How the Democratic Socialists of America can win.

Bernie Sanders’ campaign increased the profile of American socialism, but it hasn’t led to a legislative wave—yet. Above, Sanders speaks a rally in Covington, Kentucky, on July 9.

Jay LaPrete/AFP/Getty Images

In the 2010 midterm elections, the first of the Obama presidency, Republicans took back the House by gaining 63 seats, the largest midterm swing since 1938. Among the beneficiaries of that swing: the Tea Party, a patchwork of local organizations and larger monied groups unified by an anti-tax, anti-government, anti-Obama platform, whose candidates won 47 seats in Congress on Election Day. Millions voted in the election. According to an analysis done by the group Patchwork Nation, there were only around 67,000 members of Tea Party groups nationwide.

Anyone puzzled by the attention increasingly being given to the Democratic Socialists of America should look to the Tea Party as an example of the organization’s potential impact. The DSA, which had its biannual convention in Chicago last weekend, has grown from about 8,000 members a year ago to around 25,000 today.

That alone doesn’t make up a voting constituency of any meaningful size. Nor did the Tea Party’s base of activists. Nevertheless, from 2010 on, the far-right activist movement helped push a political message that resonated with a larger base of voters who became a force in primary campaigns. Granted, most of those candidates lost in 2010 and in the elections following, and in recent years the movement has largely faded from public attention. But the Tea Party’s influence on the Republican Party and on conservatism more broadly has been massive. The paranoiac populism that brought Trump to the White House entered the mainstream through the Tea Party’s rise, and many Republicans currently in office across the country owe much of their prominence to…

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