Reviews |  Why Kyrsten Sinema quitting the Democratic Party could be a game-changer

Reviews | Why Kyrsten Sinema quitting the Democratic Party could be a game-changer

After years of opposing the Democratic Party establishment, Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona has announced that she is quitting the party and registering as an independent. She insists that “nothing will change in my values ​​or my behavior”. Maybe. But the reality is that this move will likely cause him to become more conservative and beholden to corporate interests.

Sinema’s move to formal independence from the Democratic Party is a shocking but not surprising development in American politics. Under the Biden administration, Sinema’s often cryptic objections to the president’s legislative agenda played a key role in derailing or watering down the goals of progressive Democratic politics, which required his approval in a 50-50 Senate. Just days after Democrats secured a slightly more comfortable 51-seat majority in the Senate with Sen. Raphael Warnock’s victory in Georgia, it’s both appalling and fitting that she chose to bid farewell. to the Democrats; it remains a thorn in the side of a party desperate for cooperation.

By leaving the party, Sinema can avoid being ousted from within the party.

Some leftist commentators have assigned Sinema’s decision to leave the party to another bid for attention, given her tendency to deliberately draw attention to herself through her clothing choices, her dramatic rejection of Democratic legislation and her elusive ideological commitments . But there’s a more tangible explanation for why she chose to make that choice: her path to re-election if she runs again in 2024.

As my colleague Steve Benen noted, Sinema was aware that she faced a serious potential challenge from her left in a Democratic primary. She was censured by her state party this year for refusing to change filibuster rules to pass suffrage legislation. And Democratic Representative Ruben Gallego, who has gained popularity as a challenger who could knock her down, has already sounded much higher than her in hypothetical matches. By leaving the party, Sinema can avoid being ousted from within the party. And if she does run for office, she will put Democrats in a difficult position: If they field a candidate against her, they know her candidacy is likely to split the center-left vote and ensure a Republican victory. .

There’s a vibe that leaves me alone and nobody gets hurt. In her writings and interviews about her decision, Sinema seems to signal that she plans to act much the same as before – an unpredictable, business-friendly Democrat who can help the party achieve most of its goals, even from way more progressive than them. like, with its unique stamp of approval. Theoretically, if she’s running for re-election in 2024 hoping the Democrats walk out, she explains how everything could stay as is without her having to leave the Senate.

But in reality, Sinema’s decision to go independent raises questions about whether she will really stay the same. Without the Democratic Party’s messaging and fundraising apparatuses, Sinema will have to rely more on independent outside funding, and it seems all too likely that funding will come from deep-pocketed corporate donors.

In recent years, Sinema’s objections to policies such as higher corporate tax rates and her defense of Big Pharma profits have led her to be showered with cash from companies benefiting from her arguments. conservatives. Last year, despite being a Democrat, she was the third-biggest recipient of money from the financial services and pharmaceutical sectors in the Senate. If Sinema wants to run again and scare off a potential Democratic candidate, she may find it financially rewarding to lean more into her pro-business sensibility as a lawmaker to ensure she has a fearsome war chest. . The best way to ensure this is to become even more conservative in its political positioning and opinions.

Sinema may also feel pressured to lean further to the right if she sees Republicans as part of her possible re-election coalition as an independent. The more noise she makes over the next two years as a candidate who sides with Republicans on high-profile legislation, the more likely she might be to attract moderate Republican voters in 2024, at least in theory.

I doubt Sinema knows exactly how she will approach the next two years. She made a shrewd strategic move to neutralize a threat from her left, but the way forward is still unclear. Still, no matter how it goes, there will be all sorts of reasons for her to start leaning more to the right. And that in turn could make life harder for Democrats, as they operate with a very slim majority in the Senate.

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