by Keaton Weiss
From the beginning of the 2020 Democratic primary season, I could tell what it was all going to be about. It was clear from day one that this would be a contest amongst a crowded field of over two dozen candidates to convince the Democratic electorate not of whose vision of the future was most compelling, or whose policy set was most appealing, but of who stood the best chance of defeating Donald Trump in November. And I was right. Despite Bernie Sanders’ polling strength on every major issue from healthcare to immigration to climate to income inequality, Democratic voters have, in greater numbers, chosen to vote for Joe Biden, based on his perceived strength in the all-important issue of “electability.”
Among Democratic primary voters, Medicare for All has polled at 50% or more in every single state that’s voted so far (perhaps put an asterisk next to South Carolina, but even there, exit polls on election day showed majority support for M4A). Healthcare as an issue consistently ranks #1 among voters’ concerns. And yet Bernie himself has failed to get even 35% support in all but 7 of these 24 states. How does this make sense? Well, in these same states, when the question is asked of voters which is more important, that a candidate agree with them on the issues, or that a candidate can beat Trump, the latter wins easily. And so it’s as simple now as it was over a year ago when the Democratic candidates were all declaring their candidacies: policies be damned, we just need to find someone who can win.
Democrats’ obsession over electability troubled me from the outset for a number of reasons. First, it’s extremely difficult for even the professional pundit class, who get paid six-figure salaries to evaluate candidates in this way, to determine who’s electable and who’s not (Remember how many of them predicted that Trump wouldn’t even participate in the first GOP primary debate, never mind win a state, win the nomination, or become president?). But second, it’s often extremely easy for these TV talking heads to convince their viewers that they know what the hell they’re talking about. And when a candidate like Joe Biden declares his candidacy and holds his first big fundraiser at the home of Comcast’s chief lobbyist, the pundits at MSNBC, which, as it turns out, happens to be owned by Comcast, can, with relative ease, make the case that Joe Biden is the Democrats’ best bet to defeat Trump in a general election.
Most concerning, though, the prioritization of electability above all else reveals that to the majority of Democratic voters, Donald Trump himself is America’s biggest problem. This gets to the fundamental divide within the Democratic Party: those who feel Trump is America’s gravest threat vs. those who think the system that produced him is America’s gravest threat. Thus far, it’s clear that those in the latter camp are losing that intra-party debate, as evidenced by Joe Biden’s “return to normalcy” message and, again, his perceived edge over Trump in November, which have carried him to a commanding lead in this nominating contest.
Now, however, we’re seeing the ‘deus ex machina’ that is the Coronavirus make its entrance into this election cycle, and as it does, it’s exposing the fragility of the American system that anxious Democrats are too nervous to challenge by nominating Bernie Sanders, not because they don’t agree it needs challenging, but because they fear such a challenge would be rejected by the broader population, yielding a second Trump term. But as this public health crisis intensifies and continues to expose the structural deficiencies of our beloved neoliberal capitalist model, the Democrats, starting this week in Florida, Illinois, Ohio, and Arizona, will have one last opportunity to decide not so much whether Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden is better positioned to defeat Donald Trump, but whether or not Donald Trump is actually what’s most wrong with our country at this moment in time.
To borrow from, in both form and content, Bernie’s press conference on Wednesday afternoon in which he previewed his debate strategy against Biden, Democrats in the remaining primary states will have a chance to answer the following questions:
- Is it “worse than Trump” that 500,000 people declare bankruptcy due to medical debt every year?
- Is it “worse than Trump” that working class families and small business owners are spending 20% of their incomes on healthcare expenditures?
- Is it “worse than Trump” that 63% of Americans can’t afford a $1,000 emergency?
- Is it “worse than Trump” that the United States is the only developed country in the world without a universal healthcare system?
- Is it “worse than Trump” that the current Democratic frontrunner would veto such universal healthcare legislation even if a Democratic congressional majority were to get it to his desk?
- Is it “worse than Trump” that we’re less than a decade away from permanent, irreparable environmental catastrophe absent major changes to our energy policy?
- Is it “worse than Trump” that we have $1.5 trillion of our economy tied up in student debt?
- Is it “worse than Trump” that our incarcerated population is higher than China’s?
- Is it “worse than Trump” that we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any first-world nation on the planet?
- Is it “worse than Trump” that the 3 wealthiest people in this country own more wealth than the bottom half of Americans?
And finally, is it “worse than Trump” that a virulent strain of Coronavirus now threatens to exacerbate all of those systemic failures in ways from which we may never recover?
If Democrats have the courage to answer those questions honestly and correctly (hint: “Yes!”), then there’s a chance they can course correct in the coming weeks and months. But if their answer to those questions is still some variation of “Well, kind of yeah, but really, no, because…Trump!” then there’s really nothing left to discuss. We who think “yes” will leave the party and never come back. Not because we want to, but because we have to.
Because these problems existed long before the Coronavirus outbreak, and long before Donald Trump became president. It was bad enough they weren’t addressed then. But now, as this pandemic threatens to rip the band-aid off of every festering sore that we’ve left untreated for so long, if we still can’t get an honest and serious reckoning of these issues out of this institution that is the Democratic Party, then I’m sorry, but the institution serves no purpose, and must be abandoned.
So, as much as I wince when I say this, Florida, the ball’s in your court! Choose wisely. A lot’s riding on you.