These are the times that try Dems’ souls.
Up until the last couple weeks, members of the Democratic Party had done a decent job pretending reality TV star Donald Trump was President of the United States and that they should come together to remedy this dystopic presidency. Remember 2018? That was impressive.
Now that voting nears, however, it’s as if Democrats are losing what’s left of their minds. We’ve seen several rancorous combinations of candidates take off the gloves; their supporters have ramped up their online animosity; and now, for some reason (read: attention), Hillary Clinton has decided so start lobbing grenades at one of the two most likely nominees of the party. Let’s start there.
Get your act together, Mrs. Clinton! In 2008, the party said no thanks. In 2016, the country (well, the Electoral College) said no thanks. You’ve had your chance to guide the party’s future, but you couldn’t get the job done. Though you certainly are allowed to not like Bernie Sanders after his primary campaign contributed to your loss almost as much as you did, it undermines your party’s cause to antagonize his supporters.
To be clear, it should have been completely obvious to everyone that Clinton was doing Sanders a favor by making her provocative “Nobody likes him” remarks. His galvanized supporters have to pantomime their furor, but she clearly offered a rallying point for any progressives currently torn on which progressive candidate to support.
Meanwhile, the more subtle effect of her comments is the resurrection of the 2016 divides that pitted Democrat against Democrat — all to the benefit of Donald Trump. Trump seduced many-a-Sanders supporter four years ago, and now he’s trying to do it again. He has publicly taken Sanders’s side in Woman-gate, is doing so again with the Clinton stuff, and he’s drudging up conspiratorial theory that the DNC is again rigging the primary against Sanders.
The President’s voice can have an impact here. Though Trump and Sanders have mostly divergent ideologies, their supporters’ Venn Diagram does have a cultural intersection: it’s disproportionately white, uneducated, aggrieved, disestablishmentarian, and sometimes, sexist. President Trump doesn’t need all the Sanders supporters to win; he just wants to woo the wooable. If that sounds laughable, keep in mind 12% of Sanders supporters voted for Trump four years ago. Since the election was decided by less than one percent of voters in three states, the impact was huge.
Of course, Hillary Clinton is only partially responsible for again driving voters away from the Democratic Party. More responsible than her are the voters themselves. More than any other group of supporters, it’s Sanders’s online acolytes that promise to bolt from the party were he not the nominee. Weaponizing their intransigence, it’s as if they’re threatening the party. “That’s a nice nominee you have there. It’d be a shame if anything were to happen to it.”
What’s so frustrating about that position is that they’re right; they do hold the power over the election’s fate. If Sanders supporters don’t support the Democratic ticket, the Democrats will lose. But the reverse is also true. If, say, Biden supports don’t support Sanders, there would be the same exact result — a Trump victory.
I think it’d therefore be helpful for members of their party to enter into a sort of unofficial compact before voting starts: we’ll support your preferred nominee if you support ours. This compact would be temporary and for the express purpose of defeating Donald Trump. In the meantime, candidates should of course feel free to disagree on the issues and to press each other on their records, but if they slip into the kind of personal, acrimonious language that can permanently sever the relationship between a voter and the party’s potential nominee, that’s hard to come back from. (Bernie Sanders, to his credit, has signaled he agrees, but he also endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016 after plenty of his supporters were past the point of no return.)
Four years ago, Republicans generally came together to support the President. Senators Cruz and Rubio said awful things about candidate Trump, and he of them, but they all came together in the end. The results: a Trump victory; many conservative, life-time appointed judges, including two on the Supreme Court; assorted Trump initiatives that have impacted the tax code, health care, climate, and foreign policy; and what many see are actions hurting America’s reputation abroad and behavior that’s lowered the status of the presidency at home, two intangibles that may affect our future more than any political issue.
It’s worth noting at this point that plenty of people think Trump is doing a great job, or at least a not-that-bad one. If they want to own that, that’s fine. As a frequent third party voter, I get that sometimes principle outweighs subservience to the two-party, lesser-of-two-evils system; perhaps that’s where some Democrats are at right now, and therefore they can acquiesce to Trump’s re-election if they don’t get their preferred nominee.
This post was instead for those who think Trump is an absolutely unacceptable president for reasons beyond just policy. That Mitt Romney would be more acceptable. That Ted Cruz would be more acceptable. That Mike Pence would be more acceptable. And that yes — Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, or another Democrat would be more acceptable.
Either you believe all the bad things you say about Trump, or you don’t. Figure it out.