Behold the flaming liberal, which devours its own if it strays too far from the nest! Right now, the best thing Donald Trump has going for him is the divided Democratic Party. The most left-leaning could hold sway in the primary but not reflect where the majority of the electorate is in November. The most liberal, the minority pulling the party to port side, want wholesale restructuring of the health care system, including the elimination of private payers, which would frighten off many voters even among those advocating coverage for all. The more pragmatic want to build on the Affordable Care Act and include a public option, sorely lacking in Obamacare.
Debate on issues between center-left Dems and far left is all well and good if the debate is about nuanced policy contrasts and how best to achieve realizable goals, but we’re not well served by the show-of-hands, check-list mentality that colors these multi-candidate “debates.” Purity tests are a recipe for a second Trump term.
What’s particularly disturbing is when a candidate grabs for each shiny new thing and then backtracks the following day, as did Kamala Harris on the private insurer question or on the role of busing to integrate schools, an issue that she used to bludgeon a surprisingly ill prepared Joe Biden in the first debate. Note to future debate moderators: end the gimmick of one-word answers.
Note to candidates: when the slug fest becomes too personal, when the purpose is to destroy one’s primary opponent, it sets up the President for reelection. There can be only one goal for Democrats and independents in 2020: the defeat of arguably the worst President this country has seen, a man whose behavior threatens the very foundation of our democracy and makes us a laughingstock around the world. A man who exploits fears of “others,” whether they’re African-Americans, Muslims, immigrants, the disabled, Mexicans, and anyone who disagrees with the President. A man whose only goal is self-advancement and personal gain.
In 1968, a sufficient number of Democrats and Independents refused to support Hubert Humphrey, enabling Richard Nixon to win that razor thin election. In 1972, a coalition of reform-minded Democrats calling themselves the New Democratic Coalition (NDC) engineered the nomination of Senator George McGovern to be the party standard bearer. He was so far left of the electorate that he went on to lose 49 states. (“Don’t blame me; I’m from Massachusetts,” the one state he won, along with the District of Columbia.) The NDC exulted in pushing aside the regulars, like Senators Henry Jackson and Ed Muskie. So venomous were the intra-party divisions that many supporters of Muskie and other more centrist figures sat out the election. With 20/20 hindsight, NDC came to be interpreted as “November doesn’t count.” It did then, and it does today.
Let’s hope that the moderators on Tuesday and Wednesday nights ask each candidate this question. Do you pledge to support the nominee of your party, even if you disagree with him or her, and do you commit to throw the power of your primary campaign organization behind that nominee with full-throated enthusiasm? If the respondents can’t buy into that strategy, we’re into four more years of this horror show, a nightmare we can only begin to imagine.