“You draw more flies with honey than vinegar,” the old saying goes. It’s, perhaps, the only thing these past few Democratic debates have made perfectly clear.
Infighting is just the name of the game. And, to be sure, watching the candidates burn each other is certainly entertaining. A good sparring match is usually the highlight of any debate. But for a Democratic party in desperate need of unity in this election, it has to end.
In Bloomberg’s debut debate performance, for instance, he was the subject of many vehement attacks—chiefly about his wealth. Elizabeth Warren was the most expressive and animated, waving and jumping up and down while delivering her verbal blows to Bloomberg. She equated Bloomberg to Trump by saying “Democrats take a huge risk if we substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.” Amy Klobuchar also came out guns blazing with a similar line: “I don’t think you look at Donald Trump and say, we need someone richer in the White House.”
Bernie Sanders fired his shot, too, by saying, “Bloomberg, it wasn’t you who made all that money, maybe your workers played some role in that as well.” He continued that line of attack, saying that Bloomberg has more money than the poorest 125 million Americans combined. Sanders also insinuated that Bloomberg and the oppressive president of China, Xi Jinping, are close friends.
Even moderator Chuck Todd, chimed in during the Las Vegas debate, directly asking Bloomberg if billionaires should exist.
But Bloomberg wasn’t the only candidate fending off arrows. The candidates took their opportunity in South Carolina to dogpile Bernie, fearing his frontrunner status as they eye Super Tuesday. Not only did he receive criticism for praising Cuba, but Bloomberg, going on the offensive, even went so far as to single out Bernie by saying “Vladimir Putin thinks Donald Trump should be president of the United States and that’s why Russia is helping you get elected so you lose to him.” Bloomberg also called Sanders a “communist.”
Buttigieg, who’s since dropped out of the race, killed two birds with one stone by attacking Sanders and Bloomberg in one fell swoop: “Most Americans don’t see where they fit if they’ve got to choose between a socialist who thinks that capitalism is the root of all evil and a billionaire who thinks that money ought to be the root of all power.” And let’s not forget when Kloubachar accused Buttigieg of insinuating she was “dumb” when she forgot the president of Mexico’s name.
Former Vice President Joe Biden even felt the need to attack Tom Steyer — someone who posed virtually no threat at the time and has also since dropped out — for investing in private prisons when it appears Steyer was aware of their poor conditions.
In no way is this a defense or endorsement of Bloomberg, Bernie, or any of the other candidates for that matter. All this is simply to say that the Democrats can tear each other apart all they want, but it will only hurt them more come November 2020.
There hasn’t been a single candidate on these debate stages that has looked like a true leader unwilling to succumb to the pettiness and downright ruthless nature of back-and-forth jabs. There is simply no excuse for how the candidates have acted.
Rather than cutting each other down, Democrats need to be hyper-focused on how to beat Donald Trump, without stooping to his level. In order to even have a viable horse in the race, the Democrats need to focus on their messaging. Being the schoolyard bully is not the way to change hearts and minds. But recently, all we’ve been seeing are bullies duking it out.
If the Democrats knew what’s best for them, they’d stick to policy discrepancies about how to fix this country’s very real problems instead of firing zingers in the hope that they stick. It’s time for the Democrats to leave their sass at home and come with more than a “post-it” worth of policy notes.
Natalie Dowzicky is a researcher at a Washington D.C. think tank. As a Young Voices contributor, her work has appeared in the Washington Examiner, the National Interest, Townhall.com, the American Conservative, and more. Follow her on Twitter @Nat_Dowzicky