Should Democrats Attack Trump or Fight for Working Families?

November 22, 2019

The attacks against Trump in the Democratic debate were eviscerating. But Bernie Sanders warned that even though he is a criminal, just attacking won't be enough to defeat him.

The attacks against Trump in the Democratic debate were eviscerating. But Bernie Sanders warned that even though he is a criminal, just attacking won't be enough to defeat him.


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Story Transcript

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner.

We continue our conversation about last night’s Democratic debate with our guests. We have political commentator Kim Brown back with us here on The Real News. Kim, always good to have you on The Real News. We need have you more on The Real News. Good to have you here.

KIM BROWN: Thank you.

MARC STEINER: And our other two folks both write for Jacobin. We have Luke Savage, who wrote a piece this morning on Jacobin on the debate last night, and Branko Marcetic, who is a writer for Jacobin as well as being an investigative reporter for In These Times. Let me play this piece here. They had a really difficult time–as you pointed out in your article, Luke–about getting into anything substantive. Well, let’s look at this one clip. I believe this is Bernie Sanders.

BERNIE SANDERS: I think the people of this country are catching on to the degree that this president thinks he is above the law. But at the end of the day, what we need to do is to bring our people together, not just in opposition to Trump. So I believe, yeah, we’ve got to deal with Trump, but we also have to have an agenda that brings our people together so that the wealth and income doesn’t just go to the people on top but to all of us.

MARC STEINER: So when you see Bernie say this… what was inside this debate is very telling in that regard. The Democrats seem to be really searching for how to win in the broader sense, but they also seem to be lurching back and forth, not sure how to do it between the impeachment proceedings that people have argued about, whether it is a waste of time or not. And watch what Bernie said that we need to really begin focusing on the issues for people and not just attacking Trump. So how do you all feel about that? Kim?

KIM BROWN: I think Senator Sanders is 100% right about that. If you focus solely on Trump, you’re not making the argument to voters about what you’re going to do to improve their lives. Now, Trump is a negative. He is a detriment to many parts, to many communities in the United States, particularly immigrant communities. He’s also hostile towards the gay and lesbian and transgender communities. But overall, average people may or may not be feeling the effects of Donald Trump in their everyday lives except being bombarded constantly by the media about what insane thing Trump said today.

But Sanders is right. Democrats have to show to not only Republican voters… I actually think it’s a mistake for Democrats to try to bring back the Trump voters, the people that voted for Trump who had previously voted for Obama. Let those people go. 50% of the country does not vote at all, and those are the people that really need to be targeted because policies like Medicare for All, like free community college, that stuff speaks to everyone regardless of your political affiliation. Because there are plenty of poor whites in Appalachia right now who may like Trump because he says it like it is, but they are drowning in medical debt. They can’t afford to send their children to college. Their public schools may not even be providing a quality education for their children to progress onto college. So you have to speak to these specifically economic issues that affect Americans really across the partisan divide.

MARC STEINER: Well, so when you hear that Branko Marcetic, just picking up on what Kim just said, and you both can jump in on this, is what that portends for this coming election when you look at these debates. One thing that it seems that the Democratic party is not doing is any organizing. It’s all about Trump. So how do you respond to what Kim just said, Branko?

BRANKO MARCETIC: Yeah. I think she’s completely right. And also, I would say that a lot of the Democratic candidates themselves, if you go back and look at the previous statements, they would have expressed the same kind of opinion. The thing is sticking to just being anti-Trump is very safe ground. If one, you’re not really confident about how popular your policies are, or your platform is. And also if you don’t want to offend any wealthy donors, for example. And for example, Joe Biden I think in 2016 after Clinton’s loss pointed out that and was quite angry that Clinton had spent all this time attacking Trump and his lack of fitness for office, and not actually talking about the struggles of ordinary people. And that’s why she lost, he thought. But you’ve seen him completely adopt that strategy now. His initial campaign that he was about how Trump is sort of this aberration that was tearing apart the country and Biden would return it to normalcy.

And MSNBC in particular I think is very vested in making this about just Trump. And if you watched the pre-show panel on MSNBC, just before the debate, all the commentators basically were trying to frame this as this debate is going to be all about Trump. And Chris Matthews actually said something that was incredibly revealing where he said, “I’m looking at the ratings for our shows and the Democrats are an anti-Trump party. That’s what they’re passionate about. They just want to know who’s going to beat Trump.” Which I think is a remarkable for several reasons. One of which is it really shows that the way that MSNBC’s commercial interests in terms of chasing ratings are sort of having this constant 24-hour freak-out over Trump and making everything about him is also driving the way they narrow coverage of the race.

I did this study for In These Times the past two months, well September and in August, of coverage of the top three candidates. And that was really the thing that stuck out. When you look at the coverage of the race on the channel, it’s all about what’s the latest poll result? What are the ups and downs of today? Who is the most electable quote unquote? Electable as defined by MSNBC’s anchors, which may not necessarily be the same definition as a host of other Americans who don’t make six, seven figures salary for speaking in front of a camera might have. So yeah, I think it’s a really concerning thing that a lot of the candidates, aside from Sanders and maybe Warren, are sort of content to just make this whole thing about Trump.

MARC STEINER: Luke, you want to jump in on that at all before we move on?

LUKE SAVAGE: Yeah. I very much agree with what’s been said. It’s very striking that for most of the Democrats and the sort of apparatus of Democratic opinion of which MSNBC is a very important player. Since 2016, I think have very strongly leaned away and tried to get everybody in their thoughts and in their actions to lean away from the Democratic party, embracing popular policies like Medicare for All. And instead to double down on everything that was wrong with Democratic strategy in 2016. And I think besides Bernie Sanders really–and arguably Elizabeth Warren as well because she is leading with things like corruption–most of the Democratic field and most of official Democratic opinion is trying to keep things grounded on this terrain of the impeachment hearings, which MSNBC of course is pushing really hard. Before that, it was Russia gate.

You saw in the moderation last night, the debate moderation, how many questions there were framed around these abstracts, things like national unity. How are you going to bring the country together? Why should people trust you? That sort of thing and less about material issues that actually affect ordinary people’s lives. Now in my view, if the Democratic party wanted to lose the next presidential election to Donald Trump, the simplest way to do that would be to continue with this strategy. Continue with the strategy that lost the election, the most winnable one in modern history to Donald Trump in 2016. Talking about his fitness for office, focusing exclusively on him as a person, that’s bad strategy. But it also speaks to a bad analysis of the Trump phenomenon as a whole, right? It isolates the problem quite narrowly to this single malignant, malevolent figure and it ignores the symptoms of despair and inequality and poverty and political atrophy that produced Trump in the first place.

MARC STEINER: We don’t have time… I wish we had more time to get into this more deeply, but I have to say something on the heels of what you all just said and just throw this back at you a little bit. It isn’t just Donald Trump, and I don’t know how you campaign against this directly, but it’s not just Donald Trump. Donald Trump is the red meat, and it’s happening across the globe. There’s this right wing, and in our sense in this country, racist nationalist grouping from parts of the people who… from parts of the oligarchy and throughout the entire population that are ceasing control. And that’s a very serious issue.

So while you can’t just go after Donald Trump by himself, this is a much larger issue of how you organize something to bring people over. Because this is… and I really do believe we’re facing a political abyss in this country that could really hurt us and the rest of the world. So while it’s not about Trump directly, it is about what Trump represents and those around him from the savage right to more establishment conservatives who are all using him to get what they want out of this country.

KIM BROWN: Marc, can I jump in real quick and make a point about how the Democrats, especially we’re focusing… the impeachment questions led the debate last night. And what I think is very critical here that Democrats really need to understand, when you talk about Trump being the red meat, he might be a meal that may not ever be served. And what I mean by that is when we talk about impeachment, impeachment does not necessarily mean removed from office. And the chances of the Senate actually convicting Trump on impeachment charges with the Republicans holding a majority is very slim.

So this dream and the verbiage I hear coming from a lot of the Democratic candidates and of course the pundits on cable news, “This is criminal activity; Trump needs to be led out of the White House in handcuffs; can’t wait until he’s in an orange jumpsuit,” it’s not happening. And if that doesn’t happen, you’re setting your base up for a huge letdown. So many people who are part of the Democratic base are expecting Donald Trump to go to jail and they should not have that expectation. And I don’t think, especially people who are running for president should be setting their own constituents up for that kind of letdown.

MARC STEINER: So this is fascinating. I want to get to the heart and core of some of these international issues that also did not come up last night but came up in some interesting scattered ways. And we’re going to hit that in our very last segment with our three guests. And you just heard Kim Brown and Luke Savage and Branko Marcetic. Good to have you all here. Stay with us and check out this next segment.

I’m Marc Steiner for The Real News Network. Take care.