Time For a Democratic Tea Party?

Bill Scher

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today, Politico’s Mike Allen and former Governor Howard Dean discussed my analysis for Politico Magazine, “Can The Left Launch Its Own Tea Party?”

Allen noted that progressive Democrats a newly “hungry” to play “hardball” against party leaders, and cited the morning news that MoveOn.org will spend $1 million to draft Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run against Hillary Clinton. Dean said, despite MoveOn.org’s move, there was no “war against Hillary,” and offered a little news to make his point: he was going to endorse Hillary this week while the organization he founded now run by his brother, Democracy for America, is part of the Draft Warren movement. Yet it was all amicable and “at the end of day, we [will] both end up coming together.”

Both are likely correct. Democrats have a history — at least, a history over the last 25 years — of not letting their intra-party disagreements turn into debilitating splits.

But questions remain: whether the populist wing of the party can expand its influence over the business-friendly wing, whether congressional Democrats will use their leverage to scuttle any White House-blessed bipartisan deals in 2015, and whether breaking with the White House will help or hurt in the pursuit of greater influence.

There may be several opportunities for populist progressives to take a stand: spending bills will need to be approved by September to keep all or part of the government open. Surveillance reform must be approved by June 1 else parts of the Patriot Act expire. Any corporate tax reform deal may allow multinationals to “repatriate” offshore cash at discounted tax rates. And if enough Republicans balk at giving Obama expanded authority to negotiate trade deals (a big “if”) Democrats may have the numbers to block the pending Pacific and European trade agreements.

As I analyze over at Politico Magazine, the disastrous politics of Tea Party shutdowns is a reminder that there are limits to a strategy of all-out confrontation. But how far populists can push on each of these issues without suffering blowblack is a question for another day.

More important is to remember that the ultimate prize is winning in the court of the public opinion, because that can set the stage for greater victories in the future. All of these issues present opportunities for populists to make their case. Now is the time to sharpen one’s arguments.

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