By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders
Every now and then I like to put on my cap as a former politician and strategic election campaign thinker.
Like so many others, I have been watching the Democratic Party Presidential debates. Way back in the fall, they started out as fairly polite affairs with discussions largely on issues. It was must-see TV for issue wonks and political junkies. There were initially about 24 candidates divided into two separate groups of a dozen on a debate stage. You are forgiven if you have a hard time remembering who said this about that. It was pretty much a blur.
But with the likes of Bill de Blasio, Andrew Yang, Corey Booker, Kamala Harris and many others falling by the wayside, those debates are now coming into clearer focus. The genteel days are over and the gloves are off.
The Democratic Party has a history of divisiveness and lack of message discipline in part because unlike the more homogenized Republican Party, Democrats are much more diverse in their views and in their personal backgrounds. They call it a big tent, but it can get messy.
At the start of these debates all candidates agreed, and were unified in the belief that defeating Donald Trump and depriving him of a second four years in office was the number one priority. They said that any of them would be a better choice than Trump. And for the most part their criticisms of each other were fairly muted. Not too many bombs were thrown. They did not want to give any additional fodder that the Trump campaign could use against the eventual Democratic nominee.
Ronald Reagan called it the Eleventh Commandment: thou shall not speak evil of your fellow party candidates. And it makes sense. Only one person can emerge victorious and if your prime objective truly is beating Donald Trump you don’t wish to do or say anything that will undermine that objective. But that was then and this is now.
It seems that each candidate’s ambition to be the nominee has become the predominant motivation. With the primary contests and delegate selections now coming fast and furious each of the remaining half dozen or so contenders are feeling an urgency to stay in the race by taking pot shots and sniping at their Democratic opponents. The result is that verbal bullets are being sprayed all over the place. The earlier days of avoiding political ammunition given to the other side is long gone. It’s every man or woman for themselves. This process is not for the faint of heart.
One can argue that this bloodletting will toughen up whomever is the eventual party standard bearer. But more likely with all this shrapnel flying about, they will all be wounded and scathed. And that can only fortify and benefit the person who awaits the ultimate winner of this Roman Coliseum-like spectacle, namely Donald J. Trump.
Any sense of “all for one and one for all” has given way to a free for all. Perhaps Will Rogers said it best… “I am not a member of any organized political party, I am a Democrat.”