Left-wing America was not happy to discover, on the morning of Dec. 9, that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona had revealed she was done with the Democratic Party and had registered as an Independent. In theory, at least, the Democrats’ 51-49 Senate majority had been instantly erased – but that is not really the case, of course. Republicans still have only 49 seats and Sinema has already made it clear she will not be caucusing with them. Democrats have 48 seats plus two reliably loyal Independent senators and Sinema, upon whom they can surely still count, most of the time. Still, this was at least a symbolic blow to a party that has lost a few elected and formerly elected members over the past few weeks.
In an opinion piece for The Arizona Republic, Sinema avoided going after her former party the way Tulsi Gabbard did but instead mourned what she described as the movement of both major parties to the fringes. Gabbard, a former Democratic representative from Hawaii, recently tore into Democrats as she quit the party. Sinema was vaguer – or perhaps just deliberately evasive – about what specifically had inspired her decision. Rather, she declared that she had “joined the growing numbers of Arizonans who reject party politics by declaring my independence from the broken partisan system in Washington.”
How “independent” she turns out to be remains in question. The Arizonan seldom broke with the Biden White House and is likely to vote with Democrats most if not all of the time in the 118th Congress. If that turns out to be the case, her leaving the party would have been not so much an act of principle but one of self-interest. It must be nice to be in a position where one can support a particular party’s agenda more than 90% of the time but then throw up one’s hands and say, “well, this is why I left the party“ when it is convenient to distance oneself from a specific policy.
Kyrsten Sinema is Now a 2024 Problem
Democrats face an additional problem now in 2024. As it was, the outlook for their Senate majority is bleak. While Republicans will be defending 10 seats, 21 Democrat senators are up for re-election – well, 20, now, plus Kyrsten Sinema. If she runs again, the Arizona senator would likely pull votes away from whoever her former party puts up to run for that seat, probably giving Republicans a more than decent chance of capturing it. There is little doubt that Democrats will challenge Sinema for the seat rather than backing her in the hopes of retaining another mostly friendly independent.
The consensus among many Democrat operatives is that Sinema is “trying to eliminate a  primary she knew she’d lose,” as one anonymous former aide told NBC News. Whether that assessment is accurate or not, Kyrsten Sinema’s departure does appear to be a continuation of the apparently growing disillusion among those Democrats – both elected and on the street – who see the party moving further and further from what one might term the “mainstream Democratic politics” of just a decade ago. “The Democratic Party in New York was moving to [the] left at such a speed I couldn’t keep up,” said Ari Kagan earlier this month. Kagan is a council member from Brooklyn who just switched to the GOP. Has the undeniable radicalization of the party left some of its members and supporters with an identity crisis?
“Pressures in both parties pull leaders to the edges,” Sinema wrote on Friday morning, “allowing the loudest, most extreme voices to determine their respective parties’ priorities and expecting the rest of us to fall in line.” From a Republican perspective, that is debatable. After all, Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, and the rest of the establishment gang is still calling the shots and trying to rid themselves of America First Trumpism. But Democrats are a different story; the ascension of Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) to House leadership next year is a sign that perhaps the Ari Kagans, the Tulsi Gabbards, and the Kyrsten Sinemas of the world are no longer welcome in the Democrat tent. Then again, Sinema went from Green Party to Independent to Democrat and back to Independent, so perhaps she was always just another Charlie Crist – a Democrat by convenience.
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