Democrats’ shift to the left with big ideas like Medicare for All, along with the rise of progressives led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is changing the balance of power in the party’s unofficial policy establishment, Axios’ Sam Baker and Ben Geman report.
- What’s new: A new set of liberal policy players is gaining stature just as Democrats take over the House and wade into a policy-heavy 2020 primary.
- Why it matters: Think tanks, policy analysts and advocacy groups help shape the party’s platforms and channel the base’s enthusiasm.
The universe of new or newly prominent progressive groups includes Data for Progress and New Consensus, which both worked with the Sunrise Movement, a group that’s providing a lot of the advocacy muscle behind the Green New Deal.
- Data for Progress cofounder Sean McElwee helped popularize the hashtag #AbolishICE — which gained steam on the left and became part of Ocasio-Cortez’s platform, then won its first endorsement from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a 2020 candidate.
- The Green New Deal is well on its way into the Democratic mainstream, thanks largely to mutually reinforcing outside legwork, and Ocasio-Cortez’s nearly unrivaled ability to drive political conversation.
Individual experts are also playing a big role as Democrats’ 2020 candidates look beyond the familiar left-of-center policy framework.
- Multiple Democrats have sought the counsel of economist Stephanie Kelton, a former aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders, who helped popularize Modern Monetary Theory.
- A pair of left-leaning economists from the University of California at Berkeley, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, helped Sen. Elizabeth Warren craft her proposed wealth tax.
- Economists Sandy Darity and Darrick Hamilton consulted on Sen. Cory Booker’s “baby bonds” proposal and Sen. Kamala Harris’ middle-class tax cut.
The old guard — which includes Obama-era stalwarts like the Center for American Progress — is sometimes reacting to big policy ideas, rather than writing them, as the party shifts to the left.
- Medicare for All, for example, was not born out of a traditional marriage between think-tank white papers and political trial balloons.
- CAP, which was arguably the most important outside voice on health policy during the Obama administration, released a rival Medicare plan about five months after Sanders. The entire policy debate over Medicare for All still revolves primarily around what people think of Sanders’ bill.
Another reason for the changing of the guard: The high-profile progressives leading the leftward shift — including Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders and Warren — are closely identified with specific policies. And they’ve gotten to that place without going through the Democratic policy establishment.
- The bottom line: The leaders of the Democratic Party’s shift are setting the terms of the debate individually, not plugging into some existing policy apparatus.
- That’s opening up a lot of room for a new crop of experts and advocates to help them make their case.
Alexi McCammond and Stef W. Kight contributed to this story.