Staff editorial: Democrats left with a very familiar choice
This next Tuesday, Ohio will hold its 2020 primary election. The biggest ticket item? The Democratic presidential primaries.
Everyone’s ballot will have 11 candidates on it — of those 11, only three are still in the race (Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Tulsi Gabbard). And of those three, Sanders and Biden are the only two who have a shot at the nomination (sorry Tulsi — two delegates isn’t going to get you far).
And at first glance, one thing is pretty obvious: All the diversity that we were impressed by at the beginning of the primary election is gone.
The Democratic primary was huge this year, with 20 candidates participating in the first debate. And of those 20, there were five candidates of color, and six woman candidates. That may not seem like a lot, but compare it to the 2008 primary, when there was one woman candidate (Hillary Clinton) and one candidate of color (Barack Obama) out of nine major delegates, or the 2016 primary, when only one candidate was a woman out of five, with no candidates of color.
Basically, the point is that diversity was making a showing in 2020. And it was fun while it lasted.
Candidates started dropping out — of course they did, that’s the point of a primary. Slowly but surely, a lot of those candidates who didn’t look like all the other presidents we’ve had started to announce the “suspension of their campaign.” The appropriate amount of tears were shed, somber music was played, and the candidates gave the required speech about how great America was and how great their supporters were before quietly leaving the spotlight.
Candidates drop out for a variety of reasons. For instance, it hardly takes a genius to guess that the reason several moderate candidates dropped out right before Super Tuesday was to give Biden a better chance of winning the nomination. Some campaigns ran out of money, some didn’t do as well in debates as they had hoped. But ultimately, it always comes down to one thing: A lack of voters.
Now, this is not to say that these candidates lost entirely because of their race or gender. Many of the candidates who dropped out faced other issues in their campaign — Elizabeth Warren waffled on health care, Amy Klobuchar faced scrutiny for her treatment of staff, Kamala Harris was called out for her tough-on-crime history as a prosecutor.
However, it would also be naive to assume that their status as minority and female candidates didn’t play a factor at all. Particularly in a Democratic party desperate to defeat President Trump in November, voters said over and over again that they were concerned about “electability.”
So what does electability mean? Well, in a lot of cases, it means being a white man. It means playing it safe. It means the ability to appeal to voters too racist to vote for an African American candidate, or too sexist to vote for a woman candidate.
It’s not ridiculous to be concerned about racism or sexism impacting a campaign — it happens all the time. Of our 438 representatives in the House, there are currently only 52 black representatives and 20 Asian representatives. Women are elected in approximately equal numbers as men, but the women that are elected on average have more experience and are more qualified for the positions they campaign for than their male counterparts. For people of color and for women candidates, it is a longer, harder road to achieving political office.
So yes, a female or Asian candidate would face more roadblocks to being elected than might a white male candidate. But saying that means that Democrats should only nominate a white male candidate creates a vicious cycle — if we only elect the same people into office, then it will be harder for others to achieve those offices. When it’s harder for non-white candidates to achieve office, we think it’s too impossible for them to be elected and put the same people back into office.
That’s why it’s disappointing to see Biden and Sanders as the nominees. Not that voters aren’t still faced with two very different options — a moderate, establishment candidate, or a progressive one. Ideologically, the two are about as far apart as any two candidates can get within the Democratic party. One would have a very different presidency than the other — both have strong arguments for and against their ability to beat Trump.
Biden and Sanders both made it this far on their own merits — but they also made it this far because of the absence of roadblocks in their path that minority candidates face. And while both can (and should) advocate for the rights of women and of minorities, it would have been nice to have a president with first-hand experience doing that themselves.