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Kilgore writes: "We're now well under a year away from the Iowa caucuses, and an unusually - perhaps uniquely - large Democratic field is forming to compete for the opportunity to face Donald J. Trump in 2020."

The Clinton-Sanders recriminations in 2016 were bad enough. It could all get worse with a huge field and even higher stakes. (photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
The Clinton-Sanders recriminations in 2016 were bad enough. It could all get worse with a huge field and even higher stakes. (photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Will 2020 Democrats Help Trump by Destroying Each Other?

By Ed Kilgore, New York Magazine

26 February 19


e’re now well under a year away from the Iowa caucuses, and an unusually — perhaps uniquely — large Democratic field is forming to compete for the opportunity to face Donald J. Trump in 2020. It is highly appropriate that before the festivities intensify, multiple voice are being raised to remember the wolf at the door before engaging in any intramural fisticuffs.

At the American Prospect, veteran labor political operative Steve Rosenthal offers four “rules” for 2020 Democrats in order to avoid a “circular firing squad” that helps Trump win the general election.

* Don’t try to stifle new ideas, new opinions, or new plans.

* Democrats need a robust debate on the issues instead of misleading or attack ads aimed at tearing each other down.

* Every Democratic candidate should sign a pledge that they will give their wholehearted support to whoever eventually wins the party’s.

Rosenthal’s fourth guideline he calls the “Two-For-One Rule:”

Last month, a friend of mine suggested that all the Democratic presidential candidates (and their supporters — that includes super PACs) refrain from being overly negative about the other Democratic candidates in the field. He said any time he feels tempted to say or write something bad about one of the candidates, he would precede it with two positive things.

In the same vein, progressive economist Jared Bernstein in a Washington Post op-ed suggested that 2020 Democrats (and presumably the media) constantly keep in mind that on policy issues “you would need a high-powered electron microscope to see the difference among the Democrats, compared with the difference between them and the Republicans.” And his big “rule,” borrowed from another Democratic veteran, Ron Klain, is even simpler than Rosenthal’s:

A debate about ideas is healthy, a debate about motives is not. The Democrats should hash out their differences in 2020 without slashing up one another — not casting aspirations on each other’s integrity, motivation or intentions. It is that latter path that creates an opening for Trump’s reelection in 2020.

Both these pleas (and others like it) are based on a common understanding of several unique things about the 2020 race:

1. The stakes of a general election win could not be much higher. Horrible as having Trump as the 45th president has been, a second term would be potentially catastrophic for progressives. The impact on the Supreme Court alone could be seismic. The battle against climate change could be lost for good. The odds of a stupid war or a global economic meltdown would go way up. And a second loss to Trump would be so discouraging to progressive voters that the Democratic Party’s very future might be endangered. Some activists and operatives think it’s critical the ideological direction of the Democratic Party be decisively turned in one direction or another in 2020. Important as a “struggle for the soul of the party” may be, it cannot possibly be as important as denying Trump’s reelection.

2. Trump and his media allies will ruthlessly take advantage of any Democratic divisions or exposed candidate weaknesses. There has never been a president or presidential nominee swifter than Trump in weaponizing conflicts in the opposing party, and he fully understands it’s the only way he can win, as Michael Tomasky points out in a rueful reflection on how the 2016 Democratic primaries played a big role in Trump’s win:

The only way Trump can win is by convincing millions of people that the Democrat is just unacceptable under any circumstances. This will involve a campaign of horrendous lies and smears against whoever is the nominee. He will catch the scent of that nominee’s weakness, and he will hammer at it and hammer at it, hoping to scare tremulous and confused voters into voting for him.

Given that reality, there is really only one terrible and unforgivable thing the Democratic contenders can do to one another, and that is to use the primary season to expose that Achilles Heel and worsen it. This is what Sanders did with respect to Clinton in 2016. By calling her corrupt and in hock to Wall Street, he set up Trump’s “Crooked Hillary” line of attack.

This isn’t just about Sanders, to be clear. There’s no question that had Bernie won the nomination, Clinton’s criticisms of him as an extremist would have instantly made their way into Trump’s campaign rhetoric.

3. The sheer size of the 2020 Democratic field will make personal attacks and exaggeration of issue differences unusually tempting. A candidate staring at a five-point deficit and an empty campaign treasury before a key, must-win primary would likely considering selling off their children for a well-timed day of media dominance, and unfortunately nothing works quite like a negative attack, whether it’s personal or ideological. But 2020 may be exactly the wrong year to assume Democrats can laugh off conflicts and kiss and make up after the primaries are over (if, indeed, the primaries even produce a clear winner). The only way to head off this dynamic is if other candidates along with party leaders and activists come down like the wrath of God on any candidate that succumbs to the temptation of straying over the line into attacks on a rival’s character or motives, or forgets to remind listeners that any differences on issues are laughably small when compared to the terrifying agenda of the GOP.

4. It’s not enough for candidates to play nice with each other: They need to rebuke supporters who don’t and won’t. Anyone with the least understanding of social media knows that it won’t cut any ice if presidential candidates stay above-board while their most passionate supporters go after opponents with a tire iron — a tool that will be happily picked up by Team Trump the minute it’s discarded. Of course politicians can’t control everything their fans say and do. But public criticism may usefully shame the worst offenders into some self-control. Tomasky addresses a personal plea to Bernie Sanders:

[I[ntensity leads many of his backers to the Bernie or Bust view of things. And it’s incumbent upon him to say to them, “No, let’s not have that again; of course I want the nomination, but if the voters decide otherwise, they decide otherwise, and the important thing is to stay together and not hand Trump ammunition.”

Again, Sanders is not the only candidate whose supporters may go over the line. They should all preemptively demand a certain degree of civility, and agree in advance to accept defeat quickly if and when it happens. The Clinton-Sanders mutual grievances are still infecting intra-Democratic discourse to this day; another round of similar recriminations in 2020 could be even more harmful.

Soon we will be into the heat of the nomination race, and making up rules for civility on the fly won’t be practicable. It would be smart for Democrats right now to make sure that on November 4, 2020, they aren’t looking down the barrel of an eight-year Trump presidency and wondering how their party blew it again.

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+7 # chapdrum 2019-02-26 14:13
That is more likely than not. They will probably put party/career over country, in the quite related way they do in Congress...wait ing out Trump's term instead of trying to remove him from causing more destruction and danger (to the U.S. and the rest of the world).
+22 # Anne Frank 2019-02-26 18:59
If the Democrats keep nominating warmongers who piss away the nation's resources in endless wars to enrich the deep state and its owners, then they deserve to destroy each other.
+8 # Inspired Citizen 2019-02-26 20:12
Since Bernie or Bust came up again, how about an update?

During Revolt Against Plutocracy's poll of our Bernie or Busters from 2016 and CFAR or Else pledged voters from 2018, we realized we CANNOT use leverage for one progressive when there are others running in the primaries. (We are still pioneers and learning.) Progressive or Bust is possible, but there is something FAR MORE important than ideology. The biggest reason to unseat Trump is to preserve the climate. The President is a climate assassin, and the GOP must be defeated, but not by a neo-liberal like Biden UNLESS he pledges to advance either the Green New Deal or a comprehensive climate preservation strategy to 1) reduce carbon in the atmosphere, 2) cool the planet at the poles (solar radiation management), 3) share conservation and energy transformation information on multilingual website and 4) to cease American imperialism to reduce the United States strategic footprint around the world and thereby cut carbon emissions.

IMO, Biden won't meet the 4th demand because he's an imperialist pig. With respect to Venezuela, he's aligned with Bolton, Abrams, Trump, Inc. and American trans-national corporations, i.e., the classic lesser or two extreme evils again...if he prevails in the 2020 primaries.

If Biden should pledge to the four-pronged climate preservation strategy above, I'll sheepdog for him because Naomi Klein is right: global warming changes everything.

0 # Inspired Citizen 2019-02-27 19:40
This has been updated on a post here about Joe Biden. See "No Joe! Joe Biden's Disastrous Legislative Legacy" on RSN.
+1 # economagic 2019-02-26 20:36
(Quoting chapdrum):

"That is more likely than not."

Assuming, based on the remainder of his comment, that he is referring to the second half of the last sentence in the article, sadly I have to agree.

I don't know what Jared Bernstein has been smoking, but two years ago the Democratic party self-destructed largely BECAUSE there was AT LEAST as much difference between its progressive wing and the so-called centrists as there was between the latter and the least deplorable of their Republican opponents.

Today that gap is much wider. The party misleadership has already violated Rule 1 publicly and decisively, suggesting that said misleadership and almost certainly others will likely be violating the other three rules long before the Iowa caucuses.

The Democratic party has stood for so little for so long--pretty much ever since they panicked after McGovern's defeat in 1972 by a crook--that now that an increasing number of the base want it to stand for something its "leaders" have forgotten how. Sad to say, a cohort possibly as large as the group of progressives still active in the Democratic party has already left for greener (sic) pastures.

I was being only partly facetious when I suggested a day or two ago that I might be willing to support Oprah if she chose to run. The party could do worse than to take a collective deep breath and nominate an honest outsider with neither the baggage of the leaders nor that which they have imposed on their own new blood.
+4 # chrisconno 2019-02-26 20:44
Yes, I applaud this advice and think it is going to be imperative to starve Trump of ammunition. As to the voting public; we have to contend with all the bald faced lies that the Russians? White supremacists? Anti abortionists? Oil? Pharma? Climate change hoaxers? Fox? Whoever puts all the lies out there. We definitely had better stick together. That's how the republicans took over.
-5 # oldoilieotto 2019-02-26 21:13
Trump's approval level was below 50% when he was elected. The only conclusion that should be drawn from that is that Clinton was repudiated soundly. Almost all of the current candidates are free from the odious qualities of Ms. Clinton, but endorsing the GND is a good way to become a loser. There is not a majority that will vote to significantly increase the cost of transportation, heat and electricity. If these occur they will have to be imposed by stealth. We need someone who can get the nomination while saying that you can keep your own big SUV and seeming sincere.
0 # economagic 2019-02-27 18:35
"We need someone who can get the nomination while saying that you can keep your own big SUV and seeming sincere."

Long before 2050 only three people in the US will be able to afford driving an SUV (which is a mass-marketed version of an UAV). That could happen in several ways, such as by a carbon tax as recommended recently by a couple of hundred mainstream economists (the ones who get a president's ear), or by rapid depletion of the once again seemingly endless US reserves, or by sanctions imposed by the rest of the world, or perhaps even by military action (cyberwarfare, disinformation, etc.) against the US by the rest of the world, which is not as completely devoid of sanity as the United States of Absurdistan.
0 # harleysch 2019-02-28 17:18
Ever heard of the Yellow Vest movement? It was started by Macron's ill-advised move to a carbon tax.
0 # economagic 2019-02-28 21:17
Yep, Macron is a business mogul, so tone deaf to how things look from down the ladder. Even the economists understand that you cannot get the necessary buy-in for a carbon tax without rebating it on a progressive scale to the people most hurt by it, meaning Big Industry takes the biggest hit.

Isn't "macron" the term for the diacritical mark for a long vowel?
+3 # lorenbliss 2019-02-26 23:09
What would be most discouraging to progressive-min ded voters -- terminally so, in fact -- would be another typical Democratic (sic) Party Big Lie "change-we-can- believe-in" candidate who, exactly as Obama, Clinton and Carter did, would clandestinely aid the Republican imposition of ChristoNazism while covering the collaboration with a tsunami of euphemisms.

That's what I assume will happen next year. In fact the present-day, Bankster-Ruled structure of the Democratic (sic) National Committee allows for nothing else [– which is why the Trump/Pence Regime (or its rodent-faced Mitch McConnell counterpart) will no doubt impose full ChristoNazi dictatorship in January 2021.

Wake up, people. The Democratic (sic) Party is the greatest serial betrayer in U.S. political history.

Until we organize ourselves into a viable revolutionary socialist party, the only "change we can believe in" is that our lives will become ever more wretched as the apocalypse becomes ever more intense.
+2 # Dale 2019-02-27 10:09
The object of Dems at this point is to force Trump disgraced out of office before 2020. Bernie is the by far the most likely candidate to beat Trump or any Republican the Zombies come up with.
+1 # librarian1984 2019-02-28 09:00
The usual bullshit.

How about instead of pledges and secret handshakes we insist on non-interferenc e by the DNC and DCCC?

How about we demand plenty of debates and HONEST elections?

Maybe the state parties could be fair .. and anyone who wants to vote in the Democratic primary actually gets to vote .. and has that vote counted accurately?


How about media giving ALL candidates fair, accurate coverage -- with a focus on issues rather than scandal-and-hor se race coverage?

How about our well-entrenched establishment LISTEN to the people and DO their jobs? Then we wouldn't need bs like this.

People are dying. People are hungry. People are in jail.

I wouldn't agree to say nothing negative about Harris as prosecutor or Booker's financial ties etc.

Bernie Sanders consistently treated Clinton with respect and restraint, but that's not the narrative the establishment and media spew. Even as HRC and her minions repeatedly savaged Sanders and his supporters progressives stuck to issues and facts. So let's not act as if the dishonesty, underhandedness ,lies, cheating or subterfuge came from progressives.

We all know the plan. The establishment will go after Bernie with everything they've got (or are willing to make up). Then they'll go after anyone left of center. They'll get an establishment stooge in, whose intent will be the continued betrayal of US.

But it won't get that far because they will lose to Donald Trump.
+2 # RLF 2019-02-28 09:50
If the Democrats present me with another Corp./Bankster friendly face in 2020 then I'm going to presume that things have not gotten bad enough yet and vote Dem. Socialist or Green!

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