If You’re a Marginal Democratic Candidate, Help Defeat Trump By Dropping Out

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If You’re a Marginal Democratic Candidate, Help Defeat Trump By Dropping Out

It is my contention that the first two Democratic primary debates were qualified failures, and the only qualification is that if you were Kamala Harris, you came out smelling like roses. This is not necessarily a function of the candidates or the party, though they could definitely have spent more time talking about climate change. It’s about the format—you can’t have ten people on a stage and expect things to go well. The shouting, the cross-talk, the interruptions, and the general defensiveness were so easy to foresee, and it’s beyond me how Tom Perez and the DNC could have watched the 2016 Republican primary debacle and thought, “gee, it would be good for the party to showcase 20 candidates over two nights.”

Staging a good, substantive debate is already hard enough when you have hacks like Chuck Todd saying “sum up our national security situation in one word,” which, as many people pointed out last night, is a completely useless and reductive tactic that tells us nothing about national security or the respective candidates. With constraints like these, it’s already plenty difficult to milk any meaningful content from a game-show-style spectacle controlled by cable and network news. But diluting the important messages further by packing the stage with ten candidates? That’s insane! What we saw over the past two nights veered very close to a party-wide humiliation, mitigated (thankfully) by some strong individual performances.

Democratic leadership may not realize this, but the goal of this primary is to emerge with one battle-tested candidate who is prepared to defeat Donald Trump in the general election. That means voters have to get to know this candidate even before the general, and the candidate needs as many repetitions as possible under the national spotlight. How can the eventual winner get those all-important reps when he or she has to share the stage with the likes of Eric Swalwell and his hair, plus nine others?

In a perfect world, cable news would run dignified, sober debates that allow the Democratic candidates to demonstrate their competency for the world to see. In a perfect world, Tom Perez would restrict the number of available debate spots so we’d have a maximum of five contenders sharing the stage.

We do not live in that perfect world, and expecting the media or the DNC to pull their heads from the dark place is an exercise in futility. The current format is conducive to bad debates, period. The general election debates will also be terrible, because they will feature Trump. Our best chance for substance comes from smaller, focused Democratic primary debates, and we can only get those when the field is reduced. Which leads me to the marginal candidates.

Dear marginal candidates: You can do something. You can bring us closer to that ideal, impossible state in which the primary is used to bolster Democrats, to highlight their strengths, and to pave the way for a general election victory.

You can drop out.

Seriously, do it. If your name is Swalwell or Hickenlooper or Delaney or Klobuchar or Bennet or Gabbard or Inslee or Gillibrand or even Beto or Booker, drop out. Yang and Williamson too—drop out.

You can’t win. Sorry, but you can’t. And though each of you undoubtedly believe you have important thoughts to contribute—and perhaps you do!—your presence is just leading to more clutter, more confusion, more chaos. Not just on the actual stage, either—in the media, too, which is not irrelevant. To beat Trump, Democrats also need a focused media.

Five people, right now, belong in the primary. Those five are Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris, and Buttigieg. If Julian Castro gets a huge post-debate bump, fine, add him in there too—but with the goal of reducing things further after the next debate. Aside from those five or six, the rest of you are just wasting our time.

And though I kinda hate these calculations, it’s nevertheless true that by not dropping out, you’ll be helping Trump. He benefits from the appearance of disarray among the Democrats, and the perception of incompetence hurts even the most competent candidates. By contributing to the perception, you’re contributing to Trump. And for what? At this point, you know you can’t win, so what’s the idea? Is it an ego trip? A chance to increase your own profile for some future run or other profit?

Please, drop out. There is no reason good enough to stay in—not when all sides of the ideological spectrum are already covered by the main candidates. If you believe Trump is the greater enemy here, stop running and help your party re-take the White House. It will be the best thing you’ve done all campaign.

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