Opinion: Dear Democrats, Let’s Cool It With the In-Fighting for 2020

There's a clear difference between civil debate and political hackery—and we need to learn that quickly if we want to win.

At certain moments during the 2016 presidential election, I had this weird, nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach. It would pop up every now and then to taunt me—or possibly to warn me. It was my deep fear that Donald Trump would win the election.

I felt it as I watched (and admittedly participated in) Democrats attacking each other and the candidates on a non-stop basis. It worsened as Bernie Sanders stayed in the race too long, and his supporters dug their heels in deeper. It got persistent as I saw the media playing into Trump’s hand over and over again. It really tormented me when I saw hashtags like #VoteMyConscience and #NeverHillary trending, and it had me doubled over as the results began to pour in on election night.

Now, leading up to the 2020 election, that feeling has returned. It’s just a slight twinge at the moment, but it’s growing by the day.

If you’re like me and love to post about politics, or have friends who love to post about politics, right now your social media feeds are filled with Democrats fighting among each other about their pick for the primary. Mind you, this is a primary that doesn’t hold its first vote until March 3, 2020. Or perhaps you’re flooded with opinion pieces and think-tank “hot takes” about who has the best chance to beat Trump, who is raising the most money, who has the biggest crowds, who leads the latest popularity poll, who eats their salad with a comb…

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Why are the primaries so visceral now? Sure, primaries are an important part of the election process. They give voters a chance to highlight some of the established talent in our party and help introduce fresh faces to the field. Everyone is free to support the candidate that appeals to them, speaks to their values, or aligns closest to their beliefs. That’s the entire point of this song and dance.

Then, after the democratic process of voting to narrow it down to one candidate, if your candidate doesn’t cross the finish line as the winner, you join your progressive brothers and sisters in helping deliver a massive victory for the candidate who did, even if you don’t agree with them 100%. If we don’t do this, Trump will win, and handily so.

Being politically aware is an incredible thing. I applaud anyone on either side of the aisle who actually cares enough to actively debate politics on social media or in person. Seeing people, especially young people, discussing the future of our country, the direction that our political parties are headed in and what we can do to fight the biggest threats to our democracy, fills me with joy.

What I don’t like seeing is politically aware individuals spouting hate, fear tactics, smear campaigns, unrealistic purity tests, and basic untruths about the process and the candidates. It’s a serious problem for Democrats yet again.

Sean Rayford/Getty Images

If the 2016 election taught us anything, it’s that social media can be used to divide and conquer. Numerous investigations have confirmed that Russia waged cyber information warfare with a staggering amount of anti-Clinton propaganda being joyously shared by Republicans and Trump supporters. Shockingly, a large percentage was also shared by supporters of Bernie Sanders (pictured above), especially in the form of memes and articles spreading misinformation and division.

Now, it’s 2019, and Trump and his administration have done nothing to stop Russia from once again attacking our election process. We’re feeling Democrats’ déjà vu with all of the in-fighting—and, sure enough, that familiar twinge in my stomach keeps poking at me with sharp jabs.

Search any post about the primary and you’re bound to see someone in the comments complaining of an overcrowded field leading to the wrong candidate winning the coveted spot, or certain genders or minorities being completely shut out because white men are also running for the ticket. There are folks claiming that having so many choices makes it “too confusing”; meanwhile, others talk about how this candidate did this, or this one didn’t do enough of that, or this one is in the pocket of some organization, or that one ate a hot dog incorrectly once. It’s enough to make you scream like Howard Dean!

Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images

My heart breaks as I read comments from progressives who rush to bash Joe Biden or Beto O’Rourke (pictured above) without considering their platforms, quickly writing them off as “just more privileged white men,” or how easily people are tricked into sharing right-wing, anti-feminist propaganda about how a female candidate is “a bitch” or “difficult to work with.” I hate seeing our side squabble over a candidate’s age while touting the under-analyzed bumper sticker slogan “fresh blood,” or complaining that someone wasn’t “progressive enough for my taste.”

It’s fine to have your “taste.” In fact, it’s your right. But this election isn’t just about you. It’s perfectly healthy to debate each candidate’s qualifications and record, but it’s not acceptable to twist and weaponize these facts in order to bash candidates with unfair attacks or baseless purity tests. There’s a clear difference between civil debate and political hackery, and as Democrats, we need to learn that quickly if we want to win.

Today, Democrats have a beautifully diverse, qualified, and expansive field of candidates who have announced (or will soon announce) that they seek the nomination for president in 2020. None of them are perfect. Get used to that right now, and get over it, because nit picky purity tests do nothing but create damage to our cause and fuel the opposition.

While Democrats have an embarrassment of riches for the 2020 field, Republicans have a singular embarrassment. However, it’s an embarrassment that they have no problem voting for en masse. We are the majority, and when we vote, we win—but sometimes, we botch the whole thing up because of stubbornness, apathy, and complacency.

Let’s not let our primary squabbles set us up for another Putin-led warfare on our collective beliefs and strengths. Let’s remember to take a step back once in a while and look at the bigger picture. Let’s use facts over attacks and debates over mean-spirited quips. Let’s lift each other and our candidates up, and let’s win this thing together.

My stomach thanks you.

Scott Nevins is an award-winning TV personality and host, comedian, political/news contributor, LGBTQ and HIV awareness activist, and godfather.
@ScottNevins