By Nemanja Milosevic
The Democratic primary season in the US has started, and different candidates have lined up with a message “I can beat Donald Trump”. Getting Trump out of office has become a goal not only of the democrats, who are opposing this president more than any other “ideological rival” in recent history but also of many centrist, independents and some republicans. The fear and frustration are expressed by many of my friends from the US, who in a recent conversation confessed that they have not been so scared, they are tired of hearing about physical attacks at people of different identities, racist politics, divisiveness, and many other things that characterize the Trump presidency. This frustration is expressed by one of my friends who is in his twenties, who is tired of the tensions in the current political climate and who would rather go and spend time abroad.
Another friend, who in the previous elections supported Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, because she can get things done (an argument used by many Democratic voters in the 2016 Democratic Primaries), now supports candidates who are proposing more leftist policies, like Elizabeth Warren. He is frustrated that he cannot have things in his country, probably the richest country in the history of the world, that are common and exist in other developed countries for decades.
Redefining what it means to be a Democrat
Economic liberties, small government and promotion of private ownership have for a long time been a symbol of US politics and ideology, which was part of the so-called American dream, where your entrepreneurial skills and hard work can get you up the ladder and improve your lifestyle significantly.
That has become difficult with the acceleration of globalization processes, Amazon getting benefits such as a total tax exemption made impossible for any other business to compete on the market. Job automatization, trade agreements and outsourcing of jobs left many people unemployed and wealth inequality has surged. Unemployment among young people is increasing and it is now expected that for the first time in modern history, a generation of children will be worse off socially and economically that their parents .
All that leads to a change in mainstream politics, where calling someone a socialist is not an insult in the US any longer. The last time a centrist democrat was elected a president was in 2012, and since there have been seven generations of young Americans who have entered the political process by turning 18 and getting the right to vote. That changed the political landscape so much that someone like Bernie Sanders, a socialist democratic candidate in 2016 got so close to beating Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. The ideas that he then presented, that many called radical socialist ones, such as a universal healthcare plan, commonly known as Medicare for All, are now widely accepted, not only by young liberal democrats but by Americans in general . Other policies that Bernie introduced three years ago also got mainstream appeal – student debt cancelation, publicly funded higher education and a 15$-per-hour minimum wage.
Identifying candidates: From Left to Center
The ideas that Sanders presented during the last primaries and the defeat of Hillary Clinton in the general election have changed the approach of the Democratic Party establishment and had a large influence on the candidates that entered the race this time. It was obvious from the early stage that Sanders has moved the bar to the left, when normally known centrist democrats presented some policies mimicking those of Sanders, but with enough back-tracking to satisfy both the donors (necessary for financing campaigns in the States, and who are usually against policies such as those of Sanders) and the changing democratic base that overwhelmingly supports the turn to the left.
Confronted with these new progressive candidates made Sanders move further to the left, thus changing his rhetoric and policies to the extremes (such as the plan to combat global warming worth 16 trillion dollars, in comparison to the one of Elizabeth Warren worth 2 trillion $). He has now come out as an anti-establishment candidate , recognizing the damage he suffered the last time by the DNC (Democratic National Committee) that ran the primary season heavily favoring Clinton, and he is calling out the establishment media  that has a clear bias against him , such as The Washington Post, owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, the company that is often under fire by the Sanders campaign. Another thing that changed since the last time he ran is the campaign and the outreach to different demographics, which was something he was heavily criticized for. Having people of different backgrounds on key positions in his campaign brought him popularity among young voters of color .
Candidate next in line on the progressive side after Bernie would be Elizabeth Warren, drawing a lot of inspiration from the Sanders’ campaign in 2016, just without renouncing corporatism, the Democratic establishment, and the media. She appeals largely to the white, college-educated voters , which may have something to do with the fact that she was a university professor and has detailed and precise plans and policies to introduce proposals such as Medicare for All or free college (opposite from Sanders, who uses more populist language to explain and propose similar things).
On the more centrist side, we have Kamala Harris, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg (more candidates would fall into this category, but their polling numbers are too low). Harris is a Democratic establishment and media darling, former prosecutor and a talented debater. Other than that, her campaign is failing to maintain cohesion throughout the process, as she flip-flops on many issues, most probably based on what is popular in the polls or with donors. Most notably, she changed her opinion on Medicare for All, and although she co-sponsored the Sanders’ bill, she now backtracks as it becomes obvious that she cannot compete with Warren and Sanders in that arena and has no chance of attracting the progressive base. One of the things that negatively affect her popularity is her record as a prosecutor, as pointed out in the second debate by another candidate – her work as a prosecutor affected negatively and to a large extent the black community in California, where she worked.
Biden and Buttigieg are other centrist candidates that run on moderate policies and realistic solutions, which goes along with the idea of bringing the divided country back together, which for more progressive thinkers and politicians means that they are ready to succumb to Republicans and not fight for things that the Democratic base wants and needs.
One thing that is on everyone’s mind is electability. It does not matter who has better policies, but who can beat Trump. This is also the argument that even the Biden’s wife used to promote him on one occasion, she claims that although he might not be the best on policies such as Medicare for All, he is the one that can beat Trump in general elections (I assume it is due to name recognition, as he was a vice of a very popular president) and thus deserves everyone’s support . I would argue that this claim is debatable, as Biden exposed several weaknesses that someone as unscrupulous and vicious as Trump can use easily in the debates. Those being claims of several women that Biden touched them inappropriately and countless verbal gaffes that Biden had (the most notable one being the gaffe in one speech where he said that poor kids are just as bright as white kids, when wanting to say wealthy kids ).
The danger that lays there is that Trump can easily downplay his sexual misconducts and racism by claiming that the Democratic candidate expresses the same behavior (Biden also bragged about working with segregationists in the past, which drew critiques from other candidates of color and civil rights movements). Other than that, it would be a great risk having a centrist candidate that does not excite the base – his rallies attract smaller and more inert crowds when compared to some candidates who poll way lower than him at the moment. If we consider 2016 as an experiment of how would a centrist candidate measure against Trump, we can conclude that Biden might not be the best choice.
Both Sanders and Warren show great potential to beat Trump by a large margin, as some current polls may suggest. I think that is crucial to go with a more progressive candidate in general elections, especially the one that dedicates his/her political activity to issues that concern the part of the population that is hurt by the globalized economy, neo-conservative measures and the strong relationship between political establishment and corporations. Recent poll showed that 90% of voters identifying themselves as Republicans think that Trump is still doing a great job , so going with a centrist because he/she can gather support from democrats and republicans who do not like Trump would not work, since that would alienate a large portion of progressive voters and not attract enough republican voters.
Between the two progressive candidates, they both have good things to offer. Warren would be the first female president, a progressive one and with detailed plans and policies proving that everything she proposes is meticulously planned. On the other hand, she suffered an incident when she claimed that she has Native-American origin, followed by a DNA test that showed that she is only an insignificant fraction a Native-American. This backfired when Trump called her out on it and gave her the nickname “Pocahontas” . She has apologized since, but still shows the inability to confront that incident when asked.
Unlike Harris or Sanders, she has not shown yet skills that she could use in a confrontation with Trump. She did well and could be named a winner of both democratic debates, but lacks the audacity that Sanders expresses, for example. In a recent tweet, Sanders called Trump “an idiot”, and has shown in many cases that he can be loud and eloquent at the same time, which are the skills that could benefit someone going against Trump. Recent research showed that Republican candidates tend to use nouns phrases that work efficiently in a political debate, as they “essentializing”, they appear to express an indisputable feature,
and that is how nicknames that Trump assigns to his opponents work . “Sleepy Joe”, “Crazy Bernie” and “Pocahontas” are nicknames that Trump has for top Democratic candidates, and it is very important to have an opponent who can go against a bully, as campaign for this general election would not be a typical, solely policy-based one (which is a style of debate where Warren excels).
It is still early on in the primary season to make any firm claim, but it is important to recognize mistakes from 2016 and do everything possible to avoid them this time, especially the ones that DNC has power over. It is important to present a candidate that can excite the base – the Democratic, not the moderate Republican one – challenges the dominant narrative (and avoid going back to status quo), has oratory skills to go against a bully and has a clean record (avoiding affairs such as Hilary’s emails or Benghazi). In any event, a recent poll shows that support for Biden decreases, while for Sanders and Warren surges . We could say that so far things are going well.
Featured picture: President of the United States Donald J. Trump at CPAC 2017 February 24th 2017 by Michael Vadon
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