Politics doesn’t have to be personal: Divisions and the Democratic Debate
It’s easy to point at the GOP and say they’re divided. That President Donald Trump is tearing them apart limb by limb. The Republican Party after 2020 may very well be completely different from the party that began the 2016 caucus cycle. This presidency has forced many prominent leaders to make tough decisions on immigration, foreign policy, and responses to discrimination, causing some critics to even choose to leave the party. However, the Republicans are going into the election season almost entirely united, whereas the Democrats must survive months of infighting before even thinking about the general election.
Democrats often perceive the news coming out of the White House as chaotic, unprecedented, and even disqualifying for president. However, about 88% of Republicans approve of the way that President Trump is handling the job of president (Gallup). Overall, most people who identify as Republican continue to support President Trump. That’s why multiple states, including early states like South Carolina and Nevada, have canceled their Republican nominating contests (CBS). Although Iowa will still have a Republican caucus, it is expected that no candidate could seriously threaten President Trump’s success.
Meanwhile, over a dozen candidates are still competing to be crowned as the Democratic nominee for president. The September 12th debate in Houston revealed severe cracks in the foundation of the party. From healthcare to immigration, it was clear that the party was far from united on many key issues.
Healthy debate is important to forming the platform and basis of the party. However, the debate seemed to digress into personal attacks rather than dialogue about the future of the nation. NBC tracked “who was on the attack” in a live play-by-play during the debate (NBC). Although President Trump received the most vitriol by far, Vice President Joe Biden received 8 attacks and Senator Bernie Sanders bore 5 attacks. Some attacks were “less diplomatic” and heated in their approach (NYT). In eighteen minutes, just in the discussion on healthcare, various candidates attacked other candidates, President Trump, or corporations 15 times.
At the Uncommitted Polk County Democrats watch party at Teddy Maroon’s, one caucus goer told me how tired she was of the various attacks. That section on healthcare began with just 3 or 4 people yelling at each other, and that it “expanded” into the entire group, devolving into chaos. In debates like this, “we learn how [candidates] approach problems and how they conduct themselves.” The time wasted on disparaging other candidates is discouraging to voters who are searching for candidates who can compromise and successfully run the country.
Another voter was worried that the time spent on candidates distracted from the real issue at stake: “who can beat Trump.” Electability seems to have been set aside by the Democratic Party, replaced by internal infighting. But these divisions are not new: the election-deciding “Bernie or Bust” movement was enough to show the importance of uniting every constituency of the Democratic party. If the Democrats want any of their policies to have a chance of being enacted, they must elect a Democrat. Otherwise, they’ll fall victim once again to a strong Republican turnout.
Senator Amy Klobuchar ended the healthcare debacle by quoting Abraham Lincoln: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” The personal attacks do nothing beneficial except advance an individual candidate’s profile in the short-term. However, the long-term impacts of mean-spirited attacks both on the debate stage and off are enough to begin searching for unity. We are less than five months out from the caucuses, and soon enough, it will be time for members of the Democratic party to take stock of which values are important and which candidate can truly represent them in the general election. It is high time for the personal attacks to end, and for the discussions to transition into a serious, constructive conversation around policies that will most benefit the American people.