In this week’s U.S. presidential debate, in which Democratic politicians made their case as the best shot to go up against Donald Trump in the November election, perhaps the most memorable moment of the evening happened after the debate had finished. In a brief but tense exchange, Warren pointedly rejected Sanders’ offer of a handshake, before the two leading contenders shared a seemingly tense discussion.
The highly symbolic interaction can indeed be seen as an accumulation of rapidly-growing tension between the two campaigns, which began with a smear attack from Warren alleging a sexist comment made by Sanders. Supporters of both candidates had been quarrelling over the veracity of such comments for days, a point which Warren was keen to dispute in a lengthy and highly-rehearsed diatribe on Tuesday night’s debate. Warren’s stand on the debate stage drastically, and irresponsibly, escalated this enmity, and heightened division within an already highly factionalised party.
Despite each candidate pledging their support for the ultimate nominee, this promise is becoming strained as the contenders have become increasingly hostile towards one another. With polls showing a virtual four-way tie between Sanders, Warren, Biden and Buttigieg, and the first vote to be held in Iowa in little over two weeks, each candidate is toiling in one time-pressured last push to make themselves stand out.
Indeed, prior to this debacle the main rift among Democrats was those more progressive advocating structural change, of which Warren and Sanders were united, and those more moderate who wished to largely continue the work of President Obama, headed by Biden and Buttigieg. Therefore, Warren’s actions have the effect of fragmenting the party to an even greater extent, which does not bode well for chances of a strong and united Democratic Party to face Trump in November.
Each of the likely four candidates are strong politicians, with an abundance of electable qualities in each of them, so why is it that this election cycle looks pessimistic for the eventual Democratic nominee, especially against what many on the Left see as a dream opponent of Donald Trump? What is likely is the extreme acceleration of animosity within American political discourse, encouraged by an age of heightened partisanship, which is largely a consequence of Trump’s ruthless and vindictive rhetoric introduced by this populist and ‘outsider’ figure. And so as an echo of the 2016 election, it seems that the lack of co-operation taking place between the two major parties in the U.S. is worryingly starting to be reflected within the Democratic Party itself.
Such a fact can be demonstrated by the marked absence of a so-called unity candidate to attract all shades of party members and rouse with excitement large numbers of voters. Previous candidates, notably Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke, who were once heralded by Democratic insiders as exciting prospects for 2020, failed to survive this relatively new political landscape, suspending their campaigns late last year. Indeed, it seemed that for the Left of the party, their policies were not far-reaching enough, and the moderates, lo and behold, found their messages unconscionably radical.
Their failure in the presidential race reveals a truly unsettling truth for the party. While approximately one-quarter of the Democratic voting base may be overjoyed at the success of their preferred candidate, it seems likely that it will be difficult for the wounds of this bruising primary to heal quickly, leaving a less energised voting base in November and, to the horror of liberal spectators around the globe, a crucial advantage to Donald Trump.
Image: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons