Can Democrats finally repudiate ‘The Squad’?

Post-election blowback from moderates against the radicals could complicate the left’s progress in moving the party away from a pro-Israel position.

From left: Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.). Source: Screenshot.
From left: Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.). Source: Screenshot.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Not everybody in the Democratic Party is in love with “The Squad.” Even as they celebrated their apparent victory in the presidential election, some Democrats spent the days after the voting complaining about the role that Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and their leftist allies played in reducing their party’s numbers in Congress.

Moderates have made no secret about their resentment over the derailing of what many Democrats expected would be a “blue wave” in 2020. That raises questions about whether or not some of the party’s most popular figures will continue to be able to exercise influence that is way out of proportion with their numbers in Congress, as they have in the last two years. If so, and that is far from a certainty, it might also mean that pro-Israel Democrats will finally start standing up to and marginalizing these radicals, rather than appeasing them.

Instead of the Democrats increasing their majority in the House, they suffered a severe setback as Republicans gained what may amount to as many as 12 seats once all the races are finally decided. Moderates like Reps. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) and Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) believe that their party suffered specifically because of AOC and her followers. Despite what happened at the top of the ticket, Democrats in competitive districts suffered from having to answer questions about whether they shared convictions of “The Squad” about defunding the police, critical race theory and massive spending programs.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Democratic Caucus, was equally blunt. He, too, blamed the “Socialist agenda” of “Internet personalities” on the left for his party’s losses.

This is a difficult conversation for Democrats to be having. While they expect to be in charge of the executive branch next year, it remains to be seen just how much influence the left—whose support was vital for Biden’s campaign—will have over the next administration’s policies.

Prominent left-wingers like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are making no secret about the fact that they expect to be significant players in a putative Biden administration as a reward for their help. They think they have a right to expect that Biden will make good on all the promises he made to enact the progressives’ agenda, including those programs mentioned in the “unity” platform agreed to by representatives of the Biden and Sanders campaigns.

Nor is AOC shy about proclaiming that her faction should have more of a say in the party as opposed to less. Although moderates were the ones who lost their seats, the number of radical Socialists in the House has increased, often at the expense of veterans like Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee and a stalwart supporter of Israel, who was defeated in a primary earlier this year by a candidate supported by AOC.

But party leaders know that is their problem in a nutshell. Radicals have no trouble winning in deep blue districts like the ones AOC and Engel represent. But elsewhere in the country, Socialists are political poison. Indeed, the whole point of the Democrats rallying around Biden in the primaries was that they understood that Sanders would not have stood a chance against Trump.

The Senate runoff races in Georgia may resolve the question as to how much influence the left has over Biden in January. As long as the Republicans hold onto their Senate majority, their fears of a Biden presidency and a Democrat-controlled Congress transforming America won’t be realized. More to the point, a Republican Senate will relieve Biden of any obligation to listen to the radicals who loyally backed him, despite their misgivings about what they might achieve should he be elected.

On the other hand, a Democratic majority in the Senate would prove a nightmare scenario for conservatives. Should that occur, Democrats could—whether Biden wants it to happen or not—blow up the institution and the Constitution by ending the filibuster, packing the Supreme Court, adding states, and adopting radical legislation on health care and the “Green New Deal.”

If so, then AOC and her leftist “Squad,” not to mention Sanders and Warren, will have the whip hand over Biden. Any reluctance on his part to support their agenda would likely be swept aside by the zeal of crusading left-wingers who would likely carry the increasingly belligerent Senate Democrat Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with them. They’ll also likely push Biden to get tough with Israel and to return to former President Barack Obama’s tilt towards the Palestinians.

If the GOP holds Georgia, then the moderates will be free to ignore the Socialist wing of their party, even if Sanders and AOC are likely going to be loud critics of any attempt to make deals with Republicans to get something done.

It could also give Democratic leaders the courage to stop appeasing those in their caucus who are pushing an anti-Israel agenda. Omar and Tlaib are open supporters of the anti-Semitic BDS movement, and AOC, who recently shunned a memorial for former slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, is also no friend of the Jewish state. They represent the growing support in the Democratic base for intersectional ideology that has gained ground in the wake of the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, which views Israel as an oppressor “white” state.

But the more influence they are allowed, the worse it is for Democrats. Thinking ahead to 2022, when they might be facing the usual midterm punishment for the party in charge of the White House, party leaders fear that AOC might deliver control of the House to the GOP. She might not be around to care since many observers believe that she will mount a Senate primary challenge to Schumer.

The dynamic here is complicated. The successes that “The Squad” and its allies have in primaries, and the loss of moderates in purple and red states in general elections, mean that the Democrats are clearly moving to the left. But if they want to maintain their hold on power, it may come down to Biden, Schumer and Pelosi finally having a Sister Souljah moment and denouncing the likes of AOC and Omar rather than appearing on magazine covers with them. That could be the opportunity to make it clear that Democrats won’t allow the left to turn their party against Israel. If they don’t, then AOC’s triumphs in replacing moderates with fellow radicals might eventually bring us closer to a moment when the Democrats will cease to be a safe place for supporters of the State of Israel.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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