Hiding Behind Trump: Must We Wait to Improve the Democratic Party?

Earlier this week I wrote a post about Sen. Menendez and the lack of enthusiasm for him in the primary, and increasingly, in the general as well. Does doing so mean I’m “excusing” or “encouraging” people not to vote? This is my case that a robust discussion about primaries and how the party can improve *helps* involve progressives in the Democrats fight against Trump.

To quickly recap that post: it started out out by saying that I was going to grit my teeth and vote for Menendez. The national stakes of that race are so high that progressives who have concerns about Menendez being the first Senator in a generation to be indicted (not convicted) of bribery charges probably need to get out and support the man despite these concerns.

But I also wrote that we need to take a serious look at the party practices that led us to the place that a safe seat is in doubt because a powerful but unpopular Democrat faced no serious opposition, in part because the party lined up behind him. My case was for party-supported robust primaries.

And I got some push back.

These are arguments I hear a lot. We can’t afford intra-party discussions, we have to stop Trump! And, that by discussing the challenges within the democratic party we’re “excusing” or “encouraging” people not to vote.

First of all, note that the post starts by encouraging people to vote for Menendez. But the main point that I want to make is that a frank discussion of Menendez’s weaknesses makes it easier for progressives with concerns (and not all progressives have them, I get that) to vote for Menendez. First of all, the discussion is obviously happening anyway — look at his numbers in the primaries! Progressives might as well ensure it happens in a context that wrestles with the national stakes and takes them seriously. But even more than that, progressives may be willing to vote for a candidate like Menendez in the short-term, but they would feel better doing so if they know that the party is improving the process. Gritting your teeth and voting once or twice to stop Trump is possible, gritting your teeth without hope of change is one of the things that makes people decide to vote Green. 

That’s why the “can’t we discuss this later?” trope is so frustrating. There is always an election, and most of them have high stakes. To progressives trying to figure out ways to improve the party, to keep this type of situation from happening again, the constant “we’ll do it later” approach to party improvement starts to feel permanent. It feels like Democrats in the party are hiding behind Trump (or other elections) so that they don’t have act address their own issues.

There’s a better path forward, one that doesn’t risk having Menendez lumbering through an ugly election in a much-too-close race because the party primary was essentially ignored. Now we have a weak candidate. Now a race that should have been a way for new progressives activated by Trump to get involved with Democrats is another chance for those progressives to shrug and say Democratic politics in New Jersey is ugly. There’s a huge lost opportunity here.

Let’s do better. Let’s walk and chew gum. Let’s fight Trump, and make sure the Democratic Party is the best it can be. That doesn’t need to wait until November 7th.

Comment (1)

  1. Bertin Lefkovic

    I wholeheartedly agree that we need to have conversations like these not just after elections, but before them. Candidates like Bob Menendez could get a lot of mileage from a good mea culpa and candidates like Cory Booker could get even more if they were willing to recognize the serious problems inherent within the Democratic Party and committed themselves to playing a role in solving them rather than just ignoring them and making them worse.

    At the same time, progressive outsiders need to be willing to take some degree of responsibility for our failure to organize a credible alternative to the Democratic establishment within the Democratic Party that would enable us to seriously compete with their candidates up and down the ballot going forward.


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