The Democrats' dangerous unity gambit

The Democrats' dangerous unity gambit
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Identity politics is a funny thing. Widely decried by the right and embraced by the left, it’s often tricky to navigate. Where is the line between acknowledging systemic challenges facing particular groups and pandering? 

As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said about hardcore pornography, I know it when I see it. It’s pretty easy to detect when a candidate’s overtures are only for electoral gains and not based on genuine recognition of a group’s specific challenges. 

After Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersExpanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support The battle of two Cubas Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Ro Khanna MORE’s very real struggle with minority voters in 2016, he had to work to better relations with black and Latino communities. And Sanders (I-Vt.) has been reasonably effective at it, especially with Latinos. He currently leads all Democratic candidates with Hispanic voters and has made considerable gains with black voters, too. Hiring a diverse staff this time around and focusing on racial justice has surely helped him in this endeavor. 


But as the media get themselves into a frenzy over Sanders’s surge, I can’t help but wonder why the Iowa frontrunner doesn’t think that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump campaign launches Asian Pacific Americans coalition Van Jones: A 'white, liberal Hillary Clinton supporter' can pose a greater threat to black Americans than the KKK Taylor Swift slams Trump tweet: 'You have the nerve to feign moral superiority before threatening violence?' MORE supporters — the biggest liberal demographic out there — aren’t worth his time. 

In total, we’re a group nearly 66 million strong. I’m not naïve; I know that all those voters weren’t in love with Clinton and many were just seeking to avoid a Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDonald Trump and Joe Biden create different narratives for the election The hollowing out of the CDC Poll: Biden widens lead over Trump to 10 points MORE presidency. But the core is very real and passionate about Clinton, who was the most qualified candidate to run for president in the modern era. 

I haven’t been shy about criticizing Clinton for some of her comments since the 2016 election. The excerpts from her forthcoming documentary, where she lays into Sanders, are a double-edged sword for me. On the one hand, they’re absolutely true — and on the other, I know they’re not good for Democratic unity going into a tough election this fall. 

But to see Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibPelosi: George Floyd death is 'a crime' Overnight Defense: Pentagon memo warns pandemic could go until summer 2021 | Watchdog finds Taliban violence is high despite US deal | Progressive Dems demand defense cuts Progressives demand defense budget cuts amid coronavirus pandemic MORE (D-Mich.), a prominent Sanders backer and surrogate, as well as member of the so-called “squad” in Congress, sit on stage at an event and boo the mention of Clinton’s name along with a big crowd of Sanders’s supporters makes my skin crawl. Reminiscent of a Trump rally when the chorus of “lock her up” radiates, this is a dangerous game for liberals to play. 

When Des Moines school board member Dionna Langford said, “We’re not going to boo, we’re not going to boo, we are classy here… ” Tlaib jumped in with: “Well, I’ll boo. Boo! You all know I can’t be quiet; no, we’re going to boo.” And for what it’s worth, Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalExpanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support House punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate Democrats press OSHA official on issuing an Emergency Temporary Standard MORE (D-Wash.), who also was on stage, laughed along with Tlaib. 


Facing massive backlash, Tlaib tried to explain herself on Twitter on Saturday morning, offering that she’s just “so incredibly in love with the movement that our campaign of #NotMeUs has created,” that Democrats must “unify over one candidate to beat Trump,” and that she intends “to do everything possible to ensure Trump does not win in 2020.”

Perhaps she should have thought about that the night before. And for those who are going to say that Clinton started it, guess what? Hillary Clinton isn’t on the ballot. But her supporters are ready to do whatever they have to in order to keep Trump from winning a second term. 

Maybe it’s time for Sanders’s camp to pander a little to us, instead of assuaging Tlaib? Sanders will need us to win in November.

With a very tight race in Iowa, and polls showing that former vice president Joe BidenJoe BidenDonald Trump and Joe Biden create different narratives for the election Poll: Biden widens lead over Trump to 10 points Biden: 'We are a nation in pain, but we must not allow this pain to destroy us' MORE or Sanders could be victorious on Monday evening, Biden is seizing on his greatest strength in this race: electability and lifelong commitment to Democrats.  

Democrats know it isn’t just the top of the ticket that matters, but all the down-ballot races that have an outsized effect on Americans’ daily lives. And they’re thinking long and hard about who is going to ensure that we have the greatest chance to win as many races as possible in November. 

It seems that important groups are taking notice. On Saturday, a major transit union that backed Sanders in 2016 announced it now supports Biden. John Costa, international president of the 200,000-member Amalgamated Transit Union, commented: “Joe has been very supportive of the labor movement for the last 40 years. He stands for working families. We recognize he’s a great candidate.” 

The union conducted an internal poll among members and found electability to be the most important issue. Costa added, “The numbers came back very strong for Joe. Not only did people support him, but we asked who would be best to beat Trump, and he was overwhelmingly seen as the best to do it.”

I expect this trend will continue, and welcome pragmatism on the Democratic side. Sanders should take note and he and his team could do a better job of reaching out to Clinton backers — there are millions of us looking to be persuaded, not insulted.  

Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.