Jun 27, 2024

Jamaal Bowman loses his primary.

Jamaal Bowman for Congress Campaign Button New York 2020 | Mpls55408, Flickr
Jamaal Bowman for Congress Campaign Button New York 2020 | Mpls55408, Flickr

The Democratic primary in New York handed The Squad its first loss.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

George Latimer defeated Jamaal Bowman in the NY-16 Congressional District primary, the first time a member of The Squad has lost re-election.

Live tweeting.

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Quick hits.

  1. In an unsigned opinion, the Supreme Court said it would reinstate a lower court ruling to allow hospitals in Idaho to perform emergency abortions to protect the health of the mother, despite the state’s near-total ban on abortion. An unofficial version of the decision was inadvertently posted online on Wednesday. (The ruling)
  2. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court found that the federal bankruptcy code does not authorize a liability shield for third parties in bankruptcy agreements, rejecting a key provision in a multibillion-dollar settlement with Purdue Pharma. (The decision) Separately, the court blocked a major Environmental Protection Agency initiative aimed at reducing air pollution that crosses state lines in a 5-4 decision. (The ruling)
  3. Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich’s trial began in Russia on Wednesday. Gershkovich is accused of spying for the CIA, a charge that he, the Journal, and the U.S. State Department strongly deny. (The trial)
  4. President Joe Biden extended blanket pardons to thousands of former U.S. servicemembers convicted of violating a now-repealed ban on consensual gay sex in the military. (The pardons
  5. The first presidential debate of the 2024 election is tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on CNN. President Biden and former President Donald Trump will debate for the first time since 2020. (The debate)

Today's topic.

The NY-16 primary. On Tuesday, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) lost to Democratic challenger George Latimer in the primary election for New York’s 16th Congressional District. The race was one of the most closely watched primaries in the country and the most expensive House primary ever, with around $24 million spent on advertising alone. Latimer led Bowman 58%-42% with 88% of the vote counted as of this morning. Latimer will now face Republican Miriam Flisser in the district’s congressional election on Nov. 5, a race he is likely to win as Cook Political Report rates NY-16 as “solid Democrat.”

Bowman, 48, was elected to the House in 2020 after defeating Rep. Eliot Engel, a 16-term incumbent, in that year’s Democratic primary. A teacher and school principal in the Bronx before serving in Congress, Bowman built his platform on progressive issues like Medicare for All, single-payer health care, and the Green New Deal. During his two terms in the House, Bowman was the primary sponsor of one enacted bill (the Empowering STEM Discovery Act) and served on the House Committees on Science, Space, and Technology and on Education and the Workforce. 

Bowman’s tenure was at times controversial. In October 2023, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge after pulling a fire alarm in a House office building when there was not an emergency; Bowman claimed he pulled the alarm to try to open a door as he rushed to vote on a government funding bill. 

Over a year later, Bowman cast doubt on reports of sexual violence against Israeli women during Hamas’ October 7 attack, which became an animating issue in the primary. “There was propaganda used at the beginning of the siege,” Bowman said at a rally on November 17. “There’s still no evidence of beheaded babies or raped women, but they still keep using the lie.” Bowman apologized for those comments last week but has remained an outspoken critic of the Israeli government (a stance he traces to a visit to the West Bank in 2021). 

Latimer, 70, is a former state legislator and current Westchester County executive who entered the race in December 2023 with support from local rabbis and the Westchester County Democratic establishment. He campaigned as a moderate, staking out a pro-Israel stance and calling for bipartisan policymaking in Congress. He faced his own share of controversies during the campaign, mostly centered on how he spoke about Bowman and his supporters. “When you get as much money as you get from outside the district, your constituency is Dearborn, Michigan,” Latimer said during a debate with Bowman earlier this month. Bowman called the comment an “Islamophobic dogwhistle.

Latimer received significant financial support from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which spent nearly $15 million on the primary as part of its pledge to allocate up to $100 million in primary races against candidates critical of Israel’s war with Hamas. While Latimer rejected the notion that AIPAC’s spending proved decisive in the race, Bowman and his allies — like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — framed its influence as undemocratic

Bowman trailed Latimer in the polls throughout the race. With the loss, he becomes the first Democrat House lawmaker to lose a primary this year, as well as the first member of the “Squad” (an informal title for a group of eight progressive House members) to lose re-election.

Today, we’ll explore arguments from the left and right about the outcome of the race. Then, my take.

What the left is saying.

  • The left is mixed on the implications of Bowman’s loss, with many saying groups like AIPAC will be emboldened by the result. 
  • Some argue that progressives should not overreact to outside spending on the race.
  • Others say the result is a blow to progressives in New York.  

In MSNBC, Zeeshan Aleem called Bowman’s defeat “a big deal.”

“Bowman’s Israel positions put him at odds with many of his constituents, and it seems he could’ve done more to win them back… A more skilled lawmaker would have done more work to build trust with his diverse community at a time of exceptionally heightened emotions and rising bigotry against Jewish and Arab communities,” Aleem said. “It’s not unusual for politicians to take positions that many of their constituents fiercely oppose. But pro-Israel groups exploited Bowman’s vulnerability and targeted him with an unprecedented lobbying effort to take him down.”

“AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups will most likely use this victory to put other Democratic lawmakers on notice and warn them to not criticize Israel too strongly. But the reality is that this is the first victory that the group has notched against the squad, and this race involved a distinctly vulnerable candidate and a strong challenger,” Aleem wrote. “One hopes that they aren’t frightened out of taking the right position on standing in opposition to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.”

In Jacobin, Branko Marcetic wrote “AIPAC’s defeat of Jamaal Bowman disguises its weakness.”

“Bowman’s loss will soon be used — in fact, already is and was before the polls even closed — by AIPAC and other pro-war forces to scare less courageous candidates and members of Congress into line. Pro-Israel groups have framed the race as a referendum on Bowman’s and the rest of the Squad’s stance on the Gaza war US-Israel policy and argued that these positions are out of step with a more centrist Democratic electorate. They have been assisted by much of the press, which you will soon see helpfully spreading AIPAC’s preferred narrative in coverage of Latimer’s victory.”

“This gambit of using Bowman’s loss to convince others that criticizing Israel will end their careers may well work. But it really shouldn’t. In reality, AIPAC’s threat is more of a bluff than it seems,” Marcetic said. “Across the country, AIPAC endorsed candidates who tended to be in noncompetitive districts or even running unopposed. That way, when its endorsees won, regardless of whether or not their AIPAC endorsement actually figured in the race, the lobby could then swoop in and loudly take credit… [Bowman] became such a major target of AIPAC’s spending barrage not because he was a critic of Israel, but because he was one of the few critics of Israel the organization could actually beat.”

In New York Magazine, Ross Barkan said “Bowman’s loss is the start of a new era.”

“Latimer’s triumph could come at a cost. He defeated Westchester’s first Black congressman in a primary that polarized around race. He angered many Democrats by claiming Bowman’s real constituencies were in San Francisco and Dearborn,” Barkan wrote. “For now, Latimer fits comfortably with the Israel hawks in New York’s House delegation, including the Bronx’s Ritchie Torres. But life for him in Congress may only get more complicated. The Netanyahu government continues to antagonize the Biden administration, and Latimer’s views on Israel bring him into closer alignment with Donald Trump.

“Progressives, meanwhile, have been dealt a grievous blow. Bowman was a rising star and someone who could have, with enough time in the House, run for higher office,” Barkan added. “The Squad, without him, is still large enough and may grow in the coming years — even if Cori Bush, another prominent member, also loses this summer. But Bowman’s defeat marks the loss of a rare — if undisciplined — political talent. AIPAC and other moneyed forces will hope they’ve found a new blueprint for success: Recruit a willing, well-known lawmaker to run against a progressive and pump many millions into the primary.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right celebrates Bowman’s defeat, suggesting his controversies were too much to overcome even as the incumbent. 
  • Some push back on the notion that Bowman lost because of outside spending.
  • Others say the race illustrated broader divisions within the Democratic party. 

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said voters rejected Bowman’s “antagonistic progressive politics.”

“Political incumbents are hard to beat, but voters in Westchester County, N.Y., are through being embarrassed by Rep. Jamaal Bowman,” the board wrote. “Bowman pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for his fire alarm stunt at a House office building. Last week on a WNYC radio show, he said he was sorry for denying Hamas rapes. Several months ago he said he regretted writing a 9/11 truther poem on his blog in 2011, when he was 35 years old and working as a middle-school principal. 

“Voters need a cheat sheet to keep track of Mr. Bowman’s apologies,” the board said. “Mr. Latimer says he’ll vote for legislation to codify abortion rights and transition the U.S. away from fossil fuels, and we don’t expect to agree with him on much, other than that ousting Mr. Bowman is an act of political hygiene. May there be more such efforts, in both parties.”

In RedState, Stacey Matthews explored the “finer print” in Bowman’s loss. 

“The prevailing narrative amongst woke Democrats (and some in the media) in the aftermath of Rep. Jamaal Bowman's resounding defeat in the NY-16 Democratic primary Tuesday is that big-money special interest groups like AIPAC ‘bought’ the primary by spending tens of millions in it to defeat Bowman,” Matthews wrote. “While it's true that AIPAC did indeed spend a lot of money in this race, at the end of the day, it's not PACs who go to the polls. It's the people. And long before AIPAC got involved in this primary fight, Bowman was already turning people off with his disregard for his constituents as well as his duplicity on the issue of Israel.”

“All Bowman had to do was not go bat-crap crazy on the subject of Israel - especially after the Oct. 7th Hamas terrorist attacks, and on other issues that mattered to his constituents. But he couldn't do it. At the end of the day, it was more about his national profile and the backpats he could get from the Hamas Caucus/Squad/DSA than it was about representing the people who sent him to Congress,” Matthews said. “If your stances and attitude are at odds with a majority of the people in your district, then it's nobody's fault other than your own as to why you lost.”

In City Journal, Seth Barron wrote about “Jamaal Bowman and the Democratic schism.”

“Railing against money in politics is a quaint theme for Democrats these days. Decades ago, the Democratic Party regularly bemoaned the baleful influence of big money on elections, but we almost never hear about that anymore. It’s no mystery why: the Democrats became the party of big money. Almost every national election cycle sees Democrats outspend Republicans by hundreds of millions of dollars,” Barron said. “And that’s why the incessant emphasis on AIPAC has ugly overtones…. It doesn’t require paranoid hypersensitivity to note that constant repetition of ‘AIPAC money’ in the current climate of rising anti-Semitism is more than just a ‘dog whistle’ about Jewish wealth.”

“Jamaal Bowman will now exit elected office, but the schism within the Democratic Party that his defeat exemplifies will haunt the party. Support for Israel has become a bright line for both sides,” Barron wrote. “Many have suggested that the 2024 Democratic National Convention to be held this summer in Chicago might resemble the famously contentious scene in 1968, when anti-Vietnam War protesters rioted in the streets and battled Mayor Richard J. Daley’s police. But in 1968, the protests occurred outside the convention hall. This year, we will see pro-Hamas AIPAC vilifiers inside the hall as credentialed delegates.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • Bowman didn’t lose to Latimer because of AIPAC, but because he’d staked out less popular stances.
  • For months now Bowman has been trailing in the polls, due primarily to his fire-alarm stunt, his denial of sexual assault on October 7, his breaking with Biden, and other antics that just don’t play well with voters.
  • If progressives want to stop losing elections, they’re going to have to own their losses.

Jamaal Bowman lost his race because he is not a very good politician.

I'm going to say that again: Jamaal Bowman lost his race because he isn't a very good politician.

Watching the reaction to Bowman's loss from the progressive left has been equal parts frightening and frustrating. The general tenor of the reaction was captured nicely by Briahna Joy Gray, a pundit and progressive activist who posts on social media like a surrogate for Bowman (Joy recently lost her job at The Hill after seeming entirely incapable of displaying any empathy while interviewing the sister of an Israeli hostage). After Bowman lost, Joy blasted out this message to her followers:

"Black electeds are too afraid to tell their Black & working class constituents the truth: that wealthy APAIC[sic]-backed candidates are using foreign money to turn out wealthy whites & put Israel’s interests over their own. But they need to get over it. They’ll be called antisemitic anyway."

So much is wrong and inaccurate about this tweet, but it is representative of the response I've seen from much of the left, including in some of the takes above. So I'd like to briefly address it piece by piece: 

Black electeds are too afraid to tell their Black & working class constituents the truth. Presumably, the "truth" is what Joy says next: That AIPAC is buying elections by putting up wealthy whites. The idea that anyone is afraid to say this is, of course, self-evidently false. Jamaal Bowman, a black elected official, spent the last few months of his campaign openly railing against AIPAC and telling voters exactly what Joy says black elected officials are "too afraid" to say. In fact, Bowman and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came together in the final stretch of the campaign for a clownish rally where they both jumped around the stage like musical artists hyping up a crowd while Bowman promised to "show fucking AIPAC the power of the mother fucking Bronx!"

After he lost, Bowman said this: "We should not be well adjusted to a sick society. We should be outraged. We should be outraged when a Super PAC of dark money can spend $20 million to brainwash people into believing something that isn't true. We should be outraged about that."

He doesn't seem very afraid to me!

In her response, Joy reminds me of conservative pundits who go on national television and shriek about how "you can't say there are two genders anymore" or "can't wish anyone Merry Christmas" — in reality, no one is getting “canceled” for saying any of those things. It's the same kind of victimization nonsense.

Of course, Joy and Bowman are both also wrong that “wealthy APAIC[sic]-backed candidates are using foreign money to turn out wealthy whites & put Israel’s interests over their own." For starters, AIPAC is an American lobbying group whose donors are predominantly wealthy Americans. Yes, they are a single-issue organization — like most lobbying groups — focused on promoting Israel’s interests. But they aren’t funded by "foreign money," and suggesting otherwise drums up disgust for Americans who care about Israel. Would Joy be saying the same thing if a lobbying group fighting for Palestinian statehood was dumping money into this race to support Bowman? Something tells me she would not.

Second, AIPAC isn't the reason Bowman lost. Now, did AIPAC spend a record-setting amount of money in this race? Yes. Did AIPAC attack Bowman and try to energize voters in his district solely on the Israel issue? Yes, they did. Do I wish money wasn’t so central to American elections? Yes, I do. 

And yet, while I know it might be hard to believe the Jews (it's okay, we can say the quiet part out loud) aren't orchestrating everything that happens in our country, I think it's worth pointing out that some polls had Bowman trailing by 17 points before AIPAC spent a dime in the race. Not only that, but AIPAC has had a horrible record this cycle — failing to influence several much closer high-profile races it invested in. Bowman actually ended the race polling higher than he was before they ever got involved, a fact nobody on the left — including Bowman — seems particularly interested in ruminating on.

Some have blamed Bowman's loss on gerrymandering, and you all know how I feel about gerrymandering. I hate it enough I'm tempted to join the chorus in support of Bowman. But here is a reality check: His district hasn't changed since 2020, when he won. Bowman likely would have romped with the pre-2020 map, as he beat Latimer by 68 points in the Bronx. However, Bowman’s shortcomings as a politician prevented him from adapting. As Zeeshan Aleem said (under “What the left is saying”), “a more skilled lawmaker would have done more work to build trust with his diverse community.” 

So maybe — just maybe — this was Bowman's doing. Maybe — and hang onto your hats here — Bowman just isn't a great politician. Maybe getting caught pulling a fire alarm in Congress (and then being criminally charged for it) to delay a vote isn't attractive to voters. Maybe progressive politicians like Bowman who got elected at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement are becoming less popular now that the movement they attached themselves to is itself becoming less popular. Maybe his popularity is flagging because he broke with Biden on two of his most popular legislative acts (The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Fiscal Responsibility Act). Maybe it was his 9/11 conspiracy theories. Maybe it was denying Israelis were raped on October 7. Maybe cringey, curse-filled rallies that have little to do with local issues only resonate with a small segment of very online progressives. Maybe losing the endorsement of his longtime ally Mondaire Jones had an impact.

If progressives want to get a handle on their movement, they need to stop blaming everything but their own candidates and policies. Until then, their efforts to push blame and save face will resonate with just as many voters as their campaigns — which is to say, not many.

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Under the radar.

Texas’s statewide ban on early abortions could be contributing to an increase in infant mortality, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Pediatrics. In 2021, Texas passed SB8, also known as The Heartbeat Act, which prohibited physicians from performing abortions after a fetal heartbeat could be detected. According to the study’s authors, infant deaths in Texas increased by 12.9% in the year following the bill’s passage, while the rest of the U.S. experienced a comparatively lower 1.8% increase. “Although replication and further analyses are needed to understand the mechanisms behind these findings, the results suggest that restrictive abortion policies may have important unintended consequences in terms of trauma to families and medical cost as a result of increases in infant mortality,” the study’s authors said. The JAMA Network has the story.


  • 63%-37%. George Latimer’s lead over Jamaal Bowman among voters in Westchester County with 88% of votes counted. 
  • 84%-16%. Bowman’s lead over Latimer among voters in Bronx County. 
  • 44% and 35%. The percentage of NY-16 voters younger than 40 who said they support Bowman and Latimer, respectively, according to an Emerson College poll released two weeks before the primary.
  • 53% to 31%. The percentage of NY-16 voters aged 40-59 who said they support Latimer and Bowman, respectively. 
  • 3.2%. The percentage of roll-call votes missed by Bowman between January 2021 and June 2024, higher than the median of 2.0% of votes missed among the lifetime records of representatives currently serving, according to GovTrack.
  • $4.2 million. The approximate amount raised by Bowman in the 2024 election cycle as of June 5, according to Federal Election Commission filings. 
  • $3.2 million. The approximate amount spent by Bowman in the 2024 election cycle.
  • $5.8 million. The approximate amount raised by Latimer in the 2024 election cycle as of June 5.
  • $3.2 million. The approximate amount spent by Latimer in the 2024 election cycle.
  • $14.0 million. The approximate amount spent on advertising in the NY-16 primary by the United Democracy Project (the independent expenditure arm of AIPAC), roughly 61% of total ad spending on the race, according to AdImpact.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we wrote about John Durham’s congressional testimony
  • The most clicked link in yesterday’s newsletter was our ad in the free version for Kenny Flowers.
  • Nothing to do with politics: Roger Federer’s commencement speech about life, tennis, winning, and losing. 
  • Yesterday’s survey: 688 readers answered our survey about Julian Assange’s plea deal with 39% mostly approving. “News organizations are far more deliberate with what they choose to publish. Assange's bias is not a crime, even if I find it distasteful, nor is his dissemination of classified data generally speaking. But the fact is that he is reckless, and many, many people are dead because of that. Fourteen years is not enough,” one respondent said.

Have a nice day.

Philadelphia Parks & Recreation is collaborating with a D.C. startup and a local nonprofit to repurpose fallen trees and provide jobs for unemployed and underemployed young adults. The startup, Cambium Carbon, creates Carbon Smart Wood from the trees, a material that can then be used for a variety of furniture and building projects. Meanwhile, the nonprofit PowerCorpsPHL employs individuals “who have a lot of talent that hasn’t been tapped yet,” said cofounder Julia Hillengas. PowerCorpsPHL is able to “connect them to longer-term opportunities.” Next City has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.