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Dispatches from 2020: Be Careful of a Damaging Primary

Because I like creating series on this blog, and because I’m very invested in the outcome of the 2020 election (aren’t we all?), I’ve decided to start a new series entitled “Dispatches from 2020,” which will feature commentary on issues that we should pay attention to as the campaign heats up, as well as strategies that we may want to adopt if we want to halt the descent into madness and fascism that seems to characterize so much of American politics.

Because, I don’t know about all of you, but I’m already becoming very stressed out about 2020. Many Democrats at all levels of the ticket are squabbling and sniping at each other, while Trump continues to be himself, even as his poll numbers have recently ticked upward. Recently, he’s made it abundantly clear–if there were any remaining doubt–that the 2020 election is going to be all about white grievance and straight-up racism.

At the presidential level, the leading Democratic contenders (with the possible exception of Joe Biden) are moving leftward, which may (heavy emphasis on that word) pay dividends with young voters and progressives but may run a significant deficit in the general, particularly in those moderate states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin) that were such a pivotal part of Trump’s victory. And Sanders, and some of his supporters, continue to insist that he is the only one that can possibly lead the Democrats to presidential victory, and so they are unwilling to accept the possibility that he might legitimately lose.

And, of course, everyone is taking aim at Joe Biden.

Don’t get me wrong: I totally understand why many voters, especially younger ones, find a lot of fault with Biden, both for his record and for his age. If I had my druthers, he’d not have run, leaving the field open for a younger crop of candidates with a progressive vision. For there can be no doubt that his long record in public service is increasingly proving to be a handicap with the left wing of the party, and it doesn’t help that he seems chronically incapable of actually defending (or at the very least explaining) why he took the positions he did.

Nevertheless, we have to accept that, for the moment, he is in the race, and he does poll remarkably well against Donald Trump. FFS, even Fox News recently released a poll that shows Biden leading Trump. I, for one, do wish that he would get back onto his game and start drilling down into policies, specifying the exact ways that he’ll right this ship of state that has gone so dreadfully off course. While I doubt that most of those policies won’t be nearly as aggressive as I personally would like, they would probably poll well in exactly those parts of the country that we’re going to need in November 2020.

I worry that whoever emerges as the 2020 victor may be irreparably damaged by their primary fight, and we know how that turns out. There’s no doubt (in my mind, at least) that Hillary was irreparably damaged by her primary fight in 2016, and while there is of course no single cause of her defeat, it seems patently obvious that the sorts of attacks used against her by those on the left–including and especially Sanders and his supporters and Jill Stein–depressed turnout on the Left. If we learned nothing else of 2016, we should remember that sometimes it’s okay to pull the punches and that we cannot (cannot) lose sight of the future in the pursuit of an immediate political victory.

For make no mistake: for every blow that lands on the eventual frontrunner–whether that’s an indictment of Joe Biden’s legislative record, Kamala Harris’s time as a prosecutor in California, or Elizabeth Warrens’ foolish decision to claim Native American ancestry–the Right will turn it into a vicious attack ad. We have got to get two important facts through our heads. One, the right is deeply cynical, desperate, and power-hungry. They know that their policies are widely unpopular, hence their willingness to resort to use dastardly methods to get what they want. They know, all too well, that many on the Left are just looking for a reason to stay home on Election Day, and they will act accordingly.

Just as importantly, however, we have to remember that bad actors outside of the United States are also looking for any opening to continue sowing discord in our electoral process. Attacks that land on any of the candidates will give them yet more weapons in their arsenal, and they certainly make good use of them.

All that said, I do think that the primary is a good time to iron out exactly what it is that we stand for as a party. We must remain aware, however, that we need a message that will resonate in all parts of the country, not just in the base states of New York, California, etc. A relentless pursuit of ideological purity, and a punishment of any who don’t tow the lie, could very well saddle us with four more years of this hellish nightmare.

If we want to have any hope of seeing even a vague resemblance of a progressive agenda get put forward–let alone see our republic saved from the slide into despotism that it seems to be in–we need to do two things. One, we need to make sure that we pull some of our punches during the primary (as tempting as it is not to do so), and we need to unite–absolutely and unequivocally–behind our standard-bearer as soon as possible. As we go into the next round of debates, I hope that the candidates, and their supporters, take those needs to heart.

Now, I know that will not sit well with a lot of people, especially since it continues to look like Uncle Joe might actually end up winning the primary. Of course, a lot could change between now and the finish line. But I’m telling you right now that if Joe Biden wins, I’ll support him 110%, just as I will every other candidate.

And if you care about our republic, you should, too.

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