene, but we have to understand how serious this DCCC policy is in the sense that it could basically end a campaign.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Well it’s also had the opposite effect— and I know you have to go in a minute, Ryan, so I’m going to leave this with you for you to have the last point. It’s also had the opposite effect in that progressive groups with those consultants, with that kind of experience that are not affiliated with the DCCC, have stepped up to fill in the gap where the DCCC’s money was supposed to basically eliminate these campaigns. Like Democracy for America actually stepped in to support Newman. There are other progressive consultant organizations that have come in to support progressive candidates that are losing their funding for the DCCC. So is this policy starting to backfire?
RYAN GRIMM Yeah. And that goes to Eugene’s really good point that people who are reading these news stories who do consulting work might say, you know what? Wow. Let’s say I do FEC compliance or I do mail. Alright, if I can get by without DCCC business, I now know that there’s going to be this industry of primary challengers and there’s more than enough out there to help people make a healthy living. And so, you’re going to start seeing people make career decisions and say you know what? Fine. I’m only going to do FEC compliance work, even though that’s just rudimentary stuff. I’m just gonna do FEC compliance work for insurgent challengers. That’s the niche I’m going to fill and in a couple of cycles, you’re right. You could have this entire party infrastructure that is separate from the party. And now, the DCCC would end up facing this well-formed threat. I think you’re exactly right that they’re going to come to regret this in a couple of years.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Well I think this policy is definitely an interesting tactic that the DCCC took, trying to crush the insurgent progressive wave, but they may have ended up just growing it bigger. We will certainly continue watching Ryan Grimm, the coverage that we’re sure you’re going to continue to provide in The Intercept. We know you have to go, and we will be back with the next segment in the continued discussion of this very strange policy from the DCCC. This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network in Baltimore.