As Democrats prepare to pitch themselves to midterm voters—in a potentially historic election that may determine whether Donald Trump can be checked and balanced—they appear poised to heed the wisdom of Yogi Berra: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
But that advice might actually work, because if the latest poll showing a 12-point Democratic lead in congressional battleground districts is prophetic, there may well be several simultaneous paths out of the wilderness.
In the meantime, however, Democrats are suffering their periodic identity crisis—should they tilt leftward and work the populist grassroots, or should they cautiously hew to the center? That internal debate, which split the party during the 2016 primary, has been stoked anew by the June victory of the self-identified Democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who ousted the House insider Joe Crowley in a New York primary. But midterm elections are traditionally a referendum on the incumbent president, and the backlash against Trump, particularly in swing suburban districts, might be strong enough to tamp down Democratic divisiveness and propel the party to a share of power.
Ocasio-Cortez has a compelling personal story, and a bold vision (Medicare for all, free higher education, a federal jobs guarantee) that makes the Nancy Pelosi–Chuck Schumer establishment look bland. And her telegenicity landed her in Stephen Colbert’s guest chair. Most of the mainstream media, which ignored—or missed entirely—her digital-age spadework, seems now to be overcompensating, to the point of virtually anointing her as the new face of the party. But some skeptical Democrats point out that her heavily Hispanic district is demographically atypical, and the turnout in her primary was only 14 percent, albeit dominated by the voters she galvanized.