Progressive Ideas Keep Winning. Progressive Candidates Keep Losing.

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Illustration by Peter Grabowski.

A few days ago, progressive activist-turned-politician Cori Bush upset a moderate 10-term incumbent in a Missouri Democratic primary. The improbable victory, coupled with Jamaal Bowman’s unseating of Eliot Engel, has led some in the media to ponder whether the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has taken over. Is this the left’s Tea Party?

Not quite.

The reason Bush and Bowman receive national headlines for their victories is because they are the exceptions, not the rule. If progressives were successfully challenging moderate incumbents, the media spotlight would be far dimmer.

It is difficult to imagine how the progressive faction of the Democratic Party can claim victory when the standard bearer of the party is Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. The most powerful Democrats in Congress are Pelosi and Schumer. Not exactly Marx and Engels.

This is to take nothing away from Bush or Bowman, both incredible stories. They will serve their constituents well. But their victories are less of a progressive coup d’ètat and more of a generational housecleaning.

While Bush’s victory didn’t catch my eye, another Missouri election story did. The Show-Me State, which Trump carried by about 18 and a half points last election, voted overwhelmingly to expand Medicaid, which primarily offers healthcare to low income individuals. Almost a million Missourians rely on Medicaid (or CHIP) for coverage, and an additional 352,000 in the state can now expect healthcare coverage. The federal government will foot most of the bill.

Extending coverage, long a pipe dream of the left, is gaining ground in deep red states. Over the last few years, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah, and Idaho have joined Missouri in Medicaid expansion.

Not exactly California or New York.

It’s not just leftwing health policy that voters agree with, either. Universal background checks for gun purchases, Medicare for all who want it, government regulation of prescription drug prices, a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, legalization of marijuana, the Green New Deal, and a wealth tax for income over a million dollars — policies pushed by progressives — all enjoy broad majority support.

Of the dozens of progressive topics polled by NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist, only three left-leaning proposals are received poorly: decriminalizing illegal border crossings, slavery reparations, and a Universal Basic Income (UBI).

The democratic base is particularly energized with progressive ideas. Although Bernie Sanders was vanquished at the polls, exit polling from twenty consecutive states showed a majority of Democratic voters supporting a Medicare-for-All proposal.

Michigan primary voters backed a government run healthcare plan over private health insurers by 20 points, yet Bernie Sanders failed to carry a single county. Bernie Sanders’ ideas have become more popular than Bernie Sanders the politician. Why is it that a progressive upset is so rare that it is newsworthy, but deep red states are voting for leftwing ballet initiatives?

“Let’s be clear: progressive ideas are winning regardless of who the nominee is. And Medicare-for-All is favored policy of majorities in every state, despite the attacks,” Pramila Jayapal tweeted. “Our movement will continue to fight so every American gets guaranteed healthcare.”

But all hope isn’t lost for progressives. The Overton Window of what is politically acceptable to the mainstream has shifted leftward in recent years. The Biden campaign has adopted some of the Sanders’ platform. Certain issues, like same sex marriage, have been won. Other issues, like marijuana, will be won with time.

At some point, the policies and politicians will reflect the public sentiment. The pundits, in all their unbefitting panache, will wonder aloud when American became a left-of-center nation.

But we already are.

political science researcher. former valedictorian. reader/writer. host of “Politics Mostly” podcast.

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