Don’t Worry About the 2020 Primaries. They Won’t Hurt the Progressive Movement.

How worried should we be about all the dissension among progressives these days? We have Nancy Pelosi vs. AOC. We have centrists vs. lefties. We have Bernie bros vs. CAP. We have purists vs. compromisers. We have the young vs. the boomers. We have Glenn Greenwald vs. everyone.

But here’s the thing: I can’t remember a presidential campaign in which people didn’t worry about a nasty primary ruining the out party’s chances to win in November. And yet Jimmy Carter won. Ronald Reagan won. Bill Clinton won. George Bush won. Barack Obama won. Donald Trump won. Big, loud, bruising primaries don’t historically seem to do any serious harm. I think you’d have to go back to 1968 to find an election where you could argue that a rough primary kept a party from winning the presidency—and “rough” barely begins to describe the melee surrounding Democrats that year.

So for now, I wouldn’t worry too much. The big question is whether progressives can put the primaries behind them and support the eventual nominee. That may seem unlikely right now, but it will probably start to look like a sure thing once the reality of running against Donald Trump sets in.

Just remember: a brutal primary cycle producing a “damaged” candidate is an evergreen concern. We hear it like clockwork every four years. But it never seems to come true.


In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.