As Campaign Heats Up, Democratic Candidates Must Avoid Low Road and Inspire a Bedraggled and Hesitant Populace

There is not, nor will there ever be, a perfect person. So why would there ever be a perfect candidate or a perfect leader? There won’t be. The best we can hope for is a person who looks toward the future, with an eye on the past and a sense of what’s fractured us right now.

In 2016, after a long primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Party entered the general election highly fractured, with some on the left swearing to stay home instead of vote. In the general election, that fracture deepened. Suspicion won over the American population. Over the last three years, it keeps winning. Doubt. Attacks on our institutions. Arousing outrage and enabling conspiracies to spread. That general suspicion can’t overtake us on the left again. The candidates seem to agree on that in theory, but the nature of the primary game and of media coverage of the primary thrives on attack and controversy. Lurking beyond the race is the ever-present question: Who can defeat Trump?

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photo via Visual Hunt

Nobody trusts the poll numbers that show every one of the Democratic candidates can beat Trump. Or, even if they think it’s likely, many on the left are afraid to say it, for fear of spreading a sense of optimism/certainty. As if saying what we know is true (Trump’s 43% approval rating), will keep people from voting on that not-so-far-off day in November.

As the Democratic primary season is upon us, some candidates have dropped their fallback talking points and begun trying to differentiate themselves from the pack. Those on the fringes of the race, like Amy Klobuchar (4% nationally) and Tom Steyer (2%) are desperate to make the case for themselves before they are disqualified from future debates. In the recent New Hampshire debate, Klobuchar came after the rising mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, attacking his inexperience. Klobuchar made an impassioned plea to the middle class (her strongest supporters are Midwestern, moderate, and middle class). The early indications are that has resonated in New Hampshire, whose demographics aren’t all that different from the upper Midwest. Going on the extreme attack against the 4th/5th place candidate is one thing. It may extend Klobuchar’s campaign for another month, but it isn’t likely to do anything for her hopes in Nevada or South Carolina.

This is the problem: if attacks are all about immediate bumps (which they are, because our controversy-biased news and media bias), then acting aggressively on the stage gives a candidate quick benefits…in a long and convoluted race to July, when the Democratic Convention will be held in Milwaukee.

Quick hits. Body blows to candidates…one of whom will then enter a general election against an incumbent President who loves nothing more than fighting dirty.

As we swing through Nevada (February 22) and South Carolina (February 29), the attacks will get more personal. Super Tuesday is looming. On March 3, fourteen states including California and Texas will hold their primaries. But the race may not gain clarity.

According to 538’s polls, here’s the current order: Sanders/Biden both at 22%, Warren 13%, Bloomberg 12%, Buttigieg 9%.

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg (age 77), has inserted himself into the race by way of his own fortune, spending millions on television ads (including a Super Bowl spot). The fact that Bloomberg hasn’t hit the road to campaign, nor made a debate appearance makes his possible inclusion in the upcoming Las Vegas debate (February 19), highly controversial. The DNC changed its policy on debate eligibility and Bloomberg now needs 10% or higher in four national polls to qualify. He’s currently somewhere from 9-15% in recent national polls.

We’re a long way from July. We won’t find a perfect candidate. But regardless of who that candidate is…we have to believe they can defeat our current President. Otherwise, that fear will become America’s self-fulling prophecy.

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