Democratic leaders should think twice before crushing progressive primary challenges

Dividing the left is a GOP dream. Democrats shouldn't help it come true.

Bernie Sanders.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

Tuesday's Democratic primary in Ohio's 11th congressional district, for the November special election to replace former Rep. Marcia Fudge, feels like an extension of the acrimonious 2016 presidential primaries between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. That's because one of Sanders' most prominent allies, former Ohio state Senator Nina Turner, is seeking the nomination. And because her sometimes acerbic style alienated senior Democrats with very long memories, leading Democrats including Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-N.C.), the Congressional Black Caucus' PAC, and Clinton herself, have thrown their considerable weight behind Turner's opponent, Cuyahoga County Democratic Party Chairwoman Shontel Brown, who has since erased Turner's early lead. Even Marcia Fudge's mom has gotten in on the anti-Turner action.

What is it about this extremely safe Democratic seat that has drawn the attention of the party's heaviest hitters? Like many of the most prominent Sanders supporters, Turner's rhetoric in both 2016 and 2020 sometimes seemed designed to alienate the kind of normie Democrats who, let's remember, delivered the party's presidential nomination to Clinton in 2016 and then Biden in 2020. She was also the co-chair of Sanders' unsuccessful 2020 run for the nomination, so it's not like she was some surrogate gone rogue on a talk show. Last summer she told an Atlantic reporter that voting for Biden in the general election was like if "You have a bowl of s--t in front of you, and all you've got to do is eat half of it instead of the whole thing."

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David Faris

David Faris is an associate professor of political science at Roosevelt University and the author of It's Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics. He is a frequent contributor to Informed Comment, and his work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and Indy Week.