Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Jan 23, 2020
Democratic infighting in the times of impeachment trial 

The impeachment of President Donald Trump by the House of Representatives is expected to be a rallying cry for the Democratic presidential hopefuls as their campaigns get into high gear to take the White House.

But the big question: can they utilise the Trump drama effectively to hammer their advantage or will the internal fissures within the Democratic Party consume voter enthusiasm? Each wing of the party – the leftists, the moderates and the Blue Dogs or conservatives – is jostling for space.

The current spate of infighting among the presidential candidates hasn’t raised confidence levels. Voters have already begun to fret about the many brawls that have broken out in full view as the Senate deliberates the case of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress against Trump.

It’s worth noting that Republicans – with a couple of exceptions – stand behind Trump; so complete is the melding of their electoral fate with his future. The Republican-controlled Senate is expected to acquit him whereupon he is expected to leave on a triumphal tour of India, and possibly Afghanistan.

The Trump Administration is once again attempting to sign a peace deal with the Taliban and a trade deal with India. The optics of Trump possibly addressing a large rally in India would take away some of the sting of impeachment – not that it has slowed him down.

Not so with the Democratic candidates. When they should be focused on Trump and his trial, they are having a free-for-all, sniping at each other with sharp words on hot mics. The divisions are deep and there is no one candidate who appears ready to build bridges across class, race, ethnicity, gender and regions.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders were caught in a tense moment calling each other liars after the last debate. The dispute was over Warren’s claim that Sanders had told her that a woman couldn’t be elected president.

Warren has also said that Sanders is “sending his volunteers out to trash me.” The open feud between two left-liberal candidates has caused widespread disappointment among supporters who are hoping the party would nominate a progressive this time and move away from tradition. Instead the divisions are deepening.

Then came the most unwelcome intervention from someone who is not even a candidate. Hillary Clinton, who still doesn’t seem to accept her defeat in 2016, let herself go against Sanders in a soon-to-be-released documentary. It is well established that the Clintons don’t do things accidentally.

“Nobody likes him (Sanders), nobody wants to work with him and he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It’s all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it,” Clinton says in the documentary for Hulu. When questioned, she went further and refused to commit to endorsing Sanders if he became the Democratic nominee.

Faced with a barrage of angry reactions from Sanders supporters, she walked back a bit but the battle lines are drawn. Clinton and many in the party establishment consider Sanders too extreme for comfort and an interloper to boot – he spent his Congressional career as an independent but voted with the Democrats.

Clinton and many women also see the “culture around” Sanders as sexist – many of Sanders’ key supporters and team members (called Bernie Bros) have been accused of targeting women candidates such as Kamala Harris and Warren. Harris has dropped out of the race but because of lack of funds.

Clinton and former president Barack Obama might even support a nascent “Stop Sanders” movement populated by Democratic power brokers. Obama has said privately that if Sanders seemed to be running away with the nomination, he would speak up to stop him.

The third brawl involves a Sanders’ supporter who recently wrote an opinion piece saying Biden had “a big corruption problem.” Sanders immediately apologized to Biden and asked his staff to focus on defeating Trump.That will likely help Sanders whose main platform is to shake up the elite establishment – much like Narendra Modi shook up Lutyens’ Delhi. The Clintons have come to epitomise the establishment with their close links to big donors and Wall Street.

Sanders recognizes the side-shows mounted by his supporters and surrogates can mar his second attempt at the nomination. He lost to Clinton the last time, largely because the Democratic Party machinery was allergic to him.

It doesn’t help that all the rancour and disputes among Democratic candidates have come out in the open with Iowa caucuses just days away. This first test on February 3 will give a sense of where voters stand. It is a tight four-way race with Biden and Sanders just slightly ahead of Warren and Pete Buttigieg.

Despite being impeached, Trump appears to be a good place with his party behind him.

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Seema Sirohi

Seema Sirohi

Seema Sirohi is a columnist based in Washington DC. She writes on US foreign policy in relation to South Asia. Seema has worked with several ...

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