Last week, Massachusetts held its primaries for various national positions. One of these races pitted Ed Markey, an incumbent senator, against Joseph Kennedy III. Kennedy, of course, belongs to the prolific political dynasty dating back decades. Markey held his seat with 55.6 percent of the vote. Unlike many recent high-profile primary challenges, Markey’s challenger is much less progressive than he is. Markey is an outspoken progressive who authored the Green New Deal in the Senate. Kennedy campaigned on vague ideas of “building better” and “change.” It’s unclear exactly what Kennedy’s motivations were for running except sheerly careeristic aspirations.
One group Kennedy seemingly expected to do well with is the under-40 demographic. Kennedy is only 39, while Markey is 74 and has served in Congress since before Kennedy was born. Kennedy attempted to pose as someone who could bring change in response to Markey’s stagnancy. He was presumably expecting to ride on the coattails of primary challengers like Cori Bush and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who were also young people challenging very established politicians. However, Kennedy lost in the county with the youngest voters, Suffolk County.
The loss of Kennedy signals a defeat for the centrist wing of the Democratic party. Kennedy received an endorsement from Nancy Pelosi, who also took an active role in this intra-party race. What Kennedy and his endorsers didn’t understand is that the new bloc of young progressive voters aren’t motivated on this aesthetic basis. A candidate just being young isn’t enough to make him preferable to a more established candidate. These young voters are concerned with creating tangible change in the country’s policy. Full-throated support for the Green New Deal is a much more appealing characteristic than being a voter’s peer in age.
Kennedy also had to abandon his previous seat as a Representative in order to run for Senate. In his absence, Massachusetts elected former Republican Jake Auchincloss in the resulting primary with a whopping 22.4 percent of the vote. Thus, the only real effects from Kennedy’s political maneuver are a slight rightward shift due to Auchincloss and a huge amount of wasted financial and organizing resources from both Kennedy and Markey.
So, we are left with an important question: why are centrist Democrats taking time to fight progressives’ efforts to take power in the Party? They constantly claim Trump and the Republicans are the only danger to America and the Democrats’ role is to defeat them. If this is what they really believed, surely they would focus all of their efforts on gaining majorities in Congress and defeating Trump in November. Why would progressive Senators like Markey be considered opponents, let alone worthy of electoral challenge?
In reality, progressives like Markey and Ocasio-Cortez are much more of a threat to Pelosi and company than Trump is. The Democratic Party’s function is to be a relief valve for any sort of genuine progress in America. If you don’t like Trump, you vote blue. Progressive challengers, however, disrupt this narrative and offer the prospect of real change in the country. Establishment Democrats know that this kind of platform threatens their political stranglehold on opposing the right wing. If progressives were to actually gain power, it would be much worse news for Democrats’ big money interests than Trump being re-elected. Thus, the Democratic Party’s primary goal is to prevent these types of politicians from ever gaining power, as it would be failing in their fundamental goal.