The Democratic Party has a lot of sore losers. That needs to change — and quickly

In a letter to Democratic National Committee Chairman Jamie Harrison on Tuesday, Bernie Sanders complained about the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s PAC spending money

<p>The Vermont Senator complained to the DNC’s Chairman </p>

The Vermont Senator complained to the DNC’s Chairman

Last night, Pennsylvania Democrats overwhelmingly chose John Fetterman, the commonwealth’s sitting Lieutenant Governor, as their party’s nominee for the Senate seat Republican Pat Toomey will vacate in January.

Fetterman defeated two other candidates, neither of whom was lacking for establishment backing.

One of them, Conor Lamb, is a centrist House member, ex-federal prosecutor and US Marine veteran who currently represents the Keystone State’s 17th district. He generally fits the profile of candidates Democrats have tried to put forth in areas Donald Trump carried in 2016: White, with a military or law enforcement background.

The other, Pennsylvania state Representative Malcolm Kenyatta, is considered by many Democrats to be the sort of rising star who represents the future of the party. Kenyatta is Black, openly gay, extremely media-savvy, and at just 31 years of age has become a regular fixture in national media despite only holding a state legislature seat.

On paper, each of these candidates had a compelling story to tell voters, and each could have made a strong case against either of the likely GOP nominees, ex-private equity executive Dave McCormick or TV doctor-turned-Covid vaccine skeptic Mehmet Oz (the Republican primary was too close to call at the time this article was published). But Fetterman, the only one of the three who has won a statewide election, was clearly seen as the strongest candidate.

When the votes were counted on election night, he’d pulled in 681,564 votes, or 58.96 per cent of the total Democratic primary electorate. Lamb was the next most popular, with 306,081 votes. Kenyatta only pulled in just over 10 percent, or 119,133 votes.

But what didn’t happen next was notable, perhaps more notable than it should have been.

Neither of the defeated candidates refused to concede. None offered up outlandish conspiracy theories to explain away voters’ decisions, and none of them attacked significant swaths of Democrats whose support would be needed to defeat the GOP in November’s general election.

But elsewhere in the Democratic Party, others haven’t yet figured out that voters hate sore losers.

Even before polls were open in some primary states on Tuesday, a two-time Democratic presidential primary runner-up was making excuses as to why candidates he’d backed might not fare well. In a letter to Democratic National Committee Chairman Jamie Harrison, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders complained about the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s PAC spending money to air TV ads criticizing Sanders-backed candidates who have made negative statements about Israel’s government. Sanders claimed the “billionaire-funded effort” was meant to “crush the candidacies of a number of progressive women of color who are running for Congress”.

His statement was slightly less antagonistic than what his protégé, former Ohio state senator Nina Turner, said after losing the first of two consecutive primaries to Representative Shontel Brown.

At the time, Turner said “evil money” had been used to “manipulate” and “malign” the election away from her. A year later, she ended her 2022 rematch against Brown by claiming “corporate special interests” had “bought” the district by supporting her opponent.

Sanders speechwriter and self-styled progressive journalist David Sirota wrote in a publication called Lever News on Tuesday that Democratic Party leaders were launching “an outright counterrevolution” by directing campaign funds to consulting firms that work with establishment Democrats.

The problem with such lines of argument, however, is that for there to be a counterrevolution, there must first be a revolution. And there wasn’t.

Sanders lost, twice. First to Hillary Clinton, then to Joe Biden, in 2016 and 2020.

Nina Turner lost. Twice. In one year, to the same person.

To the extent voters have elected progressives in the Sanders mold, it has been in House district where longtime incumbents became lazy and complacent and therefore vulnerable to a primary challenger, as in the cases of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, or Cori Bush.

Progressives took the wrong lessons from those House races. They thought the Squad’s ascendency in Congress heralded a bold new age that would put an end to the Clintonian centrism and triangulation that have characterized how Democrats have used power for a generation, even as those representatives’ most benign utterances have been used to demonize the entire Democratic party by eager Republicans and their conservative media allies.

They thought someone like Turner could ride Sanders’ coattails, even though Sanders didn’t win and Turner’s history of sore-loserdom (dating back to when she protested outside the 2016 Democratic convention rather than support her party’s nominee) left a taste in people’s mouths that was bad enough to linger five years later.

They were wrong, yet there are still places where progressives are doing well. In last night’s Pennsylvania primary, Justice Democrats-backed Summer Lee appeared to pull off a close win over attorney Steve Irwin for the right to compete for the House seat being vacated by Representative Mike Doyle.

Irwin, a corporate lawyer, had the backing of the local Democratic party, and had been the beneficiary of some of the advertisements Sanders was complaining about in his letter to Harrison.

Far from being “crushed,” Lee appears to have won. Perhaps if top “progressives” stopped complaining and followed her example, they’d be able to win some day as well.

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