A week ago, an unknown user created an account known as @Copmala. At time of publication, it had 281 followers, and its sole purpose is to attack Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif), who announced on Martin Luther King Day that she was jumping into the Presidential race.
@Copmala has tweeted over 200 times since its inception, and though its tweets (with the exception of this viral thread below) have gained little, if any traction, its existence belies a widening gap within voters in the Democrat Party.
A thread on Kamala Harris’s terrible record on criminal justice with receipts: pic.twitter.com/VB8clHXCZ6— Copmala Harris (@Copmala) January 17, 2019
By the way, when I say "divide", I don't mean the supposed ideological rift between establishment Democrats of the Biden/Crowley persuasion and insurgents like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (fondly referred to as AOC). Frankly, those takes are unproductive and tired, and in any case I’m of the belief that, if there was even an ideological “war” within the party, the insurgent left already won it. AOC, easily the most famous person in Congress right now, has been instrumental in setting a new progressive agenda: these measures have found their place in both the House and Senate (not to mention in popular discourse), and will likely be what defines the 2020 DNC platform.
The campaign to be the Presidential standard-bearer for a new Democratic left really kicked into high gear with the 2018 midterms. Senators like Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) - all of whom are seeking the Democratic nomination for President - used their star power to help elect progressive candidates across the country, from Harris’s ultimately unsuccessful endorsement of Ben Jealous’s campaign for Governor of Maryland to Warren’s successful endorsement of her former law student, Katie Porter, to the House of Representatives. Progressive talking points like Medicare for All became a highlight of the midterms, and with the subsequent AOC-backed Green New Deal and a 70% marginal tax rate on the rich gaining wide bipartisan support, it seems clear that for any Democratic presidential candidate to be successful, they have to endorse at least some version of these policies.
Okay, fine, whatever. What is the divide?
Policies are reflective of values – and so are politics. The 2016 election and the rise of the independent Sen. Bernie Sanders is indicative of a new wave of political fervor that gives a heavier weight to values than the policies shaped by them. That’s fine, given that Sen. Sanders ultimately helped the DNC pass the most progressive platform in its history, but it also meant that, especially between young Hillary voters and young Bernie/third-party voters, there’s a lot of pent-up resentment, both ultimately stemming from a distrust of the current political and judicial system. Hillary voters see her loss as owing to sexism from both Trump and Bernie as well as the patriarchy, while Bernie voters see his primary loss as a rigging in favor of a corporate elite.
Both sexism and corporate greed, as well as racism, economic injustice, healthcare, and immigration will be core issues of resolution of the 2020 campaign. The new candidate has to embody both the policy acumen and feminist message of Clinton, who won the popular vote by over three million votes, while promising systemic reforms to win. As such, all the campaigns we'll see this season will follow that sort of message.
But enter @Copmala, the onslaught of articles betraying progressive darling Beto O’Rourke’s conservative voting record and the intense scrutiny of Gillibrand’s previously hardline stance on immigration and gun control. They’re all conveying the message that these progressive candidates aren’t real progressives, because of their past involvement in the upholding of systems they promise to tackle in 2020. @Copmala’s ultimate argument is that Harris’s record as a prosecutor underscores the hypocrisy of running as a civil rights candidate because of the justice system’s inherent anti-blackness.
In essence the divide lies with progressive voters trying to figure out exactly who is the perfect representation of the new progressive ideal – and if there isn’t one, just how much the fiery, values-idealistic base that defined the Bernie archetype is willing to compromise this time around.
So what constitutes a "real" progressive? Can a candidate change their beliefs and reflect new values without seeming ingenuine? (This one’s especially important for women because, you know, sexism.) What does it mean to participate in a system, and what does it mean to change it?
In a primary as wide and diverse as the party itself, these questions are vital to the redefinition of the Democrat Party. And as the Copmala debate, and the larger debates on the progressive bona fides of all the Democrat candidates, rages on, expect it to get a little ugly. It’s a presidential primary in a post-Trump America, after all.