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Ideological Purity Tests are Killing the Democratic Party

Created: 25 April, 2017
Updated: 17 October, 2022
3 min read


Last week, MSNBC's Morning Joe criticized the Democratic leadership for not being accepting of candidates that do not toe an ideological line. Some rising candidates in the South are having trouble getting support from their own party.

Here's the story.

Bernie Sanders has come out in support for candidates running in local, state, and federal races across the country. However, some progressive groups and Democratic officials have lambasted him for supporting candidates like Heath Mello, who is running for mayor in Omaha, Nebraska.

Mello is running on a platform of being the first middle class mayor in a generation, appealing to voters who like the same populist tone that Bernie Sanders ran on.

What's the problem? Well, Mello doesn't have a perfect record on the issue of abortion rights. At least, that is the problem some groups have with him. He doesn't pass the progressive ideological purity test.

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New DNC Chair Tom Perez even issued a statement that said pro-choice positions were non-negotiable to the party and that the DNC would only throw its support behind candidates that toe that line.

"Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman's right to make her own choices about her body and her health," Perez said. "That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state."

Seems odd for a party that wants to push a 50-state strategy. It's even odder since Perez had appeared on stage with Bernie Sanders at a Mello rally and voiced his support for his candidacy.

"In order to execute a 50-state strategy, we need to understand what's going on in all 50 states, and attract candidates who are consistent with their messages but perhaps not on 100 percent of the issues," Perez told reporters last week.

Perez appeared to do a 180 in about 24 hours, and the mixed message leaves both voters and potential candidates confused.

The Democratic Party wants to push a 50-state strategy, but if candidates must perfectly toe the party line or get a perfect score on some ideological purity test, how does the party expect to pick up seats in Southern states? Regain the Senate? Get a president in the Oval Office? Win over independent voters?

Isn't this the same mistake the party made in 2016? Excluding and pushing out people who didn't fully fall in line?

Mello is not an isolated case either. Sanders wasn't welcomed into the Democratic Party with open arms (more like sideways glances and scoffs), and the party establishment continues to try to push Tulsi Gabbard out -- first from the DNC and now Congress.

During the presidential primary, then-DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz even said party rules were in place to keep out grassroots activists and candidates. Such elitist membership standards that one would find at high-end country clubs are exactly what is turning voters off -- even voters registered with the party.

In short, ideological purity tests are killing the Democratic Party. Party elitism is being rejected by a growing number of voters, and the party is not showing these voters that they are willing to change -- even as popularity for politicians like Bernie Sanders grows.