And that’s a wrap … maybe. With (probably) two new entrants, the rush for the Democratic presidential nomination may finally be over.
Excuse me if I’m not particularly enthusiastic. Because, while Michael Bloomberg and Deval Patrick are experienced and intelligent leaders, much of the conversation about them, and indeed the impetus for their campaigns, seems based on a highly problematic idea about the Democratic primary.
Much of the commentary isn’t about them as individuals, but about them as an alternative to the current frontrunners (Bloomberg has not officially entered the race as of writing, but it seems clear he will). And this indicates a fundamental problem on the Democratic side — a misguided discomfort with ideological diversity.
Bloomberg in particular has sought to cultivate this idea and make it essential to his campaign. This is how he justifies his entering the race so late: He only decided to run because he felt the current field was weak.
Namely, he feels that the moderate Joe Biden isn’t strong enough, while Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are too progressive to win a general election. And Bloomberg thinks he is the one to pick up the Democratic banner.
The problem is the underlying idea, among both progressive and moderate commentators, that ideological diversity is a weakness. Both ultimately want the entire field to embrace their views. Moderates worry progressives make the entire field look radical or out of touch; progressives worry that the influence of moderates will cause Democrats to be too timid and uninspiring to take on President Donald Trump.
I’m not arguing the Democratic Party should be more moderate or progressive. Instead, I want to question the idea that there is only one way to be a Democrat that every candidate must conform to.
If the party tries to suppress views that don’t conform to its viewpoints (or even appears to be doing so), or if the nomination becomes a coronation, any dissenting voters will feel excluded and therefore less enthusiastic about voting — as Hillary Clinton learned in 2016.
Nominations are supposed to be contentious because hearing diverse viewpoints allows voters to make the most informed decision. This is how democracy should work. Voters being better informed about and feeling more invested in the nomination can only be a strength.
To see the problems of forced conformity, just look at the authoritarian cult the Republicans have become. Advancement in the Trump administration and the GOP (not that there is much difference nowadays) isn’t based on political popularity, expertise or even ideology. Instead, it’s based on connections to Trump and his family and willingness to subordinate one’s personal integrity and values to Trump’s cult of personality.
And the few dissenters have not fared well. Jeff Sessions is trying to remain electorally relevant with a pathetic campaign ad for his old Alabama Senate seat about how he was always loyal to the president, a sycophantic display of fealty to his audience of one.
Others who once mildly criticized the president have declined to stay in office, like former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake or, more recently, Rep. Martha Roby and Rep. Will Hurd, contributing to the record number of congressional GOP retirements in the Trump era.
The results are predictable: White college-educated women, people of color and young voters are leaving the GOP in droves. Mobilizing these groups allowed Democrats to win the 2018 midterms by the highest margin since Watergate. Recent GOP losses of the Virginia legislature, and the Kentucky and Louisiana governorships, show that Republicans’ problems are only getting worse.
If a voter doesn’t agree with a primary candidate’s positions, they can vote for another candidate they like more — that’s what a primary is for. As for whether controversial positions taken by other candidates will lead the nominee to be tarred by association, I find myself doubtful.
For one thing, dynamics change in the general election — the healthcare debate won’t be Medicare-for-all versus public option; it will be expanding healthcare access versus ending protections for pre-existing conditions. Moreover, relentlessly screaming that Democrats are socialists didn’t help Republicans in recent races, even in deep-red Kentucky and Louisiana.
But in case it does happen, Democrats should be grateful for their primary’s ideological diversity, because it gives candidates opportunities to distinguish themselves and build a reputation beyond that of a generic Democrat.
Moreover, this diversity creates the opportunity for primary voters to make a genuine and informed choice about candidates’ policy positions, so the person who wins the nomination will be the most popular in the field and, therefore, inherently the best choice to take on Trump.
Most importantly, voters don’t necessarily rank all the candidates on a spectrum of moderate to progressive. Despite the GOP’s best efforts, the election will not be won with labels but by articulating a compelling vision for the country that can compete with Trump’s.
Either a progressive or a moderate could do that. But it is undoubtedly the voters themselves who are the best judge of whose vision is the most compelling, so why not let them make as informed a choice as possible? And for a choice to be truly informed, there must be genuine options to choose from.
Ben Reicher PO ’22 is from Agoura Hills, California. He joined his high school newspaper in ninth grade because he loved to argue and hasn’t stopped since.