With one full year to go until Americans hit the polling booth to decide on who will lead the nation forward, recent events suggest that any Democratic Party candidate unlucky enough to win the poisoned chalice of the nomination will be in no fit state to fight an actual election. The battle scars each contender will pick up along the way may leave the final candidate too bloody and bruised to be an effective opponent. But why didn’t former candidate Trump suffer from the same injuries?
We are presented with a media-spun vision of Democrats that follows Michelle Obama’s far-from-wise words: When they go low, we go high. Noble sentiments, indeed, but purely for internal consumption. The idea that the American left operates as a more noble class than the American right is not only a fiction; it is a detrimental adage that will result in millions of bitterly disappointed voters. The very essence of the primary campaign means that not only do candidates have to impress potential voters, but also roll in the mud to denigrate their competition.
Perhaps they learned a lesson from Trump on the campaign trail: If you can make your opponent risible, you’ll be left with a clear field. All well and good when your competitors are unaware of the game your playing, but this primary campaign has descended into the Swamp equivalent of the iconic Animal House food fight.
Each hopeful Democrat knows that mud will be slung; a candidate’s only chance is to sling more than the next guy. Yet they forget that Michelle Obama’s words were supposed to raise them up, to separate them from the Republicans, and ultimately to make them appear proud and dignified creatures. This is a vision that voters cling to, especially those who are viscerally anti-Trump. Desperate for a shot at the White House, respectability and fair play have been thrown to the wind along with caution, and it has become a case of every man or woman for themselves.
The Easy Target
In what will surely become known as Political Whack-a-Mole, as each candidate carves a position in the top tier, those on lower rungs feel emboldened to take a shot, hoping to swing either publicity or points their way. It is both the danger and the prize of being a serious contender: You gain the limelight but become a target.
Julián Castro has seen which way the wind is blowing and determined that his only shot of a possible VP pick is to take out the up-and-coming Pete Buttigieg. With the latter on 5-1 to win the nomination and the former on 11-1, Castro has little to lose by hobbling the South Bend mayor and everything to gain. This weekend, he called-out Buttigieg’s “bad track record with African Americans on the issues.”
Why didn’t Donald Trump suffer from the same primary Quid Pro Quo? The fact is that in 2016, Republican hopefuls thought they were going to fight a campaign in which all backstabbing was done behind closed doors. Trump kicked down those doors and went on an open attack of not just political records but of personal failings either real or imagined. They didn’t know what hit them.
Democrat contenders are now left with a choice of either embracing the out-and-proud mudslinging or taking Mrs. Obama’s fabled high road. One approach gives them at least a shot at the nomination; the other will leave them respectable but forgotten, uninvited to the dance, and lost in this new political wilderness.