Putin's Proxies: How Our Revolution and Justice Democrats Are Attempting to Destroy the Democratic Party

Putin's Proxies: How Our Revolution and Justice Democrats Are Attempting to Destroy the Democratic Party

Let's talk about Sharice Davids. 

Davids is a Democratic candidate for the third congressional district in Kansas. She is a Native American and was raised by a single mother Army veteran. She began her pursuit of higher education at a community college before working her way through school and eventually received a law degree from Cornell University. Her law work focuses on serving underprivileged communities and she most recently spent a year as a White House fellow during the Obama-Trump transition. Her campaign website begins with a video of her in the boxing ring, portraying her as a fighter for both what she has endured in her own life but also what she will be willing to do as a potential congresswoman from her district. Her platform includes progressive stances on gun control, voting rights, LGBTQI issues, the environment, and healthcare. In short, Sharice Davids is exactly the kind of candidate Democrats can and should be running in 2018.  

And both Our Revolution and the Justice Democrats won't touch her.  

The reason for this should be apparent for all of us who have been paying attention. Both Our Revolution and Justice Democrats arose in the wake of the 2016 election in an attempt to prove that Bernie Sanders' vision for the country was alive and well. Despite losing a primary that really wasn't close at all and blaming everything from the superdelegate system to the fact that "poor people don't vote", Sanders and his followers were convinced that their "political revolution" would be alive and well in the months and years to follow. To prove this, former Sanders staffers started Our Revolution and two of them joined Cenk Uyguy and Kyle Kulinski from The Young Turks to start Justice Democrats to show that Sanders' message still resonated with the general public. These two organizations began running candidates in 2017 in an effort to reform the Democratic Party to one that closely aligns its positions of those of Bernie Sanders. Chiefly among those positions was a pledge to reject all Super PAC money and to run a campaign that would not be influenced by big money and corporations. Using this as their litmus test, both groups then proceeded to recruit and run Democratic candidates in local and statewide elections. 

The results, predictably, have not gone well. Our Revolution has lost multiple high-profile races including supporting Keith Ellison for DNC Chair, Tom Perriello for Virginia governor, Dennis Kucinich for Ohio governor, Rob Quist for Congress from Montana, and Heath Mello for mayor of Omaha. In fact, the group came under fire in May of 2018 when Politico published an article about the organization being in disarray under Nina Turner's leadership since she took over from former Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver in June of 2017. Turner, who became a high-profile Sanders surrogate despite having lost her only Ohio statewide race by 25 points, allegedly used her position to advocate her own interests and networks rather than those of the organization and even went so far as to allegedly replacing an active DREAM Act supporter with a colleague who had a history of using racist and vile language. Through July of this year, Our Revolution-endorsed candidates had won less than 45% of the races they had entered, up from 40% in 2017, but still nowhere near where the organization had hoped to be at this point. 

The Justice Democrats, on the other hand, were relatively unknown until one month ago when their star candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat out incumbent Congressman Joe Crowley in the primary for New York's heavily Democratic 14th district. In the aftermath of her win, Ocasio-Cortez raked in nearly $70,000 in out-of-state donations in four days and Justice Democrats suddenly became the 'it' players in the progressive landscape. Unfortunately, this newfound success also brought about a newfound examination of the organization and its inner workings. Most disturbing was the fact that the Justice Democrats had given an average of just over $766 dollars to a total of 36 candidates, but had given Ocasio-Cortez the maximum amount of $5,000. That donation only made sense when it was revealed that Ocasio-Cortez had previously been on the Board of the Justice Democrats, a fact that was conveniently removed by the organization after this information had been discovered.

According to Corbin Trent, one of the Justice Democrats co-founders, the organization had decided to go "all-in" on Ocasio-Cortez and her race early on. Strategically, the decision made sense as the 14th district was a diverse area whose current representative did not reflect the diversity of the district. In addition, like Our Revolution, the Justice Democrats also did not have a successful track record, and it was so bad that their website only lists their victories and candidates rather than their failed endorsements. Overall, Justice Democrats have won just 13 out of 50 races for a win percentage of 26%. They badly needed a victory to draw the attention away from their abysmal track record and Ocasio-Cortez, their golden girl, finally brought it home. However, left out in the cold were three dozen other candidates in competitive races who were denied time, money, and resources and the expense of a single, solidly Democratic primary in New York State.

And so it was inevitable that these two Bernie Sanders-influenced organizations merge at some point and that point just so happened to be last week in Kansas where both Sanders himself and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stumped for congressional candidate Brent Welder. Welder was a national delegate for Sanders in 2016 and so clearly he would have Our Revolution's endorsement. But Welder also has been on the Justice Democrats' radar, having earned their endorsement as well as having received their third-highest donation of any candidate thus far. The fact that this took place in Kansas was an additional bonus as both Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez believe that their brand of democratic socialism is popular, even in deep-red conservative areas. Currently, Welder has just under $400,000 on hand, the most of any Democrat in the race, including the aforementioned Sharice Davids. Rather than support a woman who has the opportunity to be the first Native American female in Congress, both Our Revolution and the Justice Democrats have chosen to endorse a White man who has lived in the state for less than two years. 

But that's the thing. These groups have never been about an actual revolution. Those take time and are often violent. Rather than revolutionize the political system, both Our Revolution and the Justice Democrats simply want to install their brand at the expense of the Democratic Party. That's why both of them primary sitting Democrats and ignore actual progressive candidates. Can anyone in their right minds consider Dennis Kucinich more progressive than Sharice Davids? Of course not. Yet both groups are more than happy to throw ideology out the window in an effort to disrupt the system. Each group handpicks its candidates in a way that intentionally avoids transparency and, as we've seen with Nina Turner and now Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, there's a reason for this. These groups don't want an open and honest process. They want to nominate their people their way and are perfectly willing to sacrifice others to do so.  

At a time when our country is on the precipice of a second civil war, both Our Revolution and the Justice Democrats are more than willing to create chaos in order to advance their own agendas. It's the political equivalent of yelling fire on the deck of the Titanic; it's needless, it's unnecessary, and it doesn't help improve the already dire situation. We need a blue Congress now more than at any point in our nation's history and any red-blooded American knows to vote straight Democratic come November. And yet, both Our Revolution and the Justice Democrats seem intent on muddying up the waters as much as possible. After all, why on Earth would you bring two democratic socialists to deep-red Kansas when Bernie's endorsement effectively killed the candidacy of a mayoral candidate one state over in Nebraska? Even if Brent Welder wins the primary he then has to explain his democratic socialist endorsement to moderate Democrats, a bridge that is simply too far for many of them in a state like Kansas. 

The truth is that the motives of these two groups should come under severe scrutiny. Bernie Sanders' campaign is now under the microscope with both chief strategist Tad Devine's work with Paul Manafort in Ukraine and its previous Russian connections have begun to become well-documented. The Young Turks jumped on the Bernie bandwagon early on and much has come over their hefty $4 million donation from former Republican governor Buddy Roemer. The Young Turks founder, Cenk Uygur, was also a converted Republican after having abandoned the party during the presidency of George W. Bush and in December of 2017, Uygur was asked to step down from the Justice Democrats after previous sexist blog posts were uncovered from his Republican days, leading co-founder Kyle Kulinski to resign with him as a showing of solidarity. Yet despite the turnover at the top within both organizations, they still seem intent upon challenging the Democratic Party. 

The question is why. Why challenge Democratic incumbents during this critical time? Why use your PACs to secretively and selectively endorse candidates? Why ignore strong, progressive candidates like Sharice Davids? And why combine forces in a deep-red state for a candidate that seems unlikely to win the general election against a well-financed, incumbent Republican?

If Our Revolution and the Justice Democrats were serious about their work, they would refuse to endorse anyone in the primary and wait until a Democratic Congress takes hold before challenging incumbent officeholders. After all, that's how you move a party left. In 2010, 34 out of 38 Democratic congressmen and women who voted against the Affordable Care Act were primaried and voted out of office by 2014. That's how you move the needle. You have the majority party in Congress with a president of that same party and then you have the chance to evaluate whether your representative is progressive enough for his or her constituency. To primary sitting Democratic candidates now does nothing to help the progressive cause and candidates who to win a primary because they have moved left may very well have moved too far left to become electable in the general election. 

But Our Revolution and the Justice Democrats are not serious about their work. Or, even more unsettling, perhaps electing progressive candidates isn't their intended work at all. Perhaps the whole "get big money out of politics" is a front with which to try and undermine the Democratic Party in the name of a foreign adversary. After all, how much happier would Vladimir Putin be in having his apprentice Donald Trump keep both the House and Senate in Republican control? Seemingly, the only ways to combat the inevitable blue wave would be either to launch another attack against our voting systems or to somehow have the Democrats run terrible general election candidates. And the only way Democrats run terrible general election candidates is if they are simply too extreme in their views in a way that doesn't represent their own constituency.   

In the coming year(s), we will learn just how much Russian interference affected and continued to affect our democracy. But two start-up groups with shady finances and a combination of Russian and Republican influences should be a huge red flag for anyone who cares about our country. Combined with the fact that each group seems willing to attack the only party not in bed with Putin and it should give any true American pause about Our Revolution and the Justice Democrats. When all is said and done, we should not be surprised if groups like these were an intentional part of Russia's massive misinformation campaign. We've seen Russia infiltrate the left once already and there's no indication they've stopped or intend to stop anytime soon. Our only way to fight this infiltration is to call out groups who don't have the country's best interest at heart.

And Our Revolution and the Justice Democrats are most certainly two of those groups. 

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