Primary Risks

Alan Zendell, April 14, 2019

The 2020 primary season started far too early. We’ve never experienced a presidential campaign that lasted two full years, and it’s impossible to predict how it will go, but we can make some intelligent guesses.

The biggest risk to Democrats may be ennui. Given the average American’s short attention span for anything requiring thought, voter indifference may be the hardest thing for Democrats to overcome. Two years is a long time – this political season is certain to be exhausting. That won’t matter to Trump’s rabid supporters and his avid detractors, but what about other voters? Twenty different voices competing for attention combined with the Trump team’s skill at sowing misinformation and confusion will turn off a lot of people. The Democrats can’t let that happen.

The 2016 debacle began when the DNC squelched serious competition against Hillary Clinton by rigging the Super Delegate count. This time, DNC Chair Tom Perez is doing an admirable job of appearing even-handed and keeping the playing field level. There’s been no overt attempt to silence Progressives or loose cannons. The primary season for Democrats will be a wide open free-for-all, but that has its own risks.

Democrats need to avoid three critical mistakes: becoming infatuated with a likable candidate who has no chance to beat Trump; competing in the primaries without destroying themselves or each other; and perhaps most important, preventing Trump from undermining candidates with lies and social media bots spreading misinformation.

John Kennedy used charisma to defeat Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton won two terms each with it, and Barack Obama used it to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. But charisma is fickle. Beto O’Rourke was riding the wave he generated by nearly defeating Ted Cruz, and everyone was asking if it could carry him through the primary season. Then, along came Pete Buttigieg, the gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana who obviously had no chance at all … until he knocked Beto off the wave and took his place surfing through the early polls, behind only Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Now voters are infatuated with Mayor Pete. Be careful what you wish for.

Calling themselves socialists or attacking America’s support for Israel are clear nonstarters for Democrats. President Obama’s well-intentioned public statements about the need for a more even-handed approach to the Middle East created a firestorm of opposition. Trump’s love affair with Benjamin Netanyahu capitalized on it.

Outspoken comments like those made by Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar represent a different danger. Ms. Omar has the right to speak her mind, whether or not she is anti-Semitic. But there’s an irrational fear of Muslims in America, and Omar’s unfiltered anger allows Trump to stoke it. Outrageous as Trump’s 9/11 tweet suggesting Omar is sympathetic to our enemies is, the uproar hurts Democrats and preys on ignorance. I’ve said it several times and I will continue to − Democrats must turn down the volume on anything that hurts their chances of defeating Trump. A second Trump term is the worst possible outcome for America.

Ever since Democratic candidates began throwing their hats in, the leader in the polls has been the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Former Vice President Joe Biden is the (non)candidate Trump fears most. We know this from the sudden flood of comments and accusations that attempted to paint him as the Harvey Weinstein of politics. To America’s credit, most people rejected it. We know who Joe Biden is. We know he knows more about running the government than all the other people running for president, and we know his heart is in the right place. 

Biden has made mistakes in the past, and I am not referring to what the media call gaffes. Trump proved that a politician can speak his mind and disparage political correctness with impunity. So let’s stop attacking Uncle Joe for being human.

The Kavanaugh hearings brought back bad memories of Biden’s treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings. That was almost thirty years ago, and if we’ve learned anything about American voters it’s that they’re extremely forgiving when they see evidence of sincere redemption. I wish Biden would quit dancing around the issue and put it to rest. He’s more than capable of expressing contrition and publicly reconciling with Ms. Hill.

If Joe is willing to join the fray, there’s no one more able to take on Trump effectively. No other candidate has the street cred to talk to blue collar voters who voted for Trump and have been misled by him ever since.

Keep your eyes on the ball. Avoiding missteps is the only way to defeat Trump.

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