© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute

#Resistance Democrats Are Back and Running in 2024

Some first-time candidates, like Harry Dunn and Eugene Vindman, are campaigning for Democratic primary votes based specifically on their experiences with Trump or his supporters.

Harry Dunn
Former U.S. Capitol police officer Harry Dunn is putting Jan. 6 at the center of his campaign. Andrew Harnik/AP

Democrats who can show a direct connection to the peak Trump #resistance movement are winning primaries and scooping up grassroots energy this year, cementing the politics of 2016 at the center of Democratic activism in 2024.

“We’re still in the Trump era. He’s the Republican nominee for president. The Republican Party is entirely captured by MAGA, and we’re still living under courts that were appointed by him,” said Dani Negrete, political director for Indivisible, one of a handful of groups that popped up after Trump’s election in 2017 to channel rampant Democratic fear into votes. “Those candidates that are continuing it today as though Donald Trump is still the threat he was four years ago, they’re the ones who are getting that passion.”

Some first-time candidates are campaigning for Democratic primary votes based specifically on their experiences with Trump or his supporters. Eugene Vindman, brother of Alexander Vindman, is running for Congress in Virginia with a promise to continue calling out MAGA politics the way he did when he and his brother blew the whistle on Trump, leading to a presidential impeachment and Trump firing both Vindmans. Former U.S. Capitol police officer Harry Dunn is running for an open House seat in Maryland “by making Jan. 6 the core of his campaign,” according to a recent profile in the Daily Beast.

Other House Democrats from the class of 2018 are relying on the massive followings they built during the #resistance years to help push them into higher office. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, the party nominee for Senate in Michigan, became a star by calling on Democrats to be more afraid of Trump. Rep. Ruben Gallego, running for Senate in Arizona, famously recounted coaching a few colleagues in hand-to-hand combat on Jan. 6. One of those colleagues is Rep. Colin Allred, another 2018 star, now running for Senate against Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas.

In New Jersey, Rep. Andy Kim, famous for a Jan. 7, 2021, photo that captured him literally cleaning up the mess left by pro-MAGA rioters the day before, is a shoo-in for the New Jersey Democratic Senate nomination after a groundswell of support for him helped push the first lady of New Jersey out of the race. Kim had the support of Indivisible in the Senate primary, in part because of his record of directly confronting MAGA politics in the House and TV appearances.

Kim was also elected in 2018 as part of the class of Democrats who prioritized fighting Trump. It was the first true #resistance election when the Democratic electorate was dazzled by fighters who called Trump an existential threat to political norms.

“Democrats were looking for someone to follow, someone who had a perspective, who had a point of view, who had conviction,” recalled Amanda Litman, co-founder of Run for Something, another of the groups launched post-Trump. Candidates who could demonstrate they were with the program “were able to leverage that into building fundraising bases, email lists, so that when you decide to run, it makes it much easier to make that jump,” she said.

That is still true now, those #resistance veterans told NOTUS. Candidates who can represent themselves as true anti-MAGA warriors raise big small-dollar money and find passionate support among the base, they said.

Rep. Adam Schiff, arguably the face of Democratic efforts to showcase Trump as a unique threat during the years he was in office, won the most votes in last month’s California Senate jungle primary. In January, he boasted on X about a Republican National Committee video calling him “a deranged liar” for “still perpetuating the Russia collusion hoax.” Aides tout that he was censured in a party-line vote in the GOP-controlled House last summer.

In short: That he drives Trump’s supporters up a wall is front and center in his Senate campaign.

“Adam is no stranger to attacks by extreme MAGA Republicans, and he’s discussed it frequently on the campaign trail,” a campaign spokesperson told NOTUS.

The 2017 Democratic grassroots groups like Run for Something, Indivisible and Swing Left are generally seen to represent the progressive wing of the party. But a willingness to campaign like democracy is at stake can earn grassroots support even for far more moderate Democrats. Negrete said Indivisible got involved with Rep. Tom Suozzi’s New York special election this year after members were enthralled by Suozzi’s willingness to directly counterprogram Republican photo-ops and speak often about protecting democracy from a claimed threat from MAGA politics.

It can be hard for other Democrats to build a similar hashtag-sized base in a world where political social media is fractured.

“You can’t become Twitter famous anymore,” said Litman of Run for Something. “Not in the same way.”

The urge among some to try and temper the anti-Trump rhetoric from Democrats ignores a basic reality of what drives base voters, the veteran grassroots organizers said.

“The choice that voters face and the danger they see in a second term of his presidency is one of the biggest motivating factors for Democrats right now,” said Swing Left’s head of politics and strategy, Dan Kalik. “So if you are running for office and you can speak to that choice, you can speak to the danger of the MAGA agenda, you’re going to be more successful.”

Evan McMorris-Santoro and Alex Roarty are reporters at NOTUS.