Brian Beutler asks:
Would Progressives Primary Obama if He Compromises on the Public Option?
I have rarely met a primary challenge that I didn't like, but I can answer this question in one word: no.
It is not that I haven't considered primary challenges to a sitting Democratic President. Back in 2007, when Matt Stoller was floating Eliot Spitzer as a potential 2012 primary challenger to whichever Democrat ended up in the White House, I thought it was a good idea. Until his disastrous flame-out, Spitzer had just the right combination of qualities for a primary challenger to a Democratic President:
Other than Eliot Spitzer, Russ Feingold, who had already declined to run for President, is the only other Democrat to fit these characteristics. So, even without Spitzer's flameout, no matter who had ended up President, there was an extremely-thin bench for credible potential primary challenges to sitting Democratic Presidents. Unless your name is Kennedy and the year is either 1968 or 1980, those are very difficult candidates to find. Before the Kennedy's, you have to go all the way back to Huey Long.
- Doesn't play nicely with the Democratic leadership;
- National political figure already elected to a major office;
- Anti-corporate, populist and progressive.
However, the way the 2008 election ended up turning out, a potential primary challenge was ruled out even slightly before Eliot Spitzer was no longer viable. The identity politics at play in the 2008 Democratic primary, combined with the equally identity-based and viscerally bigoted reaction to Obama from much of the Republican base, created a political environment that had rendered a primary challenge to either a President Obama or a President Clinton impossible.
Given the make-up of the Democratic base, and given historic nature of the first African-American or first female President, any primary challenge would have blown the Democratic coalition to shreds. Further, given the vicious identity-based attacks that have been throw at President Obama--attacks that would have been just as vicious had Clinton become President--the political environment was going to remain polarized and Democratic approval for a Democratic President was always going to be sky high. For example, check out Obama's incredible--and stable--numbers among Democrats:
In addition to the near total absence of credible challengers and the potential destruction to the coalition, there is simply no base of Democrats to use in a primary challenge against President Obama. That would have been the case for President Clinton, too.
There isn't going to be a primary challenge in 2012. Instead, a combination of Congressional primary challenges and the Progressive Block is the best short-term strategy available to increase progressive influence in D.C.