The first official debates of the 2020 nominating season will begin this week at a time when the tenor of the fight for the Democratic nomination has become slightly more heated. For example, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey recently expressed his dismay and anger at the manner in which frontrunner Joseph Biden spoke about his past relationships with segregationist senators. Despite that, the Democratic primary has, thus far, been a feel good story for progressives and will likely continue to resonate that way through the debates.
This is in part because of the size, diversity and strength of the field. There are several strong female candidates including Elizabeth Warren, who has catapulted herself to the top tier of contenders, as well as Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand. All four are smart, progressive and competent senators. Harris and Booker, as well as Julian Castro and Andrew Yang demonstrate the racial diversity of the field and highlight the differences between the two parties with regards to race and racism. Pete Buttigieg is the first LGBT candidate for the White House and is also in the top tier of candidates. Others such as John Hickenlooper and Jay Inslee would be stars in most presidential nominating seasons but are stuck in the second or third tier because of the sheer size and talent of the rest of the field.
Winnowing the field of nominees from 24 to one will take the better part of the next nine months, perhaps longer. It is a daunting task for the DNC and for Democrats all over the country. In addition to finding a nominee, DNC, led by Tom Perez, must also raise money for a national campaign in which the White House, House of Representatives and Senate will all be in play. The Republican Party will have to do the same over the next seventeen months, but because Donald Trump will be renominated with almost no meaningful opposition, their task is of a more modest scope.
Given all this, it is very tempting for the DNC as well as other Democratic campaign organizations, such as state parties, to approach the next months like a normal campaign, focusing on raising money for the general election while ensuring the process of determining a nominee occurs as smoothly as possible. However, if they do this, they will be misreading the political environment and making a grave mistake.
Sadly, it is also imperative that the DNC focus on doing what it to ensure the 2020 election is conducted freely and fairly. In recent months, the notion that Trump will not leave office if he loses in 2020 has gained more traction and is approaching conventional wisdom in some Democratic circles. Trump himself has invited more Russian intervention in 2020, while little has been done to make our elections more secure from foreign hackers. Additionally, Republican efforts to disenfranchise non-white voters have become a fact of political life in several states. Given all this, the DNC would be foolish to assume that the election in 2020 will be free, fair and Democratic-unless they do something about it.
The most important thing the DNC can be doing right now is not simply to determine the debate schedule or threshold for getting into the debates, or even to raise money for the general election campaign, but creating and implementing a comprehensive strategy to ensure and defend democratic elections next November. This includes things like assembling teams of attorneys in key states around the country, educating voters about their rights, creating hotlines and the like to report voter intimidation and similar problems, keeping the discussion of election security in the media and seeking commitments from Democrats and Republicans to accept the outcome of the election.
This is difficult work that is largely unprecedented, but it is absolutely essential to the Democratic Party’s hopes for 2020. If the 2020 election is held in an environment of voter intimidation, foreign intervention and ballot insecurity, Democrats of all types will be justifiably furious, but by then it will be too late to do much about it. The signs that these kinds of shenanigans are on the horizon for 2020 are very apparent now. Doing nothing about this will lead the Democrats down the path of post-election indignation and likely defeat. Addressing these problems now is difficult because it requires Democratic leadership to recognize the gravity of the problems it presents, but failing to lay the groundwork for combating these problems will play directly into the hands of the Republican Party.
Photo: cc/Gage Skidmore