The Failure of the Consultant Class

Down-ballot Democrats raised millions, far outpacing their opponents. They didn’t make an argument.

Katelyn Burns
3 min readNov 12, 2020


Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden ended up winning a closer-than-the-polls-showed election, but down-ballot Democrats across the country weren’t so lucky. Democratic candidates failed to take a clean majority in the Senate; they now need to sweep the two Georgia run-off elections set for this January. In the House, Democrats lost much of their majority, which they had expected to expand earlier this year.

The finger-pointing started almost immediately, with establishment Democrats blaming the party’s left-wing for losses within their own ranks, saying that activist slogans like “defund the police,” or policies like the Green New Deal were an anchor around the necks of Democratic candidates in swing districts.

But the party’s progressive wing largely persevered through this election, winning in left-leaning districts as well as purple districts.

Republicans, establishment Dems said, hammered them in swing districts by tying them to these supposed lefty albatrosses, and these establishment candidates were allegedly powerless to overcome it.

However, I’m not really buying that argument. Democrats built a huge fundraising apparatus this cycle, burying Republican after Republican under an avalanche of small-donor dollars. Conservatives were constantly fretting over their money disadvantage in the lead up to the election.

It feels hard to believe that that money gap left Democrats, left-wing and centrist alike, unable to overcome a few negative ads on Facebook.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pinned Dem establishment losses not on policy differences, or messaging, but a lack of commitment to digital organizing in an interview with the New York Times, a claim that’s been disputed by many of the party’s centrists.

But here’s the thing: Democrats as a party didn’t support defunding the police, opting instead for a muddled message that attempted to avoid alienating their base of Black voters who spent all summer protesting against police violence while also seeking to placate independents and moderates.



Katelyn Burns

Political journalist. The first openly trans Capitol Hill reporter in US history. Writing about more than just trans issues. Follow her on Twitter @transscribe