The verbal potshots keep coming in the skirmishes between the Democratic Party’s suburban swing district voting bloc and the socialist squad led by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and a few of her colleagues. The latest salvo comes from Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who fired off a broadside against the slightly more moderate members of her party in an interview with Politico, arguing that the far-Left Democrats were the ones who had a winning message on Election Day.
“We’re not going to be successful if we’re silencing districts like mine,” said Tlaib, who told her colleagues something similar during a contentious call last week. “Me not being able to speak on behalf of many of my neighbors right now, many of which are Black neighbors, means me being silenced. I can’t be silent.”
“We are not interested in unity that asks people to sacrifice their freedom and their rights any longer,” said Tlaib, whose Michigan district is among the poorest in the country. “And if we truly want to unify our country, we have to really respect every single voice. We say that so willingly when we talk about Trump supporters, but we don’t say that willingly for my Black and brown neighbors and from LGBTQ neighbors or marginalized people.”
Now, if I were a swing district Democrat I might ask Tlaib why she thinks she’s being silenced if she’s giving interviews to a national publication like Politico. I’d also ask her why respecting “every single voice” apparently doesn’t apply in her mind to the constituents in closely-fought suburban districts, where Democrats had a much tougher time than those running in Democrat-dominated cities.
After all, Tlaib won 78% of the vote in her re-election bid this year, and her district is D+32 according to the Cook Political Voting Index. From a purely political perspective, Democrats can afford to lose more voters in Tlaib’s district than they can afford to lose in, say, Virginia’s 7th District, where “moderate” Abigail Spanberger appears to have won her re-election bid, but only managed to get 51% of the vote (actually, 50.9%). In raw numbers, Tlaib won her race by about 180,000 votes, while Spanberger defeated Republican challenger Nick Freitas by 8,000 votes.
Would Rashida Tlaib win re-election in MI-13 if she ran a Spanberger-style campaign where she didn’t talk about defunding the police and praise socialism while avoiding any mention of gun control? Almost certainly. Would Abigail Spanberger win in VA-07 if she ran on a Tlaib-esque platform of being an out-and-proud Democratic Socialist, embracing bans on semi-automatic firearms and large capacity magazines while bashing capitalism as an outdated and inherently racist system?
Not. A. Chance.
Now, when it comes to their voting records, there’s not much difference between the two congresswomen. Spanberger and Tlaib voted together 88% of the time in the last session of Congress, according to ProPublica, including in support of the “universal background check” bill that passed the Democratic-controlled House last year.
Still, there’s a reason that Spanberger, who backed a ban on so-called assault weapons as recently as last year, didn’t mention a gun ban on her campaign website in 2020. Background checks and “red flag” laws, yes, but not a word about banning AR-15s and the like.
Spanberger’s district is made up of ten counties in central Virginia, and nine of them have voted in the past year to become Second Amendment Sanctuaries (Henrico County supervisors passed a more banal resolution in support of the Second Amendment rather than adopting specific sanctuary language), after Democrats took control of the state legislature and immediately began working to pass a state-level gun, magazine, and suppressor ban. That bill ultimately was defeated in the state Senate earlier this year, and Spanberger had to know that bringing up gun control as a campaign issue was only going to hurt her chances of re-election.
That same calculus was at work in dozens of House and Senate races across the country, where candidates and even gun control groups like Everytown and Brady downplayed and even outright ignored gun control as a campaign issue. It was one thing to loudly demand a ban on AR-15s in January of 2020, when candidates would point to the shootings in El Paso and Toledo as a reason to take these “battlefield weapons of war off the streets.” It was a completely different environment in September and October: millions of Americans had become gun owners; riots, civil unrest, and violent crime were rising around the country; and Democratic mayors and governors were taking a mostly hands-off approach to the lawlessness, adding to people’s concern for their personal safety.
These Democrats don’t want to vote on Biden’s gun ban and “buyback” in this environment, even if they support it (as most of them do). The Tlaib’s and AOC’s in the Democratic party, on the other hand, want to go full speed ahead on gun control issues. That infighting, which obviously encompasses issues other than the Second Amendment, is going to be an ongoing battle in the next session of Congress, but gun owners will benefit from the arguments over just how far Democrats are willing to push their full anti-gun agenda.
Nancy Pelosi, if she’s re-elected Speaker of the House, is going to be working with some narrow margins on controversial votes, and if the Senate remains in Republican hands she may decide that it’s better tactically to hold the most extreme bills rather than force embattled swing district Democrats to go on the record in favor of criminalizing the ownership of the most commonly-sold centerfire rifle in the United States.
Gun control groups are likely going to want to see something introduced in the House, and the anti-gun Democrats who are safely ensconced in deep-blue districts may view a bill that does something like give grants to states to establish “red flag” laws as not going nearly far enough to appease their own constituents.
Most of these fights are going to take place behind closed doors and away from the cameras, but they will be taking place, and it’s always better to have your opponents fighting amongst themselves while they’re fighting you. Ultimately, gun owners will benefit from the running battle on the Left over everything from tactics, strategy, messaging, and even ideology that’s likely to persist for the next few years… at least as long as our infighting isn’t worse than theirs (which is a column for another time).