Democrats aversion to conflict is one of the strangest stories of 2020. Democrats are of the belief that campaigns shouldn’t be negative. This seems to be particularly true in Iowa, the first caucus state. Attacking a candidate’s policy position has become taboo in the Democratic Primary, with most campaigns being critical of Bernie Sanders surrogates and supporters who attack the policy positions of his rivals. Sanders himself buys into the strange argument that there shouldn’t be any fighting in Primaries, stating on January 18th 2020 “You didn’t see me say a word about any other candidate tonight”. This has led to an under examination of the flaws in most candidate’s records.
No one has mentioned Biden’s authorship of a draconian crime bill that doubled the prison population. There’s been agreement not to even discuss his son’s unearned spot on Ukrainian gas company’s board. No one has even mentioned his calls to invade Iraq in 1998. His role in the 2005 bankruptcy bill hasn’t been mentioned at all, even though it was one of the first times Elizabeth Warren was nationally heard. Warren vociferously opposed the bill in clear terms. Sanders voted against it. Neither has given a sustained attack on it. No one has made Biden go on record to confirm or disprove the claim he said Bush would earn a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for liberation Iraq. Sanders has hit him on his support for trade agreements and his Iraq War vote, and is starting to finally bring up his former plans to cut social security but that’s it.
Pete hasn’t been hit on his culpability in a bread pricing scandal. He’s engaging in an active cover up happening in South Bend involving racists forcing out a black police chief and none of his competitors have said anything about it. How about his praise of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Or his bulldozing of black neighborhoods? Has anyone mentioned how he has bizarrely edited his own Wikipedia page constantly since 2010 to make himself look good? Klobuchar attacked him for only getting 9,000 votes for a city office, but that’s it.
No one has mentioned Warren’s lie about her Native American ancestry. No one has asked her to explain why she was a Republican until 1996 at age 49. No one has asked her about her hawkish foreign policy (Warren has voted for every military budget increase, supports military tribunals for terror suspects, attacked Trump’s N. Korean diplomacy, and defended Netanyahu’s 2014 bombing campaign.) No one has brought her time as a corporate Lawyer where she defended corporations by letting them avoid toxic clean up, cheat victims of asbestos out of compensation and allowing another company to eliminate coal miner’s pensions. Warren has never been asked about why her approval is the lowest of all statewide officials in Massachusetts, or why she does worse than Sanders and Biden against Trump in polling. The only thing she’s been attacked on is her Medicare For All Proposal, by Pete Buttigieg.
Sanders hasn’t even really been attacked. His gun votes haven’t been attacked they were in 2016 by Hillary Clinton. He hasn’t been forced to defend his vote for the 1994 crime bill, and his support for many defense budget increases. He’s never really faced any questions on his statements that he would continue President Obama’s drone program. Sanders attacks from other candidates have been over Medicare for All and having pricy proposals, but that’s really it. Warren attempted an attack on Sanders, leaking to the press that he had said “A woman can’t win”. And both Warren and Biden have complained that Sanders has unfairly attacked their records.
The idea that “negative campaigning” hurts a nominee is ludicrous. Donald Trump gained the Presidency after trashing the last two of his party’s nominees, as well as it’s most recent President. He literally came up with demeaning nicknames for his opponents, and spread outright lies about them. The attacks on Trump were also relentless, from every corner of the party. In 2008, Obama hit Clinton as being “likable enough”, and said she was “sitting on the board of Walmart” when he was trying to better the community. Clinton said Obama was friends with a “slum lord millionaire” and publicly said “shame on you Barack Obama” on an infamous tape. Before the last primaries, when Obama had the nomination locked up, Clinton didn’t drop out and began saying RFK had been shot before the convention. Bill Clinton insinuated Obama only won SC because he was black. In 2016, Clinton and her surrogates implied Sanders was sexist. In 2000, the Bush campaign spread racist rumors of John McCain having a secret black daughter.
Negative campaigning is actually good for a nominee. Clinton was insulated in the primary from having to explain her emails on a debate stage, and the Trump campaign pounced on it. Obama was prepared for the general election, because he had to figure out how to address his connections to people like Jeremiah Wright in the primary. Trump was the most prepared of all. Nearly everything the Clinton campaign attacked him on was already brought up in the primaries.
And negative campaigning works. Clinton lost because she was successfully painted as corrupt. Romney lost because he was painted as predatory capitalist. McCain lost because he was painted as aloof on economics and dangerous on foreign policy. Kerry lost for being out of touch and a flip flopper. Voters say they don’t like negative campaigning, but it works.
If Democrats continue to play patty-cakes instead of hard ball, they will have a nominee that is woefully unprepared for the onslaught that will be unleashed by the Trump campaign in the general election.