Can Iowa Democrats Avoid A Family Feud In 2020?

Can the Iowa Democratic family avoid a repeat of the 2016 family feud that seriously fractured party unity?Because the Sanders-Clinton race was so close that year, there was a plethora of hard feelings and theories about unfair or a rigged result in the 2016 caucuses. Some argue that the deep division dampened support for Hillary Clinton and resulted in Trump’s election.

The “ugly ghosts of division” of 2016 lasted longer in Iowa than nearly any other state. It took more than two years to mend the bitter divide created by the 2016 fight. The 2018 midterm successes did wonders to reunite the party with the election of Cindy Axne, Abby Finkenauer, and wins in the Iowa House. But the potential for contentious issues to open old wounds between progressives and moderates is real.

There are signs that the bitter idealogical divide of the 2016 Sanders-Clinton split may be remerging as the presidential campaigns search for a breakout issue. The current split isn’t over personalities but rather over issues like Medicare For All, socialism, and the New Green Deal.

Just as Democrats are divided in Washington between moderate and more progressive factions, the presidential campaigns and/or their supporters are starting to become more critical of one another. It’s natural that there is division and competition and it certainly is healthy and welcomed. The concern comes when debate over issues escalates to the point of creating long-lasting damages, making the eventual nominee unacceptable to some Democratic voters.

We are already seeing evidence of attacks that could permanently handicap candidates. The front runners are expected to get criticism. As expected, Joe Biden and the other polling leaders are getting criticized for past positions and votes. The danger arises when voters become so entrenched in their opposition to a candidate that they refuse to support them if they are the ultimate nominee. These opinions are already showing up in some social media circles as some voters are identifying candidates they couldn’t support under any condition.

So far, there is push-back on this idealogical blacklisting of candidates. Politico ran an article in early May that quoted several Iowa Democratic leaders about their efforts to nip this toxic candidate bashing early.

“There is no tolerance whatsoever for the bullshit this time,” Polk County Chair Sean Bagniewski told Politico. “When I see people standing up spouting conspiracy theories in meetings, people start reacting. When it’s on social media, there’s an avalanche of people saying, ‘not this year, we’re not doing this again. There’s almost an overreaction.”

Bernie Sanders’ senior adviser in Iowa, Pete D’Alessandro, echoed a similar intolerance for the 2016 infighting in the Politico piece.

“We can’t keep rehashing 2016 because every time we’re doing it, even at a meeting, we’re not organizing. We’re not knocking on doors,” he said. “2016 is over. It doesn’t do us any good to have blood in the eyes. It’s gone. This is 2020, it’s a different race, it’s a different dynamic. We have to win this time.”

Indivisible, one of the largest progressive groups, is so concerned with this phenomenon that they are asking voters to take a pledge to support the eventual Democratic nominee. They are calling for a spirited primary debate but one that is constructive, respectful and inspiring.

The Indivisible pledge reads, “We’re launching a massive grassroots campaign to get you, every Democratic presidential hopeful, and every activist to sign onto a simple promise: that no matter our differences in the primary, once Democrats have a nominee, we’ll do everything in our power to get the nominee elected.”

Party leaders believe that Democrats can conduct a competitive caucus season and avoid the bitter ideological devisions. They think Democrats are so motivated to beat Trump they will unite once a single Democratic nominee is agreed upon.

Others warn that the same ideological struggles that ignited the Sanders-Clinton split still exist. They warn that it will play out again if activists insist on ideological purity tests for the eventual nominee. The answer will come down to how badly activists want to defeat Trump. Will they be able to accept a nominee that doesn’t perfectly fit their ideological requirements?

If Democrats aren’t able to accept a less-than-perfect nominee, they may guarantee Trump’s reelection.


by Rick Smith
Posted 6/4/19

4 Comments on "Can Iowa Democrats Avoid A Family Feud In 2020?"

  • Democrats put the “fun” in dysfunctional. Maybe it’s time to get on the same page and agree to
    some common principles. Diversity will bring in many new Dems, but it can be a source of disunion and weakness.

  • What happened in 2016 was shameful and should not be swept “under the rug.”

    I will not support any candidate for president who wants to abolish the electoral college as the Iowa Caucus would be meaningless and a ghost town

  • Sober Iowans (I know you’re out there)
    Keep your own counsel. Know your own mind. Propaganda and instigators abound both local and international. We now know it. Hold to your principals and sharpen your analytical (read: bs detectors) skills. Leave facebook and talk to real people, rural and urban.
    Don’t shy one inch from debating ideas and ideals. We have no choice. It’s all hands on deck. Don’t. Be. A. Dick. Be a citizen. One who loves a wiser Iowa. Know your own mind and enter the battle of ideas with informed fury.

    “The answer will come down to how badly activists want to defeat Trump. Will they be able to accept a nominee that doesn’t perfectly fit their ideological requirements?”

    I was going to stop with my comments above but after reading this quote, I have more to say:
    That sentence sounds like a setup to brand “activists” as babies who will whine if they don’t get their “perfect fit.” How about you voice it this way and see what you think:
    “The answer will come down to how badly current party leaders want to defeat Trump. Will they be able to accept a solidly progressive nominee who doesn’t fit their ideological requirements?”
    Those you describe as activists now know how the scales were tipped against them last time. They still believe. They are still hard at work. Do you think they will go quietly and accept a “Fred Hubbell-type candidate” when they want and need an real fighter?
    Good luck to us all as we endeavor to “unTrump” ourselves.

  • I hope we can unite under the nominee. Although I am still skeptical that it will happen. There are many left over newbys from the 2016 campaign and a few oldies that are still so ideological that it will be difficult for them to unite. If Democrats in Iowa can’t get their act together we will probably lose the first in the nation which may not be a bad idea for Iowa Democrats. We will then be interested in electing Iowa Democrats rather than presidential candidates.. I know some of my fellow IA Dems won’t like to hear me say that but that is what I think be right or wrong, With so many candidates in the ring voters are being tossed around from one end of the ring to the other they don’t know which way to go. It is difficult for presidential campaigns to get volunteers because so many activist aren’t committing. Maybe as the caucus gets closer more activists will commit to a presidential candidate..

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