I don’t care who wins the Democratic nomination for the House race.
Don’t take that the wrong way. I think I have settled on the candidate I intend to support in this race and plan to write my endorsement early next week, which means you have about three days to convince me that your candidate is the person I should support.
Ultimately, though, I don’t care in the sense that on June 6, once we know who the Democratic candidate will be in the general election, I will turn my attention to supporting her—or him—with all the energy and time I can spend on that race. I’ll do my little part here to spread information about the candidate our party has chosen and to remind people just how disastrous Greg Gianforte is for Montana, our country, and our future. I know the others who write here will do the same.
But my energy will be diminished one way: if the candidate we choose or the campaign that supports him/her relies on Trumpian tactics of disinformation and innuendo to sway voters and split the already too-often fractured Democratic coalition in this state, I’m going to find that I only have time to write about legislative races and the Senate seat. I’m not going to spend my energy enabling and empowering the kind of politics of personal gain and public detriment that have so divided our party and our country. The current occupant of the Oval Office demonstrates the danger of that kind of divisiveness among the left.
So, a few premises:
- We should absolutely have spirited debate and competition between the candidates running for the House. A spirited contest between candidates lets us not only decide who will be the most effective candidate in what will be a bruising general election run against Greg Gianforte and his millions of dollars, but it might reveal candidates for other offices in the future, the absence of whom is a looming crisis in the Democratic Party.
- The debate should be about policy differences and perceptions about electability in the general. It gains us very little to elect a candidate who will inspire one part of the Democratic coalition if that person will be crushed by twenty points in the general.
- The contest should be about the values of the Democratic Party, both in the sense of the party we are and the party we want to be. That’s an important discussion, one that primaries help us settle, but it’s worth remembering that we have a slate of excellent, experienced, progressive candidates running here. The contest should not be about tearing those excellent, experienced people down but convincing Democratic voters why your candidate is the best of the bunch: the most electable and the best representative of those values.
- The contest should not be fought with innuendo or the rhetoric of divisiveness. The campaigns and their supporters should absolutely draw contrasts between those running, but they should not do so by posting false claims or by attacking the character of those they are running against. Before running a negative ad or having a surrogate post something online, I’d hope that the campaigns would ask themselves a simple question: will help Greg Gianforte in November? If so, shouldn’t they reshape the argument or even, crazily enough, just not do it?
- Let’s all just stop talking about bias and which candidate is the insider. That’s just sad, low-level framing of the choice. If someone supports a candidate other than the one you support, they’re no more biased than you are. Pretending otherwise is absurd. And there is no insider in this race. All the candidates have connections to the party and the grassroots. Casting your candidate as the only outside, independent candidate might appeal to a part of the base, but what kind of damage does it do to the credibility of the very institutions that will support whichever candidate wins to accuse them of favoritism now?
Democrats, whether they call themselves progressive or moderate, liberal or conservative, need to stop spending the time and energy we spend creating absurd purity tests for candidates or piously declaring that we’ll only support one candidate in a race. That’s what lets the Republicans succeed in Montana. Somehow, over the past few election cycles, we’ve mostly put aside our differences to elect Steve Bullock and Jon Tester because we seem to understand the stakes in those races just a little bit better than we do in Tier B and House races.
If Montana progressives and moderates could ever realize that the energy we spent railing on each other could be more productively spent building our candidates and going after Republicans, we could be a real force in Montana politics.
I’d like to see all five Democratic candidates and their campaigns enthusiastically announce that they’ll support whichever candidate is chosen to face Greg Gianforte. Perhaps more importantly, I’d like to see the candidates, their campaigns, and those who speak in support of them act like they’ll do just that.
I don’t care which Democratic candidate wins this race, but I sure as hell do care what kind of candidate does.
We can defeat Greg Gianforte this November, but we sure as hell can’t do it if we’re divided.