HOPKINS: Democrats should let the primary process run its course

If a candidate wants to be the Democratic nominee, they should be subjected to as much scrutiny as possible in order to prepare them for the general election.

op-candidates-courtesywikimediacommons

Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and Kamala Harris (D-California), two women who are expected to dominate the Democratic primary, recently announced their candidacies. 

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In the past two weeks, the two women expected to dominate the Democratic primary for President announced their candidacies. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and Kamala Harris (D-California) are taking the plunge and attempting to do what Hillary Clinton came so close to doing in 2016 — becoming the first woman elected President of the United States. 

After the massive success of Democratic women in the 2018 midterm elections, it makes complete sense for the Democrats to nominate a female candidate. Gillibrand and Harris bring plenty of experience, excellent political skills and a strong national brand to the race, making it likely that one of these two women is going to be the one to challenge incumbent President Donald Trump in 2020. 

As a Democrat, I would be happy with either of them, and I believe strongly that both are capable of building the coalition necessary to prevent Trump from winning reelection. That being said, there are many Democrats who are questioning the records of both women, particularly in the left wing of the party. 

Many Democrats are quick to write these and other valid criticisms off as the far left having too high of a purity test. They point primarily to the remnants of the #BernieOrBust movement and sexism, in addition to claiming that detractors are doing the Republican opposition research for them as revenge for 2016. In order to mitigate inter-party conflicts, we need to allow the primary process to play out and remember that the process is a democratic election, not an anointment. That perception hurt us in 2016 and will certainly make our nominee weaker in 2020.

The progressive wing of the Democratic Party has grown in power over the past few years, and high-profile progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders have galvanized support from the younger and more progressive members of the party, as well as given “democratic socialism” legitimacy as a valid ideological position. It has become so popular that politicians are actively campaigning as socialists; Virginia even has one in the General Assembly. The far-left factions of the party tend to put more stock in ideological purity and consistency — they are weary of politicians changing their views because they see it as a sign of untrustworthiness. Given their growing strength in the party, particularly the rising social media star of Ocasio-Cortez, it would be a mistake to discount their concerns.

One concern with Kirsten Gillibrand is that she had a more conservative record as a House member than as a Senator, and her shift to the left happened rather quickly. While there is a valid argument to be made that she was simply adjusting to mirror the beliefs of her changing constituencies, it is understandable for the left to be hesitant about such a fast shift on issues so central to progressive ideologies, such as guns and immigration. 

As for Kamala Harris, in her time as Attorney General of California, she resisted orders to release prisoners from California’s overcrowded prisons. The California prison overcrowding was so severe that the Supreme Court ruled it to be cruel and unusual punishment, estimating that one prisoner died every six to seven days due to a lack of minimal health care. Harris has also caught flack for overlooking and defending officials accused of misconduct, including appealing the tossing out of an indictment that was based on a falsified confession. However, in the Senate, Harris has championed criminal justice reform and is basing her presidential campaign around her accomplishments and plans for progressive criminal justice reform. 

It is important to note she has done good things in this realm, and as a woman of color, it is understandable that she had to play ball with the good ol’ boys club in order to advance her political career. That being said, to ignore any aspect of her record or to think that questioning certain decisions she made in office is off limits would be detrimental to her strength as a candidate. In fact, Kamala Harris has the dubious distinction of being the last Democrat Donald Trump gave money to, in her campaign for Attorney General of California in 2014. That can be found on any number of campaign finance reporting websites — it’s hardly secret information. 

These are important issues brought to the table by progressives and should be actively debated in a competitive primary. To say that Democrats should handle each other with gloves during the primary to keep the eventual nominee unscathed is ridiculous. It must be assumed that every decision a candidate made in previous office, as well as any personal details or activities, will be made public and scrutinized. This process of cleaning out the skeletons in a candidate’s closet is a healthy one and will ultimately produce a stronger and more capable nominee. 

Moreover, by allowing the primary to run its course, the eventual nominee will have much more control over the narrative of their shortcomings, and the longer the information is out in the public sphere, the more time people have to become desensitized to it. Trump was race-baiting and making outlandish claims from the day he started campaigning, and now he’s in the Oval Office. We must allow our candidates to properly duke it out in the primary in order to produce the toughest possible nominee to take back the White House in 2020.

Chris Hopkins is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com

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