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Netroots Nation: What does America’s largest progressive conference mean for the 2020 race?

Netroots Nation: What does America’s largest progressive conference mean for the 2020 race?
With the Democratic party torn between the activist left and the establishment center, some of its leading figures competed to out-woke each other at Netroots Nation 2019. But will this bring victory in 2020 – or rule it out?

Held in Philadelphia over the weekend and hosted by the uber-liberal Daily Kos, Netroots Nation is America’s largest gathering of progressives, leftists and social justice activists of all stripes. Think an inversion of the Conservative Political Action Conference, with “nevertheless, she persisted” t-shirts and “Hijabi Power” bumper stickers replacing screaming eagle shirts and “Honk if you <3 Israel” lawn signs.

For the most vocal social justice warriors in the Democratic Party, it was a chance to whip up their base. Fresh from a spat with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over an immigration bill they called a “capitulation” to the White House, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) – all members of the so-called ‘squad’ roasted on Twitter by President Donald Trump on Sunday – came out swinging.

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“We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice,” Pressley told the crowd in an identity politics broadside.

Omar delivered a pep-talk to “women of color” entering politics, while Tlaib shouted her trademark anti-Trump refrain: “We’re going to impeach the mother****er, don’t worry!”

While this was all crowd-pleasing stuff from the insurgent left, Netroots is also a platform for presidential hopefuls to connect with progressive voters. Conspicuous in their absence this weekend were Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Biden, who represents his party’s suit-and-tie establishment wing, likely chose well in giving the conference a miss. Sanders may have wanted to avoid a repeat of 2015, when he was shouted off the stage by Black Lives Matter activists. Kamala Harris, once the media’s darling but now facing flak from the left for her past as a prosecutor, also gave the event a miss.

Get woke, go broke?

Their loss was Elizabeth Warren’s gain. The Massachusetts senator – who squeaked past Sanders and now trails frontrunner Joe Biden by only seven points in a recent NBC News poll – pledged to investigate “crimes committed by the United States against immigrants” if elected president. Added to her previous promises to decriminalize border crossings and raise the wages of women of color, Warren’s vow received rapturous applause from the ultra-liberal crowd.

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The other 2020 candidates in attendance – former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Washington Governor Jay Inslee and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand – were left competing to out-woke each other.

Castro promised to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), while Gillibrand tearfully apologized for her “white privilege.” Inslee pulled a ‘Leeroy Jenkins’ and announced that, if elected, he would ask USWNT soccer player Megan Rapinoe – a fierce critic of Trump who refused to place her hand over her heart during the national anthem at her recent World Cup games as a “good f**k you” to the president – to be his Secretary of State.

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While such statements are ambrosia to a friendly crowd, there is no telling how they will play to the electorate at large. Amid the white guilt self-flagellation and immigration pandering, Democrats would do well to remember that Trump is still dominant among white voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll taken last month. Trump won over these white voters by a 21 point margin in 2016 too, and took 62 percent of the white male vote. 

In addition, white non-hispanics make up 60 percent of the US population. Failure to connect with them will all but guarantee a second term for Trump. 

Warren and her progressive ilk may see aping the fierce progressivism of Omar, Tlaib and co as a path to victory, but these all-important white voters disagree. A poll taken by the Democratic Party in May found that among whites who had heard of Omar, only nine percent had a favorable view of the Minnesota congresswoman. Hotshot New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez didn’t fare much better, with a 22 percent favorable view.

Only 18 percent of respondents had a favorable view of socialism, a figure that could spell problems for a candidate like Warren attempting to sell policies like Medicare for All and her own version of the controversial ‘Green New Deal.’

Trump seems acutely aware of this, and has been determined to paint the Democratic party as “unhinged.” A Republican campaign ad last year played ominous images of left-wing ‘Antifa’ mobs over a speech about socialism from Bernie Sanders, while the President took to Twitter on Monday to call Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow progressives a “bunch of Communists” who “will destroy the Democratic party” and “our country.”

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