}

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The ever-changing story

The 2020 race for the Democratic Presidential Nomination is ever-changing, with people entering and leaving, debates that produce good moments for pretty much all the candidates, and some candidates fretting over who is excluded from the debates, and what that may mean for them and their campaigns. All up, it’s been unusually entertaining for politics junkies. But, is it a good process?

The chart above was published today by Statista, and it was out of date not long after it was posted, when US Sentor Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) dropped out of the race. At the same time, three candidates came close to making the third debate, but failed to do so. This left Democrats with a field of ten candidates for the third debate, meaning the debate will be only one night.

In the earlier debates, candidates needed to hit targets for either fundraising or polling. For the next debate, they needed to both hit a minimum of 2% in four approved nationwide polls, and they also needed to raise 130,000 unique donations from 400 different donors in at least 20 states. As that chart above shows, three candidates—Tulsi Gabbard, Tom Steyer, and Marianne Williamson—met the fundraising targets, but they failed to hit the polling threshold. Of the three, Steyer came closest, meeting the target in three polls.

The ten candidates who qualified are Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Juli├ín Castro, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang. This will be the first debate with Biden and Warren on the same stage.

Candidates who missed out were, not surprisingly, upset about the rising standards for participation. The Democratic Party is clearly trying to winnow down the field by the end of the year, and that makes sense to focus voter attention. The polling requirements have been criticised because they’re nationwide, when the primaries/caucuses are state-by-state. I’m not sure that’s a fair criticism: Whoever the nominee is will need to have broad appeal, and not just appeal to people in regions. Having said that, though, the nationwide popular vote doesn’t matter. Maybe a better idea would be to make candidates hit a certain threshold in the “battleground states”?

The departure of Kirsten Gillibrand came as no surprise. She never really connected in a crowded field. Writing about her departure, Li Zhou observed on Vox:
Her campaign attributed her stalling with donors to a couple of factors, including blowback from members of the Democratic establishment over her decision to call for the resignation of then-Sen. Al Franken after he faced allegations of sexual misconduct. Gillibrand, who’s long been an outspoken advocate for the #MeToo movement in Congress, stood by her decision and argued that she couldn’t hold Franken to a different standard than others who have been accused of such behavior.
While I definitely think the Franken business was a factor, it’s rather disingenuous to attack “members of the Democratic establishment”. While we don’t know precisely what that’s supposed to mean, these days it’s usually used to refer to people who run the Democratic Party. However, many ordinary Democratic voters were uncomfortable with her actions. Was her campaign trying to dismiss all those Democrats as “establishment” in order to dismiss them like those on the Leftward Side of Left always do? [See also: "Did Gillibrand’s push for Al Franken’s resignation doom her 2020 White House run?" by Casey Quinlan on ThinkProgress]

For people on the Left and Centre (and probably the Right…) of the Democratic Party, one other factor played an even bigger role, in my opinion: Her change in positions. As the Vox piece put it:
Critics questioned Gillibrand, too, over her ideological evolution on issues like immigration and gun control, policy areas where she’s significantly shifted her stance after taking over her Senate seat.
I definitely agree with that. Prior to becoming a US Senator, Gillibrand’s positions on a number of issues was often quite conservative. At the time, I didn’t consider her an ally of the LGBT+ communities, not the least because she supported separate and somewhat equal civil unions for same-gender couples, not marriage. One could say she evolved—after all, at that same time (prior to 2009), Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders all opposed marriage equality. I’d be prepared to accept that—progressive evolution on issues is an inherently good thing, in my opinion. However, she “evolved” on that (and other issues) only after she became a Senator. So, I asked myself, was she being opportunistic as a US Representative or as a US Senator? And that, far more than her crusade on Sen. Franken, is what made me distrust her.

And now, it seems obvious to me, she’s trying to position herself to be selected as the vice presidential nominee. Who knows? If Biden is the nominee, maybe she’d be a good choice? If she is the vice presidential nominee, obviously I’ll vote for her since the presidential nominee and vice presidential nominee run as a team, and I’ve already committed to vote for the Democratic nominee, no matter who she or he may be. That doesn’t mean my unease will suddenly go away. I could be sarcastic/cynical and say that maybe that unease would go away if I became a US Senator, but I’m far too nice to say that.

So, here we are, only a couple weeks out from the third Democratic presidential debate, ten candidates on one night. Since it’s possible (or probable) that there will be more candidates for the fourth debate, maybe this debate could have been five candidates each on two nights? I’d like to hear what the candidates actually have to say, rather than their 30-second soundbite approach to answering questions. I think we’ll have to wait quite awhile for that to happen, though.

The 2020 race for the Democratic Presidential Nomination is ever-changing. But at least it’s been unusually entertaining for politics junkies. That’s a good thing for us, at least.

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