Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson has a bone to pick with pretty much the entire field of Democratic presidential hopefuls this year. Why, oh why, he wonders, must everyone be so meanspirited toward each other? In a rather questionable effort to convince his party that a house divided against itself cannot stand, Robinson calls for the candidates to focus less on pointing out each other’s flaws and instead work on highlighting the distinctions between them that make them superior choices. To do any less, he claims, is simply doing Donald Trump’s job for him. In other words, can’t we all just get along?
Somebody, eventually, is going to win the Democratic nomination. If the candidates are sincere when they say this is the most important election of our lifetimes and ousting Trump must be the top priority — and I believe they are — then how does it make sense to generate so much fodder for Trump campaign ads in the fall?
Look, I know that politics ain’t “Kumbaya.” It would be insane to go through the grueling experience of running for president without trying to win, and that means convincing voters you’re the best for the job. There’s a difference, though, between making the most effective case for yourself and arguing that your opponents are so flawed as to be disqualified for office.
Rather than being nailed to the wall for something they did or said 20 years ago, the candidates need to be given time and space to evolve, just as the nation has evolved.
Were I looking at this situation from the perspective of an impartial bystander, I might agree with the author, at least in general terms. Completely tearing down your opponent with messy oppo research definitely provides ammunition for the eventual winner’s opponent in the general election. But as the lengthy op-ed grinds on, Robinson strangely decides to do precisely what he’s accusing the candidates of by listing most of their perceived sins that are currently flooding the airwaves.
The reference above to things the candidates “did or said 20 years ago” is probably a reference to Bloomberg. But rather than burying the past, Robinson immediately turns around and lists the ways that Mike’s opponents are digging up his past as a racist, sexist and Republican at heart (with links to examples of each!). He then follows that up by saying “all of which is basically true.” It’s not hard to imagine Bloomberg reading this and not being terribly appreciative of all the “help.”
Robinson similarly lists (and links to) Bernie Sanders’ history of a trip to the Soviet Union, a vote cast in favor of an NRA-backed measure and the aggressive tactics of the Bernie Bros. He brings up a dodgy conviction that Amy Klobuchar obtained back when she was a county prosecutor in Minnesota. He refers to Joe Biden’s “lack of sharpness” (to put it kindly) and the mediocre nature of the campaign he’s run so far, along with reminding everyone that Uncle Joe helped write the crime bill that “led to mass incarceration.”
Pete Buttigieg is described as someone who can’t connect with Black voters and has a tendency “to lecture rather than speak from the heart.” Not for nothing here, Eugene, but are you trying to throw these people a life preserver or an anchor?
It’s also worth noting that Robinson’s concerns over civility and team-building seem to be somewhat situational. I took a few minutes to Google some of his columns relating to the GOP primary in 2016 and (try not to faint from shock) I was unable to dig up a single essay where he expressed similar concerns over the Republicans tearing each other down. In fact, he seemed to be rather enjoying the show, much as many conservatives are today while watching the Democrats rip each other to pieces. And if we’re being honest, the last GOP primary got a lot nastier than what we’re seeing among the Democrats this year.
Primary fights tend to be blood feuds toward the end when the desperate second-tier candidates are struggling for one last chance at the brass ring. It’s the nature of the beast. And the party of the incumbent tends to just sit back, munch on some popcorn and enjoy the show. When you compare this year’s Democratic primary to those of previous cycles, it really doesn’t strike me as all that different.