It’s 105 degrees as I stand with Rep. Devin Nunes on his family’s dairy farm. Mr. Nunes has been feeling even more heat in Washington, where as chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence he has labored to unearth the truth about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s activities during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. Thanks in large part to his work, we now know that the FBI used informants against Donald Trump’s campaign, that it obtained surveillance warrants based on opposition research conducted for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and that after the election Obama administration officials “unmasked” and monitored the incoming team.
Mr. Nunes’s efforts have provoked extraordinary partisan and institutional fury in Washington—across the aisle, in the FBI and other law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, in the media. “On any given day there are dozens of attacks, each one wilder in its claims,” he says. Why does he keep at it? “First of all, because it’s my job. This is a basic congressional investigation, and we follow the facts,” he says. The “bigger picture,” he adds, is that in “a lot of the bad and problematic countries” that Intelligence Committee members investigate, “this is what they do there. There is a political party that controls the intelligence agencies, controls the media, all to ensure that party stays in power. If we get to that here, we no longer have a functioning republic. We can’t let that happen.”
Mr. Nunes, 44, was elected to Congress in 2002 from Central California. He joined the Intelligence Committee in 2011 and delved into the statutes, standards and norms that underpin U.S. spying. That taught him to look for “red flags,” information or events that don’t feel right and indicate a deeper problem. He noticed some soon after the 2016 election.
Devin Nunes, Washington’s Public Enemy No. 1
The first: Immediately after joining the Trump transition team, Mr. Nunes faced an onslaught of left-wing claims that he might be in cahoots with Vladimir Putin. It started on social media, though within months outlets such as MSNBC were openly asking if he was a “Russian agent.” “I’ve been a Russia hawk going way back,” he says. “I was the one who only six months earlier had called the Obama administration’s failure to understand Putin’s plans and intentions the largest intelligence failure since 9/11. So these attacks, surreal—big red flag.”
Mr. Nunes would later come to believe the accusations marked the beginning of a deliberate campaign by Obama officials and the intelligence community to discredit him and sideline him from any oversight effort. “This was November. We, Republicans, still didn’t know about the FBI’s Trump investigation. But they did,” he says. “There was concern I’d figure it out, so they had to get rid of me.”
A second red flag: the sudden rush by a small group of Obama officials to produce a new intelligence assessment two weeks before President Trump’s inauguration, claiming the Russians had acted in 2016 specifically to elect Mr. Trump. “Nobody disagrees the Russians were trying to muddy up Hillary Clinton. Because everyone on the planet believed—including the Russians—she was going to win,” Mr. Nunes says. So it “made no sense” that the Obama administration was “working so hard to make the flip argument—to say ‘Oh, no, no: This was all about electing Trump.’ ” The effort began to make more sense once that rushed intelligence assessment grew into a central premise behind the theory that Mr. Trump’s campaign had colluded with the Russians.
January 2017 also brought then-FBI Director James Comey’s acknowledgment to Congress—the public found out later—that the bureau had been conducting a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign since the previous summer, and that Mr. Comey had actively concealed the probe from Congress. Months earlier, when Mr. Nunes had seen media stories alluding to a Trump investigation, he’d dismissed them. “We’re supposed to get briefed,” he says. “Plus, I was thinking: ‘Comey, FBI, they’re good people and would never do this in an election. Nah.’ ”
When the facts came out, Mr. Nunes was stunned by the form the investigation took. For years he had been central in updating the laws governing surveillance, metadata collection and so forth. “I would never have conceived of FBI using our counterintelligence capabilities to target a political campaign. If it had crossed any of our minds, I can guarantee we’d have specifically written, ‘Don’t do that,’ ” when crafting legislation, he says. “Counterintelligence is looking at people trying to steal our nation’s secrets or working with terrorists. This if anything would be a criminal matter.”
Then there was the Christopher Steele dossier, prepared for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign by the opposition-research firm Fusion GPS. Top congressional Republicans got a January 2017 briefing about the document, which Mr. Comey later described as “salacious and unverified.” Mr. Nunes remembers Mr. Comey making one other claim. “He said Republicans paid for it. Not true.” Mr. Nunes recalls. “If they had informed us Hillary Clinton and Democrats paid for that dossier, I can guarantee you that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan would have laughed and walked out of that meeting.” The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website funded by hedge-fund manager Paul Singer, had earlier hired Fusion GPS to do research on Mr. Trump, but the Beacon’s editors have said that assignment did not overlap with the dossier.
All these red flags were more than enough to justify a congressional investigation, yet Mr. Nunes says his sleuthing triggered a new effort to prevent one. He had been troubled in January 2017 when newspapers published leaked conversations between Mike Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, and the Russian ambassador. The leak, Mr. Nunes says, involved “very technical collection, nearly the exact readouts.” It violated strict statutory rules against “unmasking”—revealing the identities of Americans who are picked up talking to foreigners who are under U.S. intelligence surveillance.
Around the time of the Flynn leak, Mr. Nunes received tips that far more unmasking had taken place. His sources gave him specific document numbers to prove it. Viewing them required Mr. Nunes to travel in March to a secure reading room on White House grounds, a visit his critics would then spin into a false claim that he was secretly working with Mr. Trump’s inner circle. They also asserted that his unmasking revelations amounted to an unlawful disclosure of classified information.
That prompted a House Ethics Committee investigation. In April 2017, Mr. Nunes stepped aside temporarily from the Russia-collusion piece of his inquiry, conveniently for those who wished to forestall its progress. Not until December did the Ethics Committee clear Mr. Nunes. “We found out later,” he says, “that four of the five Democrats on that committee had called for me to be removed before this even got rolling.”
Meantime, the Intelligence Committee continued the Russia-collusion probe without Mr. Nunes. In October 2017 news finally became public that the Steele dossier had been paid for by the Clinton campaign. This raised the question of how much the FBI had relied on opposition research for its warrant applications, under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, to spy on onetime Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Throughout the fall, the Justice Department refused to comply with Intel Committee subpoenas for key dossier and FISA documents.
By the end of the year, Mr. Nunes was facing off with the Justice Department, which was given a Jan. 3, 2018, deadline to comply with Congress’s demands for information. The New York Times quoted unnamed government officials who claimed the Russia investigation had hinged not on the dossier but on a conversation with another low-level Trump aide, George Papadopoulos. The next day, the Washington Post ran a story asserting—falsely, Mr. Nunes insists—that even his Republican colleagues had lost confidence in him. “So, a leak about how the dossier doesn’t matter after all, and another saying I’m out there alone,” he says. “And right then DOJ and FBI suddenly demand a private meeting with the speaker, where they try to convince him to make me stand down. All this is not a coincidence.”
But Mr. Ryan backed Mr. Nunes, and the Justice Department produced the documents. The result was the Nunes memo, released to the public in February, which reported that the Steele dossier had in fact “formed an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application”—and that the FBI had failed to inform the FISA court of the document’s partisan provenance. “We kept the memo to four pages,” Mr. Nunes says. “We wanted it clean. And we thought: That’s it, it’s over. The American public now knows that they were using dirt to investigate a political campaign, a U.S. citizen, and everyone will acknowledge the scandal.” That isn’t what happened. Instead, “Democrats put out their own memo, the media attacked us more, and the FBI and DOJ continue to obfuscate.”
It got worse. This spring Mr. Nunes obtained information showing the FBI had used informants to gather intelligence on the Trump camp. The Justice Department is still playing hide-and-seek with documents. “We still don’t know how many informants were run before July 31, 2016”—the official open of the counterintelligence investigation—“and how much they were paid. That’s the big outstanding question,” he says. Mr. Nunes adds that the department and the FBI haven’t done anything about the unmaskings or taken action against the Flynn leakers—because, in his view, “they are too busy working with Democrats to cover all this up.”
He and his committee colleagues in June sent a letter asking Mr. Trump to declassify at least 20 pages of the FISA application. Mr. Nunes says they are critical: “If people think using the Clinton dirt to get a FISA is bad, what else that’s in that application is even worse.”
Mr. Nunes has harsh words for his adversaries. How, he asks, can his committee’s Democrats, who spent years “worrying about privacy and civil liberties,” be so blasé about unmaskings, surveillance of U.S. citizens, and intelligence leaks? On the FBI: “I’m not the one that used an unverified dossier to get a FISA warrant,” Mr. Nunes says. “I’m not the one who obstructed a congressional investigation. I’m not the one who lied and said Republicans paid for the dossier. I’m just one of a few people in a position to get to the bottom of it.” And on the press: “Today’s media is corrupt. It’s chosen a side. But it’s also making itself irrelevant. The sooner Republicans understand that, the better.”
His big worry is that Republicans are running out of time before the midterm elections, yet there are dozens of witnesses still to interview. “But this was always the DOJ/FBI plan,” he says. “They are slow-rolling, because they are wishing and betting the Republicans lose the House.”
Still, he believes the probe has yielded enough information to chart a path for reform: “We need more restrictions on what you can use FISAs for, and more restrictions on unmaskings. And we need real penalties for those who violate the rules.” He says his investigation has also illuminated “the flaws in the powers of oversight, which Congress need to reinstate for itself.”
Mostly, Mr. Nunes feels it has been important to tell the story. “There are going to be two histories written here. The fiction version will come from an entire party, and former and even current intelligence heads, and the media, who will continue trying to cover up what they did,” he says. “It’s our job, unfortunately, to write the nonfiction.”
Monday, July 30, 2018
from the WSJ
Sunday, July 29, 2018
Saturday, July 28, 2018
Saturday, July 21, 2018
For one thing, it’s not Trump country. Most struggling whites I know here live a life of quiet desperation, mad at their white bosses, not resentful toward their co-workers or neighbors of color.
WICHITA, Kan. — Is the white working class an angry, backward monolith — some 90 million white Americans without college degrees, all standing around in factories and fields thumping their dirty hands with baseball bats? You might think so after two years of media fixation on this version of the aggrieved laborer: male, Caucasian, conservative, racist, sexist.
This account does white supremacy a great service in several ways: It ignores workers of color, along with humane, even progressive white workers. It allows college-educated white liberals to signal superior virtue while denying the sins of their own place and class. And it conceals well-informed, formally educated white conservatives — from middle-class suburbia to the highest ranks of influence — who voted for Donald Trump in legions.
The trouble begins with language: Elite pundits regularly misuse “working class” as shorthand for right-wing white guys wearing tool belts. My father, a white man and lifelong construction worker who labors alongside immigrants and people of color on job sites across the Midwest and South working for a Kansas-based general contractor owned by a woman, would never make such an error.
Most struggling whites I know live lives of quiet desperation mad at their white bosses, not resentment of their co-workers or neighbors of color. My dad’s previous three bosses were all white men he loathed for abuses of privilege and people.
It is unfair power that my father despises. The last rant I heard him on was not about race or immigration but about the recent royal wedding, the spectacle of which made him sick.
“What’s so special about the royals?” he told me over the phone from a cheap motel after work. “But they’ll get the best health care, the best education, the best food. Meanwhile I’m in Marion, Arkansas. All I want is some chickens and a garden and place to go fishing once in a while.”
What my father seeks is not a return to times that were worse for women and people of color but progress toward a society in which everyone can get by, including his white, college-educated son who graduated into the Great Recession and for 10 years sold his own plasma for gas money. After being laid off during that recession in 2008, my dad had to cash in his retirement to make ends meet while looking for another job. He has labored nearly every day of his life and has no savings beyond Social Security.
Yes, my father is angry at someone. But it is not his co-worker Gem, a Filipino immigrant with whom he has split a room to pocket some of the per diem from their employer, or Francisco, a Hispanic crew member with whom he recently built a Wendy’s north of Memphis. His anger, rather, is directed at bosses who exploit labor and governments that punish the working poor — two sides of a capitalist democracy that bleeds people like him dry.
“Corporations,” Dad said. “That’s it. That’s the point of the sword that’s killing us.”
Among white workers, this negative energy has been manipulated to great political effect by a conservative trifecta in media, private interest and celebrity that we might call Fox, Koch and Trump.
As my dad told me, “There’s jackasses on every level of the food chain — but those jackasses are the ones that play all these other jackasses.”
Still, millions of white working-class people have refused to be played. They have resisted the traps of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and nationalism and voted the other way — or, in too many cases, not voted at all. I am far less interested in calls for empathy toward struggling white Americans who spout or abide hatred than I am in tapping into the political power of those who don’t.
Like many Midwestern workers I know, my dad has more in common ideologically with New York’s Democratic Socialist congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez than with the white Republicans who run our state. Having spent most of his life doing dangerous, underpaid work without health insurance, he supports the ideas of single-payer health care and a universal basic income.
Much has been made of the white working class’s political shift to the right. But Mr. Trump won among white college graduates, too. According to those same exit polls trotted out to blame the “uneducated,” 49 percent of whites with degrees picked Mr. Trump, while 45 percent picked Hillary Clinton (among them, support for Mr. Trump was stronger among men). Such Americans hardly “vote against their own best interest.” Media coverage suggests that economically distressed whiteness elected Mr. Trump, when in fact it was just plain whiteness.
Stories dispelling the persistent notion that bigotry is the sole province of “uneducated” people in derided “flyover” states are right before our eyes: A white man caught on camera assaulting a black man at a white-supremacist rally last August in Charlottesville, Va., was recently identified as a California engineer. This year, a white male lawyer berated restaurant workers for speaking Spanish in New York City. A white, female, Stanford-educated chemical engineer called the Oakland, Calif., police on a family for, it would appear, barbecuing while black.
Among the 30 states tidily declared “red” after the 2016 election, in two-thirds of them Mrs. Clinton received 35 to 48 percent of the vote. My white working-class family was part of that large minority, rendered invisible by the Electoral College and graphics that paint each state red or blue.
In the meantime, critical stories here in “red states” go underdiscussed and underreported, including:
Barriers to voting. Forces more influential than the political leanings of a white factory worker decide election outcomes: gerrymandering, super PACs, corrupt officials. In Kansas, Secretary of State Kris Kobach blocked 30,000 would-be voters from casting ballots (and was recently held in contempt of federal court for doing so).
Different information sources. Some of my political views shifted when my location, peer group and news sources changed during my college years. Many Americans today have a glut of information but poor media literacy — hard to rectify if you work on your feet all day, don’t own a computer and didn’t get a chance to learn the vocabulary of national discourse.
Populism on the left. Today, “populism” is often used interchangeably with “far right.” But the American left is experiencing a populist boom. According to its national director, Democratic Socialists of America nearly quadrupled in size from 2016 to 2017 — and saw its biggest one-day boost the day after Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s recent primary upset. Progressive congressional candidates with working-class backgrounds and platforms have major support heading into the midterms here in Kansas, including the white civil rights attorney James Thompson, who grew up in poverty, and Sharice Davids, a Native American lawyer who would be the first openly lesbian representative from Kansas.
To find a more accurate vision of these United States, we must resist pat narratives about any group — including the working class on whom our current political situation is most often pinned. The greatest con of 2016 was not persuading a white laborer to vote for a nasty billionaire with soft hands. Rather, it was persuading a watchdog press to cast every working-class American in the same mold. The resulting national conversation, which seeks to rename my home “Trump Country,” elevates a white supremacist agenda by undermining resistance and solidarity where it is most urgent and brave.
Thursday, July 19, 2018
State-sponsored health insurance for all Marylanders such as the single-payer plan proposed by Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous could cost $24 billion a year, forcing lawmakers to significantly raise taxes, according to a nonpartisan analysis.
Such a cost would increase the state’s $44 billion operating budget by more than half.
The analysis, drafted by the state’s Department of Legislative Services and released to The Baltimore Sun, said Maryland would have to levy a 10 percent payroll tax against every business and charge a $2,800 fee for every man, woman and child to pay for a new health care system in which doctors bill the state instead of private insurance companies.
The fee would replace payments residents now make toward health care costs, meaning Marylanders who pay more than $2,800 annually could save money under a single-payer model, according to the analysis.
“Clearly, any single-payer program represents a significant restructuring of the State’s current health care delivery system and tax system,” the analysts wrote.
The Jealous campaign — which has pledged to create a universal health care system without waiting for the the federal government to take the lead — pushed back against the analysis, saying it believes an overhaul of the health care system can be done for much less. Moreover, they argue, even though the state budget would grow, the average Marylander would pay less for health care.
“Everyone is supposed to have access to quality affordable care and the current system doesn’t do that,” said Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Jealous. “This is about getting a better deal for Marylanders.”
If Jealous is elected, Harris said, he will create a commission to figure out how to implement a single-payer system and how to pay for it.
“It would be premature to say” what new taxes or tax increases would be proposed, Harris said.
The campaign of incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said the Department of Legislative Services analysis shows Jealous is a tax-and-spender.
“This analysis shows just how dangerously irresponsible, unaffordable and unworkable Ben Jealous’ plan would be for our citizens and our economy,” Hogan campaign spokesman Doug Mayer said in an email. “Voters know there is no such thing as a free lunch, and under Jealous’ program middle-class Marylanders would be crushed by tens of billions in new taxes that would send our economy into a tailspin.”
The Jealous campaign provided an analysis from National Nurses United, a union that backs the former NAACP president. The group estimates switching to a single-payer system would save the average Marylander about 10.5 percent a year on health care costs.
Kelly Coogan-Gehr, policy analyst for National Nurses United, said health care costs are continuing to rise rapidly and nearly 400,000 Marylanders remain uninsured — a situation the Jealous campaign calls “unsustainable.”
Coogan-Gehr argued the state’s residents could save significantly through a single-payer system by cutting out the middleman in the process, the insurance companies.
“Our stance is we can’t afford not to do it,” she said. “Maryland is well positioned to go to the single-payer system.”
Dan Johnston, assistant director of research for National Nurses United, said Jealous could use a number of options to pay for the system: sales tax increases, payroll tax increases and income tax increases.
“There are different tax schemes you could do. We looked at different types of financing mechanisms,” he said. “We can get them to where almost everybody is paying less, including businesses. A single-payer system will save everybody money in Maryland.”
The Department of Legislative Services analysis did not offer an estimate for whether the change would increase or decrease health care expenses for businesses and employees.
“The impact on an individual business would depend significantly on the generosity of existing health care coverage offered,” the analysts wrote.
The $24 billion estimate for the cost of a single-payer system did not include existing spending on Medicare, by the Veterans Administration and the military healthcare system, the analysts said.
The spending could grow if the federal government withdrew Medicaid coverage or the state’s administration of health care billing proved costly, the analysis noted.
Current spending on health care in Maryland — including federal, state, employer and employee payments — totals about $59 billion annually.
A single-payer system would disrupt Maryland’s unique approach to paying for health care.
The state and federal government have entered into an “all-payer” contract in which the federal government provides about $1.8 billion more in funds than it would otherwise for Medicare, the government health system for older Americans.
That contract would be voided if the state moves to a single-payer system, said Gene M. Ransom III, CEO of the Maryland State Medical Society. Ransom, who represents doctors across the state, said he worries about the disruption caused by a shift toward a single-payer system. He thinks it will cost much more than the state analysts say.
If the current deal with the federal government is tossed out, Maryland could lose funding for the new Prince George’s County hospital, Ransom said.
“I have a small percentage of doctors who really want to do single-payer,” he said. “I have more who don’t. This would be a major, major change. I’m really worried about these practical aspects.”
Jealous has argued that Maryland is in a better position than other states to create a state-based version of Medicare that would serve people of all ages.
Jealous’ MD-Care plan calls for services that go well beyond traditional Medicare and Medicaid. He would include, among other things, comprehensive mental health care benefits, as well as vision and dental care.
He said his proposed program would build on Maryland’s “all-payer” system, which requires that all insurers pay a standard rate for hospital services.
The system, which has support in both parties, saved an estimated $429 million between 2013 and 2016 and held the growth of Maryland health care costs below the national average, according to the state health department.
Other states have struggled to implement single-payer health care systems.
In California, efforts to set up a Medicare-for-all system have stalled in its Democratic-dominated legislature.
In Vermont, Democrat Peter Shumlin won the governorship in 2010 on a promise to set up a single-payer system. But in 2014, he abandoned the plan, saying the tax rates Vermonters would have to pay for such a system would be “staggering.”
Former Maryland state Del. Heather Mizeur, who is known as an expert on health care policy, said she agrees with most of Jealous’ platform. During her own run for the Democratic nomination for governor four years ago, Mizeur advocated raising the minimum wage, reforming the criminal justice system and legalizing marijuana — much as Jealous is now.
But Mizeur said she does not support a single-payer health care system at the state level.
“Ben Jealous and I agree on a vast majority of progressive ideas to move Maryland forward, but a state-based single-payer health plan is not one of them,” she said. “While it is a worthwhile discussion at the federal level, it is too expensive and unworkable for a state to take on individually — especially for Maryland, given our unique situation with the long-standing federal Medicare waiver that establishes an all-payer system for our hospitals.”
Mizeur called the waiver “the backbone of our state’s health care system” that could be put at risk with the change Jealous is proposing.
“Sometimes an idea sounds great,” she said, “but when we look at the details of how it would actually be implemented, we can see that it is not a good approach.”
Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Saturday, July 7, 2018
Friday, July 6, 2018
The day after Ben Jealous won Maryland’s Democratic nomination for governor, he appeared on a left-leaning MSNBC talk show and was asked the question roiling establishment Democrats.
Was he so liberal that he will help a Republican win? Break apart the Democratic Party?
Jealous largely dodged the premise of the question.
“Go ahead, call me a socialist,” Jealous answered, bringing up his latest job and most potent political antidote to the charge. “That doesn’t change the fact I’m a venture capitalist.”
It also doesn’t change the fact Jealous’ platform is further to the left than any other politician Maryland’s Democrats have ever nominated for governor.
His progressive campaign delivered a decisive victory Tuesday over the establishment’s candidate, emphasizing a rift between the Democrats’ left flank and the moderates who have traditionally defined the party in Maryland.
His candidacy going into the general election, political analysts say, leaves open the question of whether he will heal that division — or run a campaign that wedges it further apart.
“It will either save the party or it will destroy it,” said Democratic political strategist Rick Abbruzzese.
Abbruzzese, who for years worked for former governor Martin O’Malley, said that Jealous and moderate incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan will be competing for the support of the state’s moderate and conservative Democrats.
“The debate is healthy,” Abbruzzese said. “We’ll find out if Jealous or Hogan is the great convener.”
Publicly, Maryland Democrats intend to display a united front. Former vice president Joe Biden agreed to lead Saturday’s “unity rally” in Baltimore to bring together Democrats, an event planned months before the election.
Privately, prominent Maryland Democrats wonder if Jealous’ victory, and the divisions it might help foster, would help Hogan’s re-election campaign.
“The party endures, but what does this party looks like when it’s over?” asked Mileah Kromer, a political scientist at Goucher College. “Do Democrats have a more liberal party? Or will they embrace that old adage that Maryland is a state of middle temperament?”
Jealous supporters say the entire debate is overblown and ignores how the former NAACP chief won the primary in the first place: by building a coalition, unique in Maryland, of progressive organizations, labor unions and African-American support.
“He’s an organizer at his core,” said Larry Stafford, director of Progressive Maryland, one of the groups that backed Jealous.
“It takes pulling together diverse coalitions,” Stafford said. “You have to be able to bring together different relationships and put pressure on people to lead in the right direction. That’s what he did in the very beginning.”
Stafford argued that Jealous was able to appeal to conservative, rural Democrats as well as those who live in bigger cities, that his victory was not propelled only by the left wing of the party. After all, most of Jealous’ platform — legal marijuana, a $15 minimum wage, and free college — was shared by most of the crowded Democratic field.
“Ben won 22 of 24 jurisdictions,” Stafford said. “Many of those are rural and suburban counties. Most people think those are the places where moderate or conservative Democrats are.”
Jay Hutchins is acting executive of another group that backed Jealous — Maryland Working Families — and coordinated an independent expenditure campaign that spent nearly $500,000 to help Jealous win.
Hutchins said Jealous could unite people because he addressed problems that span the political spectrum — finding stable jobs that pay enough and affording the rising cost of health care and college.
“What we were hearing about on the street level, talking to voters, were the issues that Ben was talking about," he said. The campaign, he said, “clearly captured the sentiment, and I think might signal something bigger brewing here.”
But outside observers say Jealous’ candidacy and Maryland Democrats can’t ignore the existing divide. Nor can they ignore that most establishment Democrats lined up behind Jealous’ chief opponent, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker.
“They need to do some soul searching and ask, ‘How have we let this gap grow?” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College.
“He’s got to find a way to bridge the divide between those factions of the party.”
Eberly said that Maryland was left out of the major political realignment of the 1960s, when many white Democrats in southern states joined the Republican Party. In Maryland, he said, conservative Democrats stayed in the party, though their numbers have been dwindling as those moderates become independents.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Annapolis Democrat who has been in office since 1987, said that over the course of his political career, every Democratic candidate for governor has been more liberal than the last one.
"This isn’t new; Ben Jealous is just pushing it a little further out," Busch said. “I’ve seen a huge shift to progressives since I’ve been in office.”
He added, however, that Jealous’ victory “found the gap” between the progressive wing and the establishment and used it for his advantage — something that was uniquely possible in the 2016 primary given the polarized nature of politics.
“The dynamics of politics has changed dramatically since Donald Trump was elected president,” Busch said. “He has driven the right further to the extreme, and he has awakened the far left progressive.”
Jealous argues he can manipulate that gap to his advantage, creating a new left-right coalition of frustrated Marylanders – from struggling Baltimoreans to poor rural workers – from both major parties who were inspired by outsiders like Trump and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders during the presidential election.
“We’re going to create a new center, a new middle,” Jealous said. “That’s based on putting out solutions to the big problems of our state.”
But he has no plans to change course and adopt a centrist platform to get there.
“I have size 14 feet,” Jealous said. “I can’t zig-zag. I’ll trip.”