Commentary: Will Dems' 2020 Nominee Win The Election Or Make An Ideological Point?

May 1, 2019

The current storyline in the 2020 presidential campaign goes something like this:

Donald Trump and his allies run a campaign demonizing Democrats in general as horrid, lying socialists who hate America with a passion, who wouldn't be caught dead in a cheap foam hat that says Make America Great Again because they want to destroy it.

That might pick up enough grumpy swing voters to add to his loyal MAGA crowd to guarantee him a second term.

And if that doesn't work, Trump just waits for the Democratic Party to blow itself up, with divisions on divisions on top of divisions.

Polls show that many of those swing voters (we refer you to Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, among other pillars of the heartland) were by no means in love with Donald Trump.

They were simply disgusted with the sound of crickets coming from the Hillary Clinton campaign when the subject of disappearing jobs and chronic unemployment in their part of the world would come up.

At least Trump came and gave them some hope – sometimes making promises that he couldn't deliver on.

At least he showed up for the dance.

Many Democrats believe Joe Biden – familiar old Uncle Joe, a man of the people – could reach those voters and bring them back into the fold. His message: Enough is enough. This guy Trump has got to go.

The Democrats could nominate a centrist-type candidate like Biden who could win back many of the blue-collar voters who made Trump president. Others, though, believe the party needs to take a hard turn to the left to be true to itself.

That means nominating someone like Bernie Sanders, who would be immune to Trump's socialist scare tactic because Sanders is, in fact, a socialist and will tell you so.

Other Democrats are looking for a woman or a person of color to carry the banner for the Democrats – Sen. Kamala Harris is a good choice for them, because she is both. Many are jumping on board with Elizabeth Warren, a fire-breather who can put fear in the hearts of the Wall Street crowd. Assuming they have hearts.

And in a situation where there are literally over 20 Democrats saying they want the nomination, a divided party seems inevitable.  

This, many in the world of punditry will tell you, is the greatest divide since the anti-Vietnam progressives took over the Democratic Party in 1972 and nominated George McGovern, leaving the Democratic establishment on the outside looking in.

Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern campaigns in Wisconsin on August 17, 1972 before a sign which asks him to "Bring US Together." Supporters of the South Dakota senator claimed he could fulfill such a goal; McGovern told the crowd he would try.
Credit AP

The result was a massive victory for the Republican nominee, Richard Nixon, and we all know how that turned out.

We're not entirely sure that, once the dust has settled and the Democrats have nominated an actual presidential candidate and running mate at their convention in Milwaukee, the divisions will be that great.

They can either fight among themselves or get together on what is supposed to be the point of the election for Democrats – sending Trump back to Mar-A-Lago for good, where he can spend the rest of his days hitting a little white ball with a club, trying to put it in a hole in the ground.

Yes, there are divisions in the party today, said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper, but "that's bound to be the case when you have this many candidates."

You will see that less, Pepper said, "when the field begins to thin out a bit."

"The fact is, Trump is the great unifier of Democrats,'' Pepper said. "And we really must unify to beat him."

Mack Mariani, a political science professor at Xavier University, said the negative reaction of many Democrats to Biden – the presumptive front-runner, with Sanders close behind – is hard to explain.

"The most electable candidate the Democrats have is the one who is getting the most pushback,'' Mariani said.

Mariani said he believes there are supporters of some of the more progressive candidates who are really not focused on winning.

"I think they see their votes as cathartic,'' Mariani said. "These are people who are more about expressing their viewpoints and much less about winning."

Trump, Mariani said, stood out in the 2016 primary season because he was not a politician, and certainly didn't behave like one.

"Trump showed that there is no taste for a non-politician,'' Mariani said. "Trump's brand had to do with his brashness.

"Maybe the Democrats need a non-politician, a celebrity, like Oprah,'' Mariani said. "But it wouldn't be the same. Could you imagine Oprah saying she could walk into the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose a vote? Of course not. People would be outraged. Trump gets away with it."

In the end, Pepper said, most Democrats will come together around the nominee.

"You're going to find a few supporters of other candidates who are not going to accept anybody else,'' Pepper said. "But that will be a small minority.

"This is an important moment in history," Pepper said. "If we don't defeat Trump, some day people are going to ask each of us, 'Where were you? What did you do?' We'll have to answer to that."

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

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