I wrote about this last month as more Democratic candidates were filling up an already crowded primary field, but it has only become worse as the number of declared Democrats has swelled to 20 with this week’s entry of former vice president Joe Biden.
Progressive purists, whether they’re activists or political pundits, seem more motivated to tear down some Democratic candidates for not being “liberal enough” than they are to defeat Donald Trump, who continues to wreak havoc on our institutions with his increasingly authoritarian behavior.
But here’s the deal – and where every 2020 discussion should begin and end: No matter who the Democrats nominate, progressive primary voters must unite behind them to defeat this president.
Don’t repeat the mistakes of 2016
There appears to be a major distinction between supporters of Bernie Sanders and those who prefer another Democratic primary candidate. Sadly, it’s a difference that could help Trump win again in 2020.
Those who support a non-Bernie candidate, from Joe Biden to Kamala Harris, are quick to say they will vote for the eventual Democratic nominee, no matter who it is – even if it’s Sen. Sanders.
Too many Sanders supporters, however, don’t play that way. They treat the other Democratic candidates with almost as much contempt – if not more – than Trump himself.
They hurl mud at the non-Bernie candidates because they only align with the Vermont senator on 80 to 90 percent of his priorities. They call them DNC hacks or corporately-owned shills.
In other words, they seem hell-bent on tearing down any eventual Democratic nominee that isn’t named Bernie Sanders.
The end result, of course, could be the same thing we saw in 2016: Enough angered progressive purists either don’t vote at all – falsely thinking Trump and the Democrat are equally bad – or they pull the lever for Trump.
That cannot happen in 2020.
Save the party purity fight for after Trump is defeated
Democrats have always prided themselves on having a large tent. In the Trump era, that tent has only become larger as moderates and even some Republicans look for an escape from Trumpism.
This dynamic opens the door to some good old fashioned family fights over which policy direction the party should take. It’s a debate we will see play out over the next year.
But we also have to recognize the urgency of this specific moment.
Donald Trump isn’t just the biggest threat to the country, but another four years of him in the Oval Office will make any purism fight we have right now seem pretty meaningless and counterproductive.
Yes, Democrats will put out a mountain of policy proposals over the next year and a half. Sen. Elizabeth Warren seems to have done so all on her own over the past couple months.
There will be debates over which of these Democratic policies are best for the country. But we can’t let these quibbles over details lead us to an all-out brawl that ends up damaging whoever becomes the party nominee.
Because if we keep having these out-of-control fights over purity right now – if we keep trying to divide up the party in irreconcilable ways – it’s not progressive priorities that win. It’s Trump.
At the end of the day, the country has a ten-alarm fire raging in the White House. If the most liberal voters in the Democratic Party care about achieving any of their priorities – from universal health care to the Green New Deal – then they should recognize that the biggest fight right now is replacing Donald Trump with a Democrat – any Democrat – in 2020.
Sean Colarossi currently resides in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and was an organizing fellow for both of President Obama’s presidential campaigns. He also worked with Planned Parenthood as an Affordable Care Act Outreach Organizer in 2014, helping northeast Ohio residents obtain health insurance coverage.