Feb 22, 2016 (San Diego) The politics of personal destruction are back. This should be distresshing to any race watchers. It is not that they were fully gone. They have been right under the surface since the 1990s, and they emerged from the Bush White House in 2004. In 2008 the Hillary Clinton campaign tried some of the same dirty tricks against Barach Obama. It was distressing to see, but in many ways she failed, and as they say the rest is history.
Fast forwards 8 years and we are in the midst of a democratic campaign where surrogates are busy creating smears. Moreover, the environment on social media has become rather toxic, and this is already driving many potential voters to despair. We will grant you this, some of the voters saying they will not vote in November if Secretary Clinton is the nominee, will indeed vote for her. The question is how many will not?
The politics of personal destruction are extremely damaging to the national body politic. Trying to destroy the character of a person because they dare run against you, is not just politics as usual. It is why many Americans are turned off by the process and why some will stay home. Whether enough will stay home that would turn an election in a swing state, is a good question.
The politics of personal destruction turned off many Americans during the 1990s. They were used against John Kerry, in 2004. The swift boating was something to behold. Take a military record, which included Purple Hearts, and turn it into a liability. This year we are seeing it again. This time it is against Bernie Sanders and his record during the Civil Rights movement. There have been articles questioning his participation, and some other coordinated smears. All of them were essentially beaten back.
Why are the Democrats turning what should be an election on policy into quite frankly a bar brawl? Well, when you reduce the issue fully to it’s core, parties are among other things patronage systems. The Democratic Party has seen Sanders caucus with them in the Congress and Senate. Yet, he has not engaged in the system of favors that pervade the beltway, and state parties. It gets worst, he is a threat to that precise system of patronage and favors. This is why the endorsement list for Clinton reads like the who’s who of party insiders.
The problem for the party is that these politics are destructive, not just to Sanders, but the relationship of voters with the party. There was a a time when parties held far more of a hold with voters. Being a registered democrat was a matter of political identity. Increasingly democrats and republicans are losing self identified voters to decline to state voters. These independents, in some cases will be reliable voters and changed affiliation to send a signal to the party. But in other cases these voters will change who they vote for in a national election based on their personal choice. An acrimonious race, where a candidate they support is destroyed might mean they will not show up in November. We have no way to know how many of these voters will not show up, or vote for the other major national party, or third party. Independent voters as a majority are still a fairly recent phenomena in US national politics. So we really do not know exactly how they will break, just that likely they will be the king makers when all is said and done.
What is true as of now is that the Democratic Party and the Clinton machine, have decided to use the politics of personal destruction. These are the same exact politics that turned Americans off in the 1990s. They may very well win the battle and get the nomination, but these kinds of politics are reminding Americans of the scandal ridden White House, and the voters might just stay home. When you combine this with the fact that Republicans will walk though hell fire, and broken glass, ice and fire to vote against her, since they do see her as evil incarnate, this could prove fatal for the democratic chances to keep the White House.
Their chances are low anyway. Americans, for whatever reason, tend to vote the other party in every 8 years, with a few exceptions, such as the Bush 41 election. Annoying voters, or reminding voters of the worst days of the 1990s seems foolish. Parties though do what they do best. They protect themselves against any outsider challenge. This is what this very ugly primary is already about.