The 2020 Democratic presidential primaries are sure to be one of the most competitive and hyper-critical political contests in recent history.
Voters should be happy about this. A Thunderdome primary can be healthy not only for the party itself — as it forces all candidates to stand out and earnestly compete for the support of the base — but for the candidate who ultimately prevails, as they will be battle-tested and ready to take any and all shots from the opposing party’s candidate in the general election.
More than that, however, a crowded primary has shown to be successful for both Democrats and Republicans in recent history. In 2016, Republicans had as many as 17 candidates running for president before Donald Trump eventually won the party’s nomination. To compare, Democrats currently have 12 candidates running in the 2020 primaries.
And not only did Trump go on to win the general election, but many of the candidates who challenged him were elevated to positions within his administration.
Former GOP presidential challengers Ben Carson and Rick Perry are now cabinet secretaries, with the former heading the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the latter serving as Secretary of Energy. Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) were all eventually re-elected. Former Governors Chris Christie (R-New Jersey) and John Kasich (R-Ohio) are paid handsomely on the speaking circuit. Kasich pocketed $60,000 from just one speaking event last month.
On the Democratic side, Wisconsin’s crowded gubernatorial primaries resulted in Tony Evers, the state’s former public education superintendent, beating nine other candidates on the ballot and eventually ousting two-term Republican Governor Scott Walker. While Wisconsin Republicans made sure to limit Evers’ powers as governor during the lame-duck session, Evers is nonetheless the first Democrat to win election to the governor’s mansion since 2006.
In a democracy, the voters’ role in primaries is to select a candidate, and hopefully, once they’ve been equipped with the proper information about where all of the candidates stand on policy, evaluate their records to determine how they would act if they were elected to the office they seek. The media also has an important job in primaries — it’s our job to give voters the information they need to make an informed decision at the polls. This means we’ll be looking into candidates’ positions on issues and highlighting their records so voters know exactly who and what they’re voting for.
This naturally means that we’ll report critically on things candidates have done that their supporters may not appreciate. Grit Post received no shortage of angry comments in responses to past reporting we’ve done about former Vice President Joe Biden, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), and Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Kamala Harris (D-California) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota). We’ve also heard from readers about articles we’ve published about the polling performances of policies like Medicare for All, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-New York) proposed 70 percent top marginal tax rate on incomes over $10 million, and Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Massachusetts) proposed tax on wealth.
Many of these comments came from Democratic voters concerned about Grit Post fomenting disunity, and urged us to hold off on critiques of Democratic candidates so the party could “be united” against President Trump in 2020. To be clear, we’re a non-partisan outlet that frequently compliments and criticizes politicians on both sides and shouldn’t be seen as a mouthpiece for either major political party. However, that line of criticism is particularly concerning as it suggests policy stances shouldn’t be debated during primaries, when voters are depending on the media to highlight policy differences between candidates.
Because primaries are winner-take-all contests, this naturally means other candidates will eventually concede to the nominee once the delegate counts shape up prior to the 2020 Democratic National Convention. This also means it’s impossible to have “unity” in primaries, since there are so many candidates competing for a limited number of delegates. Candidates will criticize each other, and supporters of various candidates will criticize the candidates they don’t support. Ideally, these criticisms will be in good faith and based on policy differences.
However, it’s also important to remember that there are already efforts underway to distract and divide Democrats ahead of the 2020 primaries. Unlike the policy debates currently raging on Twitter and in Facebook groups, these are not good-faith criticisms, but rather attempts — including by foreign actors — to spread lies about the candidates performing the highest in the polls. As Politico reported last week, the candidates most targeted include Senators Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Beto O’Rourke:
An analysis conducted for POLITICO by Guardians.ai found evidence that a relatively small cluster of accounts — and a broader group of accounts that amplify them — drove a disproportionate amount of the Twitter conversation about the four candidates over a recent 30-day period.
Using proprietary tools that measured the discussion surrounding the candidates in the Democratic field, Guardians.ai identified a cohort of roughly 200 accounts — including both unwitting real accounts and other “suspicious” and automated accounts that coordinate to spread their messages — that pumped out negative or extreme themes designed to damage the candidates.
The key difference is that while these suspicious online troll accounts are spreading bad-faith messaging and outright fake news, many Democratic primary voters are, in good faith, sharing news from vetted sources that analyze candidates’ policy positions and voting records. One bad-faith argument would be that Sen. Warren has a blackface doll on her shelf (she doesn’t). A good-faith argument would be that her position of supporting capitalism will alienate those who support programs that are typically deemed socialist in nature, like Medicare for All and tuition-free public college.
As a news outlet by and for the working class, Grit Post will continue its editorial mission of highlighting where all the candidates stand on issues that affect working-class Americans and their communities. We encourage all Americans, as Sen. Sanders has, to be respectful in debating their ideological opponents within the party.
Disagreement and debate can both be healthy components of democracy, and the media’s mission in holding candidates accountable should be free from partisan influence. We hope this gives our working-class readers a better perspective of what will drive our coverage in the next year, and that we provide sufficient information for voters to make good decisions when it comes time for them to cast their ballots.
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