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Jamaal Bowman’s defeat reveals the weakness of the Squad

Jamaal Bowman speaks at a campaign rally in the Bronx at the weekend. Credit: Getty

June 26, 2024 - 10:30am

In New York’s most watched House primary election — the most expensive in US history — Democratic Representative Jamaal Bowman became the first member of the ultra-progressive Squad to lose re-election. With 71% of ballots counted, his opponent, Westchester County Executive George Latimer, won the Democratic Party’s nomination with 56% of the vote in New York’s 16th Congressional District, which encompasses low- and high- income neighbourhoods in the Bronx and Westchester County.

A former school principal who ousted 16-term veteran Eliot Engel in the 2020 primary, Bowman had some advantages heading into this election season, including incumbency and national name recognition. New York is a “closed primary” state, meaning that only registered Democrats were eligible to vote in yesterday’s contest. This electoral format tends to reduce political competition and reward those with a motivated base. In the heavily Democratic district, the victorious Latimer will enjoy a near-invincible advantage in November’s general election.

Bowman’s strident anti-Israel stance, including repeated accusations of genocide, spurred the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) to spend at least $14.5 million to unseat him. But Aipac’s ads didn’t directly criticise Bowman for his positions on Israel and Gaza. Instead, they characterised him as a radical opponent of President Joe Biden’s agenda on issues such as infrastructure spending and the debt ceiling.

This should worry progressives, as it reveals their policy vulnerabilities. A Siena poll last month found that pragmatic local concerns preoccupied statewide registered voters’ minds, such as lowering the cost of living, addressing New York’s migrant crisis, and improving public safety. This didn’t align with Bowman’s domestic priorities, which included higher taxes on the wealthy, single-payer “Medicare for All”, and an ambitious Green New Deal to counter climate change.

Margins matter in politics: Bowman couldn’t afford to alienate pro-Israel voters. The time and emphasis he devoted to international conflicts failed to mobilise his base, proving more of a liability than a rallying point. Meanwhile, Jewish early-voting turnout was reported at over four times the rate of non-Jewish voters. Undeterred, Bowman launched into an expletive-laden speech against Aipac at a South Bronx campaign rally on Saturday, which wasn’t even in his district. With Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also on stage, Bowman told the crowd: “My opponent and Aipac are the ones destroying our democracy.”

Bowman’s antics — especially his infamous pulling of a fire alarm in the Capitol last September that earned him a misdemeanour charge — might have made him uniquely vulnerable. Juxtaposed against the even-keeled Latimer, who has served in various Westchester public offices for over three decades, Bowman lived up to his opponents’ portrait of him as an unstable radical. This made it easy for Aipac and members of the party establishment to back Latimer, with former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former New York governor Andrew Cuomo among the challenger’s supporters.

Bowman’s idiosyncrasies suggest it’s still premature to herald the demise of the Squad. But his defeat shows that 2020’s progressive campaign playbook isn’t working in 2024. It was Bowman’s race to lose, and he did.


John Ketcham is the Director of Cities at the Manhattan Institute.

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A D Kent
A D Kent
22 days ago

I’m old enough to remember when foreign interference in US elections was supposed to be a bad thing.

I would say though, that Bowman’s loud (and quite correct) statements about Palestine weren’t going to be sufficient to cover-up the fact that on everything else, he and the squad have been worse than useless. In the first two years of the Biden regime they could have extracted real concessions – particularly with the ‘Force The Vote’ medicare campaign linked to the election of the odious and corrupt Nancy Pelozi as speaker. But they caved and caved again. No wonder no one turned up to his rallies or out to support him – ‘fool me once…’ and all that.

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
20 days ago
Reply to  A D Kent

The plagarism charges against him also had the unhappy effect of revealing the parts of his dissertation that weren’t plagiarized.
Those writings reveal their author to be an incoherent and ill informed person, who isn’t even qualified to teach high school English, far less run a large school, and still less so to sit in Congress.
Besides the obvious moral failings of a plagiarist, the non-sequiturs, butchered grammar, and poorly drawn conclusions of his thesis makes one deeply concerned for public education. As well as for our Congress.

William Hickey
William Hickey
22 days ago

Cori Bush is next on the AIPAC hit list. Her primary is in the first week of August.

Bush’s district is not heavily Jewish like Bowman’s is. That may give her more leeway. If she goes dark on Gaza for the next six weeks she could pull through in spite of the immense amount of negative ads which will bombard her district.

It’s funny, isn’t how, how no one voices any concerns about foreign influence imperiling “our democracy” depending on who the meddlers are.

Russian, terrible. Chinese, concerning. Israeli, no problem.

Bernard Brothman
Bernard Brothman
22 days ago

Here is the US if you alienate and insult a majority of your constituents, you tend to lose. He seemed to be playing to the Progressive anti-Israel types while representing a district with a large Jewish population. Not a winning strategy.

Mark Carpenter
Mark Carpenter
22 days ago

Is the Jewish population in his district larger than the Black? How much non-Jewish money versus Jewish money was spent on this record spending primary? Do you think money doesnt matter in politics? Did the Jewish poulation vote for him when it was all about BLM? If Bowman was so bad, why was all the outside money targeting him. This is like the Claudine Gay deal where they install DEI token then boot her out when she doesn’t toe line on Israel.

Mark Carpenter
Mark Carpenter
21 days ago
Reply to  Mark Carpenter

It’s funny how antiwoke Unherd was until October 7th. Now most of the censorship and canceling is around Israel and Jews. And Unherd is all in. Same thing with Bari Weiss and the free press.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
22 days ago

Although she is still a progressive, I read an article that AOC has been criticized by other squad members that she is getting too establishment. What is happening is that she is learning how to govern and studying bills. Again, she is still a progressive and supports Palestinians, but maybe there’s some hope that she will get more serious about governing. What are you doing to support the people in your district? Somehow, I think most of them are struggling with high rents and expensive food. Supporting Palestine is a luxury issue.

Thomas K.
Thomas K.
22 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I misread your last sentence as ‘suggesting Palestine’ instead of ‘supporting Palestine’, which gave me a chuckle.

“I can’t afford rent and the grocery prices are too high!”

“Fair, but have you considered trying Palestine?”

“…. what?”

Catherine Conroy
Catherine Conroy
22 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Personally, I do hope she’ll go the way of Jamaal Bowman.
Voting for any kind of airy fairy principle is a luxury issue. The squad really think their various insane ideologies cut more ice with ordinary voters than the economy and unfettered immigration.

Studio Largo
Studio Largo
22 days ago

I’m with you. The hell with thinking any of these people are going to come around somehow. They need to go, period.

Jimmy Snooks
Jimmy Snooks
22 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

You give her too much credence by far. At the rally she came across as quite unhinged. If I was a Democrat watching her antics I would have been deeply embarrassed as well as extremely worried for my party’s prospects.

Dr E C
Dr E C
22 days ago

I watched this rally and have never been more embarrassed for American politics. Bowman came on the stage to a gangster rap song, swore throughout the rally – ‘we’ll show them who the f we are’ etc – and fairly obviously blamed the Jews for the world’s ills. He has also denied the rape & murder of civilians on October 7th. He shouldn’t be a principal in a school, let alone a member of congress. One down, several more despicable psychos to go.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
22 days ago

One less race hustler can only be a good thing.

Michael Clarke
Michael Clarke
21 days ago

The stunt in the Capitol suggests he is no loss to politics. If wonder if he will run as an independent.