U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, is leading the Democratic Party’s effort to wipe out House Republicans in the 2020 election.
But before she gets her chance to do that, Bustos, who represents the Quad Cities area, is caught up in a civil war waged by her own party’s practitioners of identity politics.
Earlier this year, the liberal Bustos, who leads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was blasted by uber-liberals, including U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. The high-profile Cortez and her like-minded associates excoriated Bustos over her decision not to allow the DCCC to work with any political consultants or vendors who involve themselves in party primary campaigns aimed at unseating House Democratic incumbents.
She won that battle, at least for the time being.
But just last month, Bustos was again targeted by intra-party critics who charged that she is racially insensitive for not hiring enough Hispanic and black staffers to work for her at the DCCC.
Bustos lost the second fight, ultimately agreeing both to attend racial-sensitivity training sessions as well as fire six top-level DCCC staffers.
Among the casualties was executive director Allison Jaslow, a white female who was sacrificed on the altar of inclusion even though she is a lesbian.
“To my colleagues, who I have the upmost respect for, I hear your concerns, and we can and must do better. ... I will work tirelessly to ensure that our staff is truly inclusive,” said Bustos, who represents Illinois’ 17th congressional district.
Part of Bustos’ dispute with her critics is political. Charged with keeping the House under Democratic control, Bustos sees her job as protecting liberal Democrats elected in 2018 in House districts that President Donald Trump carried in the 2016 election.
These same incumbents plus other establishment Democrats holding House seats across the country have been targeted for defeat by Ocasio-Cortez and her socialist colleagues known as “The Squad.”
At the same time, Bustos’ critics are animated by issues of skin color and ethnicity.
One of Bustos’ big mistakes occurred earlier this year, when she brought in a group of political consultants to talk strategy with the DCCC leadership. All of the consultants were white, enraging blacks and Hispanics who were in attendance.
U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, said she found it “shocking” that there is “not one person of color — black or brown, that I’m aware of — at any position of authority or decision-making in the DCCC.”
Ironically, some of the people who both have left or been targeted for dismissal are black.
Bustos’ chief of staff, Jalisa Washington, a black woman, left the DCCC to work for Sen. Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign. Bustos was criticized for failing to retain Washington.
When Bustos promoted another black woman, Tayhlor Coleman, Hispanics were angry because Coleman was linked to a series of 10-year-old tweets construed as critical of Hispanics.
The 57-year-old Bustos has also proved to be a gaffe machine when it comes to her public statements or personal interactions with members of minority groups.
After she was elected to head the DCCC, Bustos promised to “finally” put together an effective campaign organization. That statement was, unsurprisingly, perceived to be a criticism of the outgoing DCCC chairman who led Democratic efforts to win back the House in 2018 — U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M.
Bustos has also ruffled feathers when defending herself against assertions that she is insensitive to minorities. She has cited her marriage to a Hispanic man and her son’s engagement to a black woman as proof of her virtue on that issue.
Those to whom she spoke, however, were offended, considering the citing of family relationships to be condescending.
One of her defenders, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., called Bustos a “very good person” who made a “very dumb statement” regarding her family.
Bustos, the daughter of prominent Democratic insider Gene Callahan, was tapped for the top job at the DCCC because she is, according to the New York Times, “viewed as a rising Democratic star who had cracked the code on appealing to white working-class voters.”
In other words, Bustos knows how to persuade that peculiar species known as “Trump supporters” to vote for liberal Democrats.
As proof, Democrats noted that Bustos easily won re-election in a House district carried by Trump.
That’s true, but not totally persuasive.
Trump barely carried the district, while Bustos is considered so politically safe that Republicans have not mounted serious opposition to her in recent elections.
The tumult at the DCCC has calmed considerably since Bustos acquiesced to her critics’ demands and purged her staff. But the organization that once was described as “in full-blown turmoil” under her leadership is still rife with discontent and distracted from its 2020 goal of defeating the GOP.
Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is email@example.com.