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The first two democratic debates last week reflected, to a point, this country’s reality. That is, its diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual identity, and ideology was evident: white people, minorities, women and men, a representative from the LGBTQ community, members of different generations, as well as positions on all sides of the political spectrum.
The question is, who can appeal to all of those sectors, among Democrats, to win the nomination and then attract other political sectors in the general election–moderates, centrists and even disaffected Republican–to try to unseat Trump from the presidency.
As the incumbent and with the economy on his side, Trump has the advantage of not having to compete with any Republican challenger, at least at this point in time. He also has the solid support of his ultraconservative base. But his economic policies, like for example his trade wars, tax cuts that favored the rich, attacks on Obamacare, as well as his anti-immigrant policies, among other things, have eroded support from so-called “Obama Republicans,” who supported the Democratic ex-president in 2008 and 2012, but then jumped to Trump’s Republican bandwagon in 2016, motivated by promises that the issues that matter to them would be priorities for his administration.
Trump also has against him his abysmal approval ratings, such that his best hand is to try to make the 2020 elections not a referendum on his persona, but to offer the voters a choice between what they have now (read: a stable economy), while painting the entire Democratic side as “leftwing extremists” that advocate, for example, Medicare for all, even though this includes abolishing private medical insurance; offering medical care to undocumented immigrants; or labeling them as promoters of “open borders,” although this is not what they are proposing.
And certainly in the two debates things were discussed that up until recently were not heard of from Democratic candidates, including offering medical care to undocumented immigrants enough though this is not even included in Obamacare.
But the fact that the Democratic Party would line-up more to the left than the center in the face of Trump should not surprise anyone. The policies of this president, in different ways, from his attacks on the environment to his war against immigrants, with special emphasis on his cruelty toward migrant children, offer the Democrats no alternative but to declare their opposition, establishing a clear contrast with the Republican leader.
In that way, progressives on the Democratic side of the aisle prevail at the moment, provoking bitter feelings among those who believe that the tack left and, above all, the selection of a progressive standard-bearer as the Democratic nominee, would cost votes among centrists, moderates, and Republicans opposed to Trump, guaranteeing the reelection of the president.
But the fortune-telling business, let’s say, has suffered severely since the 2016 elections when Trump won despite his prejudiced and incendiary rhetoric.
What the Trump presidency has done is to define the sides. At the beginning of this year, a poll by Gallup found that 51% of Democrats identify as liberal, while some 34% identify as moderate. A liberal or a liberal Democratic standard-bearer would not be that wild, nor would it be unimaginable for the Democratic Party to consider its diversity as a strength rather than a problem. It would be an election of clear ideological contrasts with candidates on the two extremes.
The question is whether, instead of owning their diversity and looking for some type of consensus among factions in order to effectively compete against Trump, the Democratic primary election process will become a blood bath, making Obama’s fear that the primaries could become a “circular firing squad” a reality due to the “rigidity” of some progressive sectors.
If the first two Democratic debates are any guide, the firing squad seems to be forming. While Democrats throw barbs over positions taken forty years ago, Trump celebrates.
But it is still early. Perhaps the very idea that internal fractures could result in the reelection of Trump would be enough of an incentive for the Democratic Party to own its diversity and its differences and focus its electoral strategy on the central objective, which is winning back the White House. That remains to be seen.