OPINION — Paging all Democratic candidates, campaign staffers and activists: Do yourselves a favor before it’s too late. Repeat after me: “But that’s nothing compared to Donald Trump.” Use this simple phrase every time you feel the need to criticize another Democratic candidate, or even your own candidate (you know who you are) in the press.
Because lately, two standards for 2020 contenders have emerged in the narratives that dominate campaign coverage. First, there’s the higher, tougher, almost impossible-to-meet standard used for Democrats. And then there’s the lower, he-always-does-that-so-what-do-you-expect measurement saved for the president they’re all trying to replace. If you’re not careful, your critiques of each other’s unfitness for office will send each other’s negatives soaring before Trump even has to get started on the job.
Let’s start with Joe Biden. The “gaffe-prone” former vice president is running ahead in every major poll, so it’s natural to go after the front-runner to try to win the nomination. But when you must allude to his old age (he’s 76), try also to add that Trump turned 73 in June. And if you really think Biden is mentally unfit to be president, or “not on his A game,” as several of you implied in The New York Times recently, don’t forget to also note that dozens of board-certified psychiatrists and psychologists petitioned their governing body in 2018 to allow them to publicly talk about symptoms of a mental disorder they all believed the president was exhibiting.
In other words, Biden’s mix-ups on the stump aren’t great, but using the same standard for metal fitness, that’s nothing compared to Trump. The man just tried to buy Greenland.
How about Sen. Elizabeth Warren? She’s got experience, talent on the stump and a plan for absolutely everything. But wait, she’s “not electable.” As one New Hampshire voter told Jonathan Martin, “I think she would make an amazing president. … I’m worried about whether she can win.”
But do you know who Warren can defeat in an election? Trump. A Fox News poll last week showed Warren beating him in a head-to-head match up 46 percent to 39 percent, one of a string that show a similar result. And the Real Clear Politics average of the president’s approval ratings puts him 10 points underwater. So is Warren a slam dunk to win in 2020? No, but at least her numbers are better than Trump’s.
How about Bernie and Mayor Pete? We hear at least once a week that they “don’t connect with African American voters.” In fact, Bernie and Mayor Pete mostly have a name ID challenge among African Americans, and less an I-don’t-like-you challenge. More to the point, while Sanders and Buttigieg have been barnstorming the country this summer to appeal to black voters, from the NAACP convention in Detroit to small towns in South Carolina, Trump has been attacking Rep. Elijah Cummings on Twitter and calling Cummings’ urban district in Baltimore “a disgusting rat and rodent infested mess.”
And how, you ask, will Warren or Sanders or any of the Democrats pay for all of the ideas they’re cooking up to solve America’s problems? At least we can be reasonably confident they’ll propose a plan to pay for them, unlike the president’s tax cuts, which, along with a bipartisan agreement to end budget caps, will help blow a $1 trillion hole in the budget.
It’s not that criticisms of the candidates aren’t valid — they are. In fact, they’re essential. But keep it in perspective, people. Using the same standard for Trump and the Democrats is not whataboutism (a phrase that seems to have been invented just for the Trump era). It’s just using the same standard. It’s not that complicated.
So the next time Biden calls former British Prime Theresa May “Margaret Thatcher” in recounting a story, it must be said that Trump deliberately called May “foolish” and her ambassador to the U.S. “wacky” and “very stupid” on Twitter. Democratic voters know which they think is worse. They also know they want Obamacare expanded, not eliminated, as Trump is pushing for; climate change addressed, not ignored as a “hoax” as the president calls it; and immigration acknowledged as necessary, not “an infestation” as the president has said repeatedly.
But more than anything, Democrats agree they want Trump out of the White House. In the latest CNN poll of registered Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, 54 percent said the most important quality in choosing a candidate is having “a strong chance of beating Trump.” Just 39 percent said the most important quality is a candidate “who shares my positions on major issues.”
Even among passionate progressives I’ve interviewed, winning isn’t just the most important thing next November. In the words of Vince Lombardi, it’s the only thing.
Carol Forge Hatcher is a volunteer for Bernie Sanders and a founding member of Our Revolution in Birmingham. But she’s more than ready to vote for Biden if Bernie doesn’t win the Democratic nomination. “There are 10 things that I would like to see happen in an election. If I can get two of the 10 resolved, I’m closer than I was,” she said. Could Biden be that two out of 10 for her? “Yes.”
For a true blue Bernie-crat, that’s still better than Trump.
Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.