Democratic candidates need to focus on each other, not Trump

Democratic candidates need to focus on each other, not Trump

Candidates line up before the fourth Democratic presidential election debate in Westerville, Ohio. (Reuters)

American voters must be wondering if the Democratic candidates for president realize that they have to compete against each other before one of them wins the opportunity to take on President Donald Trump. The Democratic Party held another presidential debate on Tuesday. It lasted almost three hours, during which the 12 politicians on stage took turns attacking Trump, a man who was not there and will not be on the ballots for the next vote.

At the start of February, voters in Iowa and New Hampshire will be able to select their favored candidate to win the Democratic Party’s nomination. Votes will continue, state by state, into the spring. At some point during this primary season, likely a few months into 2020, we will have a good idea who will face Trump, a Republican. It is not until the Democratic National Convention in the summer that the nominee will be formally chosen and have the opportunity to face Trump in the general election in November.

At the moment, each of the 12 candidates who were on the stage on Tuesday is competing against the others. None of them are competing against Trump — yet. However, they seem incapable of realizing this.

Continuing their behavior from the earlier debates, the Democratic candidates generally refused to attack each other or distinguish themselves in significant ways. There were some minor policy disagreements and a few of the candidates challenged Sen. Elizabeth Warren on her refusal to admit that she would increase tax bills for the middle class. Warren was a target, in part, because her refusal to admit this has become almost absurd and, in part, because she is a frontrunner that they want to bring down.

There were also policy disputes about gun control. All of the Democratic candidates support stricter laws concerning gun ownership, but a couple of them ridiculed and criticized the plan of former congressman Robert “Beto” O’Rourke. He wants to seize certain weapons from law-abiding Americans and several opponents criticized the practicality of this, questioning whether it could be done in accordance with the US Constitution.

For the most part, though, there were few differences between the policy plans of the dozen candidates. More importantly, there was little contention or competition. Many of the candidates have serious and obvious liabilities, but their opponents need to highlight these problems on a major stage. If they don’t, Trump surely will when he faces off against one of them.

Warren may have been challenged on her health care plan, but none of her opponents brought up her long history of being caught lying. Just recently, she repeatedly claimed that she had been fired as a teacher in the 1970s because she was pregnant. It turns out this story is contradicted both by her own account, which she gave on video 12 years ago, and by the public record. In the past, she was embarrassingly caught in a years-long lie that she was a descendant of Cherokee Indians (a Native American tribe).

Former Vice President Joe Biden also has recent scandals that no one wanted to discuss. The moderators asked him very briefly about recent news that his son was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while Biden served under President Barack Obama. However, none of Biden’s opponents challenged him on his role in this scandal or on his son’s position on the boards of a Chinese company and the passenger railroad company in the US. None of them asked Biden to explain why his son flew with him on an official US trip to China while Biden served as the Obama administration’s point man for China. They did not ask how Biden’s son reportedly came home from China with a business deal worth more than $1 billion. Even though there may be corruption to uncover, none of Biden’s opponents used it.

Many of the candidates have serious and obvious liabilities, but their opponents need to highlight these problems on a major stage.

Ellen R. Wald

No one challenged Sen. Bernie Sanders on the possible hypocrisy of his claims to be a “democratic socialist” and his status as a millionaire with three houses. Sanders’ opponents did not push him on his health and fitness to lead the country following a heart attack just two weeks ago.

The Democratic candidates did not want to compete against each other. They only wanted to fight Trump. Every question and every policy debate quickly devolved into an attack on the president. They repeatedly criticized his leadership of the economy, his foreign policy and his relationship with Congress. Multiple candidates claimed he was “divisive” and had done things that were “illegal.” When the moderators asked about the power of big tech companies, two candidates managed to focus on the issue, but the third to speak, hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, launched another attack on Trump, even though he is irrelevant to the subject.

These candidates, especially those lingering at the bottom of the pack, should soon realize that they are facing other Democrats, not the president. Right now, they are all running the wrong race — and it seems the Democratic Party’s voters might like a tough candidate who can attack current opponents and show that he or she can eventually do the same to Trump.

  • Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D. is a historian and author of “Saudi, Inc.” She is the president of Transversal Consulting and also teaches Middle East history and policy at Jacksonville University. Twitter: @EnergzdEconomy
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