By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The smart thing for Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez to do is send this terse note to all Democratic presidential contenders before, I repeat before, the next scheduled Democratic candidate’s debate in Detroit, July 30-31. It would read: “Our goal is to beat Trump, not beat up on each other.”
There’s a special urgency in sending this note. Democratic contender Kamala Harris took a hard shot at rival Joe Biden at the first debate about his opposition back in the Paleolithic age to bussing. This quickly rocket launched Harris from the middle of the Democratic presidential pack to one of the top tier Democratic contenders. But that poses a grave temptation and grave peril.
The temptation is that if the personal attack on Biden worked for Harris then other Democratic contenders that are scratching and clawing to elbow their way up the ladder might think it can work for them too. The grave peril in this tact is that it could ignite the kind of internal war, feud, and grudge match that can benefit only one person: Trump. This wouldn’t be the first time that presidential contenders from one party gave the opposition made in political heaven attack points by beating up on each other.
There’s the oft cited example of Hillary Clinton supposedly questioning Obama’s American birth. Though the accusation against Clinton was thoroughly debunked, Trump ran with it with his birther bash of Obama. After Harris ripped Biden, Trump wasted no time in tweeting a back pat of Harris for hammering him. Not that he’d need her to slam him or any other serious Democratic foe. But giving the proven master of personal digs, putdown, and insults an unexpected gift of an attack point is beyond foolhardy.
This may seem a small point with some polls showing any of the top tier Democratic contenders beating Trump in a head to head showdown. But these polls at this early stage of the game are absolutely worthless. Beating Trump, a sitting president, will be a Herculean task under the optimal conditions, and throwing taint on other Democrats is anything but optimal.
Trump got his tax heist for the rich and corporations through Congress, and as an extra bonus, brought his long-held dream of dumping the Affordable Care Act closer to reality when the Senate tacked on a provision to the bill wiping out the individual mandate. When the markets took another tick up, he crowed even louder that he was the man who brought the good times rolling to America. As always, he did all this with the sheepish connivance of much of the mainstream media, which is always off to the races in giving round-the-clock coverage to his self-serving, vapid tweets as if they were the word from the Mount. He’s got an untied GOP and Republican national Committee behind him with a king’s ransom of campaign cash to burn, a hit machine second to none attack, and endless voter suppression ploys in place in the key electoral states.
He’s got the continuing love fest that his devout base has with him. True, polls show that his overall approval ratings consistently wallow under forty percent, buried in the polling fine print is the numbers that mean the most to him and the GOP. That’s Republican voters. The overwhelming majority of whom back him. But more importantly, his loyal base supporters are top heavy in the six states that will decide who sits in the Oval Office. He won just enough of their votes in 2016 to defeat Clinton. He’ll almost certainly get most of them back again. According to exit polls, a stunningly low percentage of them consider themselves liberal.
Biden the tough sounding male Democrat centrist supposedly is the Democrat best able to peel off some of those votes. This has always been an iffy, untested assumption at best. If more Democratic contenders use the Harris tact and go after him that assumption will blow up in smoke.
Democratic progressive contenders Sanders, Warren and Harris bank that they can offset Trump’s fervid base by firing up young, Black Hispanic and suburban women voters to storm the polls. Possibly, but that’s also an untested assumption. If there are scars and bruises on Democratic contenders after a beat down of each other, this won’t do much to assure that happens. There’s plenty of meaty stuff for Democratic contenders to talk about without finger pointing each other for their alleged faults, flaws, and sins of the past. The thing never to forget is that Trump has a lot of ammunition in his run back to the White House. The Democrats would be wise not to give him anymore.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book, Who Can Beat Trump? (Amazon), will be released in August. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.
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