Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The past few days may have triggered events which will not only influence American politics today but are likely to affect future generations of Americans. Specifically, the Supreme Court’s configuration and ideological orientation will undoubtedly shift an even more conservative direction than it already has been moving. In addition, the defeat of Representative Joe Crowley in a New York City primary and the reaction of many progressive Democrats also may strengthen the more liberal elements of the Party as the country moves into the fall mid-term elections.
Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision to retire from the High Court was not totally unexpected; the only question was when. (So too will it be, when 85-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg follows him.) Unlike Ginsburg or even Justice Stephen Breyer who is 79, Kennedy’s departure eliminates the likelihood of the Court holding a more centrist posture in the immediate future. With President Trump and his political base raring to re-shape the Supreme Court and thereby re-interpret the Constitution, there is genuine a possibility that much of the evolutionary, progressive changes achieved by the Court since Earl Warren became Chief Justice 1953, will begin to erode quickly.
The defeat of Representative Joe Crowley is different and will definitely be short lived, but it too could be very significant. The selection of his Democratic challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as the Democratic nominee represents a new truly progressive voice within the Democratic Party. Her nomination, coupled with the confrontational strategy against Trumpers—as advocated by Representative Maxine Waters–could complicate Democratic efforts to re-take the House and maybe the Senate this fall.
Until now Democrats throughout the country were largely selecting challengers to face incumbent Republicans who were just left of center. They represented candidates who were seen as being able to build bridges to independents and more marginal Trump supporters. There was a sense that these new candidates could indeed swing many of the now contested seats currently held by Republicans.
Most of this new wave of Democrats were not seen as out front and in the more progressive wing of the Party. Eventually many of these middle of the road candidates may actually govern more to the left than their campaigns are suggesting, but their campaign strategy has been not to ally themselves too clearly with the more liberal party wing. Ocasio-Cortez came from the more liberal, progressive, Bernie Sanders wing of the, she ran with that label, she won.
Adding further to this situation was the storm that Representative Waters created when she sought to follow-up Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ removal from a Virginia restaurant last weekend. Waters urged that Democrats not give Trump members any rest in public places. She advocated an approach which would give the Trump team no respite.
It will be interesting to see whether the Democrats are able to mount an effective challenge to the new Supreme Court nominee. Similarly, one wonders if Ocasio-Cortez will campaign from a more moderate position or whether her approach will gain traction among Democrats seeking to wrest the Congress from GOP control this November. Finally, will Maxine Waters’ call be just a single rant or will the Democrats be captivated by her approach?
One would assume that the Democratic leadership and candidates will keep their eye on winning and not scoring pyrrhic victories. How they might do to expand their power and build their base should come later. First, they need to win in the mid-terms.