Radical Shift of Democratic Party Just Getting Started, Group Behind NY Upset Says

After taking down Crowley, Justice Democrats look to rest of country

Primary-winner Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez / Getty Images
July 2, 2018

The far-left group that grew out of Bernie Sanders's 2016 presidential run recorded its biggest victory last week with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's surprise primary win over Democrat representative Joe Crowley (N.Y.). They say it's just the start of its takeover of the party.

Ocasio, a socialist who ran a strong campaign focused on far-left policies such as universal health care, a federal jobs guarantee, housing as a human right, and abolishing ICE, defeated Crowley, a top House Democrat, by 15 points on Tuesday. Ocasio-Cortez was an organizer for Sanders's 2016 campaign and was part of a group of candidates associated with Justice Democrats, a group launched by Sanders campaign alums with aim to transform the Democratic Party.

The group says Tuesday's victory was its breakthrough moment, and it is seeing signs of more victories to come.

"There's a moment when things shift," said Corbin Trent, who led the Sanders campaign in Tennessee and now heads communications for Justice Democrats. "This is that moment."

Trent says there is a new energy among both its candidates and supporters since the win, with people taking note that if you put the same work in as Ocasio and her campaign, you can be the next upset.

"When you keep beating your head against the wall, once you finally hear a crack you finally feel better about doing it," Trent said. "Just from watching our email and donations coming in to Ocasio and our Democrats across the board, this is an invigorating moment."

Trent acknowledged that winning on their platform in one of the country's most racially diverse and liberal districts is a different ball game than winning elsewhere, but said it wasn't just the Latino vote that carried Ocasio.

"When people see the autopsy of the results, they'll see it wasn't just Latinos," he said. "The primary electorate doesn't match the demographics overall, period."

Asked whether he thinks the result could be replicated elsewhere, he was confident their platform would be received well by Democrats across the country and said it would be put to the test soon.

"To really test your question whether this platform can work in a less diverse district, the two candidates to watch will be Brent Welder and James Thompson, who are running in Kansas on a very similar platform," he said. "That's where our resources will be headed next."

Other Democratic races that will get immediate attention are upcoming House primaries in Missouri and Hawaii, and the gubernatorial primary in Rhode Island.

Trent said he would also be willing to fully devote himself to Chardo Richardson's challenge of Democratic representative Stephanie Murphy, a challenge that received a shout-out by Ocasio after her win, but he thinks Richardson needs to quit his job to focus on the campaign.

"You can't expect people to work tirelessly for you if you don't work tirelessly yourself," he said. "Ocasio put in her time."

The Justice Democrats haven't had a big victory until last Tuesday, but they've had good performances—in West Virginia, their candidate Paula Jean Swearengin pulled in 30 percent in her primary challenge of Democrat senator Joe Manchin, an incumbent with a long history in the state.

Trent says the Democratic Party is "100 percent to blame for the Trump presidency" and says his group is going to change it.

"The Democratic Party desperately needs to change its focus and its priorities—we're working to do that," he said.

Despite the radical nature of Ocasio's candidacy—last week she accused the government of running "black sites" on the border and has voiced support for violence by Palestinian terrorists, likening it to political activism—Democrats appear poised to embrace her. Crowley quickly voiced support for Ocasio, pledging to work to help her get elected in November.

There has also been an increased willingness among top party voices to embrace some of her policy proposals. Sens. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), both possible 2020 presidential candidates, have gotten behind the push to abolish ICE, which was popularized by the Ocasio campaign.