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Michael Swartz / Jun. 8, 2018

Keith Ellison — The Radical's Radical

DNC deputy moves to a state race amid questions about his far-left politics.

After the debacle of the 2016 election, the Democrat Party began a frantic search for a different direction and new leadership. A spirited battle for DNC chair between onetime Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison ended with Perez on top and Ellison with the consolation prize of deputy chair.

So while it’s considered proof of an upcoming “blue wave” every time a Republican decides to retire from Congress, there was little talk about the opposite being true when Ellison opted to give up his seat to run in a contested primary for Minnesota attorney general — which he no doubt sees as a stepping stone to the governorship. But what’s most telling is the fact that no key Democrats are groveling at his door to keep him in the leadership. They’re not even pretending to do that.

Some, like Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere, spun Ellison’s decision as a #Resistance move. Ellison is “eager to take on a more prominent role in the Democratic opposition to the Trump administration,” Dovere says, and “he sees that opportunity in being attorney general and joining the legal fight, rather than continuing in Congress.” But others point to the baggage Ellison is carrying as a national progressive leader who’s a practicing Muslim — particularly with his ties to hate-spewing Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Ellison denies this connection to Farrakhan, although many don’t believe him because there’s evidence the two men’s paths have crossed frequently over the last decade.

Among the skeptics is the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein, who pointed out, “Ellison had graduated law school in 1990 and spent years as a civil rights lawyer by the time he began working with the Nation of Islam on the 1995 march. So it simply isn’t plausible for Ellison to argue that somehow, ‘After the march, Mr. Farrakhan’s disparaging views on Jewish people, women and the LGBT community became clearer to me.’” And if Klein’s assertion wasn’t enough, there’s also a private dinner Ellison attended in 2013 with both Farrakhan and the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, as detailed in the Nation of Islam’s house organ, Final Call.

Much of this was swept under the rug when Ellison ran for the top DNC post, but it’s all out in the open now. While the plan is for Ellison to stay in both the DNC and Congress until after the 2018 election, it’s apparent that Ellison and Perez don’t see eye to eye regarding the DNC.

Take last week, for example. Ellison wasn’t told that Perez was making an endorsement of current New York governor Andrew Cuomo — despite a pledge from Perez that the party wouldn’t endorse in contested primaries. Ellison, who’s backing Cuomo’s primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon, took the unusual step of blasting Perez in public, revealing a further division between the Democrats’ progressive and radical-progressive camps.

Ellison is firmly at home within the latter group. His advocacy for government regulation of CEO pay is one example. Ellison has also said, “I personally do think that universal basic income is an idea that has a lot of merit.”

While those who backed Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary pushed the Democrat Party leftward, party insiders understand they run the risk of alienating independent, middle-of-the-road voters. They see that suburban soccer moms may not feel comfortable with the idea of a party leader who complains to fellow Democrats that Republicans are making inroads on a certain segment of potential voters because “I learned that a lot of Republicans will go to jails and do Bible studies and other things.” The union members who abandoned the Democrat Party to vote for Donald Trump may not be enamored with a party leader who wears a shirt at a Cinco de Mayo event reading, “I don’t believe in borders” (written in Spanish). The ad practically writes itself: “A vote for a Democrat in November is a vote for open borders.”

The truth is that Keith Ellison is a radical leftist, and it’s not surprising that he doesn’t feel comfortable in a body of people he can’t control — a term that describes both Congress and the DNC, which has to be a little worried about how Ellison’s radicalism will affect Democrat electoral chances. In fact, don’t be surprised if some within the party try to push Ellison out. But the animosity and opportunity go both ways. Should Ellison win the election in Minnesota, it’s likely he’ll join the group of AGs around the nation who’ve tried to litigate their way into derailing the Trump agenda of reducing the regulatory size and scope of government. In that respect, he’ll be more “useful” than he is as a party leader.

Going forward, even as Ellison steps away from the harsh Washington spotlight, it’s worth keeping an eye on him.

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