Alan Zendell, February 19, 2020
The moment Donald Trump came down the escalator in Trump Tower in 2015, I became a charter member of the Anyone But Trump Club. Despite all the admonishments to wait and see, four-and-a-half years later, everything Trump has done has proved he had no intention of either growing into the job of president or honoring his sworn oath to uphold the rule of law and the Constitution.
A few things that were up in the air when Trump was elected are now clear. The most significant of them is that the short-term self-interest of every Republican Senator with the possible exception of Mitt Romney is to maintain their Senate majority next year. (Twenty-three of the current fifty-three Republican seats in the Senate are up for re-election in November.) Trump’s ability to weaponize his base against anyone who steps out of line has made party unity their first and only priority. Trump would literally have to test his assertion that he could murder someone in broad daylight with impunity before we’re likely to see any breaks in their ranks.
To defeat Trump in November, the Democrats need the same kind of unity we see among Republicans. I hate the idea of party over country, but 2020 may be an exception. If, as a majority of Americans believe, Trump represents an existential threat to the American experiment in democracy, the Democratic candidates each need to pledge publicly, perhaps on tonight’s debate stage, that when they leave their convention in Milwaukee next July, they will each work tirelessly to support their party’s candidate.
That did not happen in 2016. Amid allegations that the Democratic National Committee had rigged the primary process in Hillary Clinton’s favor, many of Bernie Sanders’ supporters decided to sit out the election, and despite his protestations, Sanders himself did very little to assist Clinton’s campaign. That’s in contrast to Elizabeth Warren, who was out there every day stumping for Clinton and calling out Trump’s divisiveness and hate-filled rhetoric.
This time around, Sanders seems to have adopted part of Trump’s playbook. Trump never appears to pay a political price for lies and hyperbole, so why not play the same game? I believe universal health care should have been one of the inalienable rights asserted by Thomas Jefferson, but Sanders’ Medicare For All proposal is as disingenuous with the truth as most of what Trump says.
Think about it – if you hired a contractor to build a twenty-story office building and realized a few years after it was built that it should have been thirty, would you tear the whole thing down and rebuild it? Of course not. The cost and dislocation of doing that would probably destroy you. In the end, you’d rue your initial oversight and find a practical solution whose cost could be accurately predicted without blowing up the entire block.
That’s what Sanders wants to do. His idealized view of every American covered by Medicare is a fantasy, at least in the near term. Whether you love or hate the health insurance industry, big pharma, and the hospital and nursing home industries, they are massively powerful entities that have been buying seats in Congress and influencing presidential elections for decades. If Sanders declares war on them as a group, they’ll pulverize him. Money may not be able to buy elections outright, but I wouldn’t bet on Bernie going against their unified bank accounts.
Because defeating Trump is the most important priority facing the Democratic Party and the nation, I’ve also signed up for the Anyone But Bernie Club. It’s not that I dislike him. As a human being, he is better than Trump in every way I can think of. The problem is that Sanders is very unlikely to defeat the massed resources Trump can activate.
So where does that leave us? We have to stop finding weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the Democratic candidates and remind ourselves that politics often makes for strange bedfellows. The candidates all say that any of them would be a great improvement over Trump, but their actions are more important than their words. We have to be cold-blooded about this, there’s too much at stake. Should we penalize Michael Bloomberg for being willing to spend his fortune putting his face in front of voters if the polls say he’s the only one who can restore sanity to our government?
I hope Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar do well in Nevada and South Carolina, but all of us need to keep our eyes on the ball. We need a home run in November, so we have to put up our best hitter, even if he or she isn’t our sentimental favorite.